USPTO Announces 2018 Patents for Humanity Winners

by McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP
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Earlier this month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced the latest winners of the Patents for Humanity program.  The Patents for Humanity program, which was launched by the Office in February 2012 as part of an Obama Administration initiative to promote game-changing innovations to solve long-standing development challenges, is a competition recognizing innovators who use game-changing technology to meet global humanitarian challenges.  Entrants are divided into five categories:  medicine, nutrition, sanitation, household energy, and living standards.  The Office noted that in this latest round, there were nine winners and six honorable mentions.  Winners receive an acceleration certificate to expedite select proceedings at the USPTO (i.e., a patent application, ex parte reexamination, or an ex parte appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board) in addition to public recognition for their work.  The nine winners are as follows:

• Medtronic for creating a portable, low-water kidney dialysis machine for potential use in a wide variety of care settings, including those that lack the infrastructure required for traditional dialysis. The Office notes that chronic kidney disease affects more than 700 million people worldwide, and that developing countries lack suitable treatment options outside of major cities. The device developed by Medtronic weighs about 50 pounds and is the size of a large suitcase, making it roughly ten times smaller and lighter than conventional dialysis machines.  It is designed to only use approximately twenty liters of potable water per treatment, which is 75% less than current systems.

• The U.S. National Institutes of Health for creating a low-cost, temperature tolerant rotavirus vaccine for addressing the six most common forms of rotavirus. The Office notes that rotavirus is a disease that affects nearly every child worldwide, and that while most cases have mild symptoms, rotavirus infections kill an estimated 200,000 children a year, mostly in developing countries. The vaccine lasts up to two years without refrigeration, and therefore is suitable for use in developing countries.  The government of India has ordered 3.8 million doses for their Universal Immunization Programme, and the NIH has partnered with Serum Institute of India Limited (SIIL) to produce affordable RotaSIIL vaccines in India for use in developing countries.

• Little Sparrows Technologies for creating a portable low-cost phototherapy device for treating jaundice in infants, which causes 100,000 newborn deaths a year and can cause permanent neurological damage in those who survive. The Bili-Hut device developed by Little Sparrows Technologies uses blue LED lights in a reflective bassinet or tent that can run on battery power, and is built from off-the-shelf parts and is collapsible for transportation.  The devices have been used at locations in Burundi to treat jaundiced newborns.

• Kinnos Inc.for creating time-sensitive color chemicals to ensure proper disinfection procedures by health workers in Ebola treatment centers and other health care settings.  The Office notes that during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, one out of every twenty deaths was a healthcare worker who contracted the disease while treating infected patients.  Students at Columbia University addressed the challenge of effective disinfection of surfaces in treatment centers by creating chemical additives to improve surface disinfection with chlorine -- their Highlight additive turns the disinfectant blue so workers can verify surfaces are completely covered.  Kinnos Inc. was founded to commercialize this technology.  Highlight has been used at Ebola treatment centers in Liberia and Guinea, in Haiti for cholera, and in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.  The Fire Department of New York HazMat team has also adopted the product.

• Russell Crawford for creating tools for low-cost drilling of water wells to reach deep aquifers free from soil contaminants.  The Office notes that most drilling wells supplying clean drinking water are "shallow wells" that become contaminated with mud and debris from the surface, which can bring dangerous chemicals such as arsenic into the water supply.  Russell Crawford designed a drilling method to reach deeper aquifers hundreds of feet deep and avoid contamination while being inexpensive, easy to transport, and capable of use by two drillers without heavy equipment.  He has licensed his technology to the Institute for Transformational Technology at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, and created the charity One Million Wells that provides drilling equipment and instruction at no charge in developing countries.

• Brooklyn Bridge to Cambodia Inc. (BB2C) for creating an affordable rice planting device that helps Cambodian farmers improve their crop yields, and which minimizes the number of farmers, mostly women, who have to work in the most exhausting and unhealthy conditions.  Engineers at BB2C created the Eli Rice Seeder, a low-cost mechanical planting device that uses high-pressure air blasts to shoot rice seeds under the soil at regular intervals.  Using the rice seeder can save up to 250 kilograms of seeds per hectare, worth about $200, and reduces the planting time from 320 hours to just two hours.  BB2C has begun a partnership with the International Rice Research Institute to help spread the Eli Rice Seeder throughout Southeast Asia.

• Solight Design for designing a portable solar light that has been distributed to over 200,000 people worldwide including many in refugee camps.  The Office notes that access to light during the night affects 2.6 billion people without reliable electricity.  Columbia University architecture professor Alice Min Soo Chun designed an ultra-lightweight, portable solar lamp that could be distributed to people living in relief camps and carried with them as they change locations.  Two models of solar lamp, one inflatable and the other foldable, are sold by Prof. Chun's company, Solight Design, and two other companies (Luminaid and Mpowerd) created by her former students.

• Sanivation LLC for designing a waste processing plant that transforms human waste into sanitary briquettes that replace wood and charcoal for heating and cooking, with four plants serving 10,000 people in Kenya by the end of the year.  The Office notes that up to 90% of human waste is disposed of untreated in developing regions, and that diseases spread by human waste are the second leading cause of death for children under five.  Kenyan-based Sanivation designed a treatment plant that processes human waste with solar thermal energy to create charcoal-like briquettes for cooking and heating needs.  The briquettes burn longer than charcoal and produce one-third the carbon monoxide and particulate emissions, saving 88 trees per ton sold.  Sanivation's work has been supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the UN Refugee Agency, the Gates Foundation, and the Kenyan government.

• Because International for distributing 180,000 pairs of resizable shoes in over 95 countries, with local manufacturing taking place in Ethiopia, with plans for expanding into Haiti and Kenya.  Because founder Kenton Lee designed an adjustable sandal-like shoe that can be expanded as a child grows.  The shoes, which can be made with local materials and last for years, help reduce soil-transmitted illnesses that can lead to nutritional and physical impairment, inability to attend school, and physical suffering.

The Office also awarded six honorable mentions for 2018 (the Office notes that applicants receiving honorable mentions may qualify for an award in future years with further developments):

• Shift Labs for developing an electronic device that monitors the amount of intravenous medication given during gravity infusions to replace un-monitored delivery in areas with healthcare worker shortages.

• Case Western Reserve University for creating a portable, quick hemoglobin scanner that can detect sickle cell and other blood conditions.

• Vanderbilt University for distributing antibodies for Zika virus to other researchers to develop vaccines and treatments.

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for creating a low-cost, simple-to-assemble, and easy-to-maintain mosquito trap to reduce the spread of diseases in resource limited settings.

• Folia Water Inc. for developing an inexpensive paper water filter and holder that is affordable to low income customers and can be distributed to urban and remote areas for removing pathogens.

• Prof. Arup SenGupta of Lehigh University for creating economically sustainable Hybrid Ion Exchange Nanotechnology to mitigate arsenic and fluoride crisis of contaminated groundwater in South and Southeast Asia.

Additional information regarding the latest winners of the Patents for Humanity program can be found here, and information regarding the Patents for Humanity program can be found here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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