Invention, Intellectual Property and Business Models

Have you:

  • [x] Summarised two kinds of licences and explained why you chose one.

  • [x] Imagined and outlined possibilities and described how to make them probabilities


I began thinking about intellectual property, because I love my mom and care about her work. My family's intergenerational work and my mom's work as a continuation has been to revitalize and preeserve the langauge and culture of our Tribe, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. As a Indigneous Nation in the United States, we were subject to the dispossession of our land and identity. Efforts to preserve and maintain our culture date back to at least the 1890's with the work done by Chief Volsin Chiki. Volsin Chiki was a blind chief who revived our green corn ceremony. This was after the murder of a predecessor by a local non-native who was out on "Indian Patrol".

Since the efforts of Volsin Chiki, our Tribe worked with anthropologists and linguists and preserved our langauge as well as our story and song tradition through articles and reports now publicly available. While our tribal members disclosed stories and songs, we maintained a base of ancestral knowledge through oral tradition. Certain families held on to certain pieces of the overall puzzle to be brought together again during intercommunity gatherings. The diaspora of our Tribe spread from Central Louisiana to Houston, Texas and Chicago, Illinois. Tribal members such as Harry Broussard were noted for blending "Indian language" and musical cues with jazz riffs.

With that background in mind, I started a proposal for an Indigenous Fab Lab Network called, InDigiFab. This would act as a sub ecosystem that would be sensitive to the specific needs of communities. Drawing from my experience with the Institute for Collaborative Langauge Research or CoLang, I understand the need for fostering a network of academics and community members to share the tasks of research and tools for democratization of documentation.

Going from the community-based research to public disclosure, I started with the MIT License as a base for open source licensing. At the same time, I drew from "WIPO Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore" to set boundaries on what is specificly owned communally by the Indigenous nation of which the author is a member. This resulted in a Modified MIT License for Indigenous Use

The reason for having a specific network for Indigenous Nations and to have a modified license that spells out specific protections for traditional knowledge is to prevent situations as presented in "Using Intellectual Property Laws to Protect Indigenous Cultural Property.".

Working towards fostering an Indigenous ecosystem, as President of the Board of Directors of the North American Indian Center of Boston; I helped to move Boston Makers onto the premises which made it the first makerspace within an Urban Indian Cenetr in the United States.

2016 Review

Vigyan Ashram presented an interesting project called "Mudra". They proposed a point of sale unit for blockchain currency. The name is a refernce to Hindu spirituality. Mudras are gestures with an energetic seal of authenticity. This prompted me to research block chain applications for Intellectual Property Management.

Not much discussion on intellectual property and business models. Most of the focus of this review was on final project proposals and machine building presentations.

2017 Class Notes

Discussion on Invention

Invention sounds like an intangible thing, but there are many things to learn about managing it. "Science The Endless Frontier" written by Vannevar Bush led to the creation of the National Science Foundation. Created a notion taht you do basic research, applied research, and then commercialize. This is not how it actually happens.

Neil's suggestion is a "ready, fire, aim" model. "A Low-Cost Electromagnetic Tagging Technology for Wireless Identification, Sensing, and Tracking of Objects" by Richard Ribon Fletcher was the research behind shop-lifting tags. An unexpected consequence of that research led to a method for making quantum computers ("Bulk Spin-Resonance Quantum Computation", Neil A. Gershenfeld and Isaac L. Chuang). At this point the "ready" was the making of shoplifting tags. Making those tags in the "fire" stage led to the consequence of creating quantum computers. Knowing that quantum computers were an achievable target, the "aim" stage took the work further and created practical ways to interrogate molecular structures ("Ultra-small-sample molecular structure detection using microslot waveguide nuclear spin resonance", Yael Maguire, Isaac L. Chuang, Shuguang Zhang, and Neil Gershenfeld). As a second iteration of the aim stage, Neil's students then made radio which spun off to a company that makes readers for RFID tags.

Traffic and pain are ingredients to the flow of invention. Neil uses the example of "Electric Field Imaging" by Joshua Reynolds Smith which proposed a method of tomography using electric fields. Pain is an issue or problem, Neil's example being infants killed by motor vehicle air bags. This pain led Nidec Elesys to ask if Smith's tomography method could be used in motor vehicles. The collaboration resulted in the dominant sensor for motor vehicle airbags.

In these examples, Neil walks students through the unintended consequences of the iterative process. "None of this could happen, without doing the homework." homework is then a series of simple iterations which upon analysis lead to greater discoveries. These discoveries could very well be tangential, but rely upon a taril of documentation and testing. Traffic and pain come into play when two parties whether acquainted or not discover each other and collaborate. Synergies are exploited and new tools and processes are invented.

Neil continues that this process of invention is dependent upon ecosystems. "New report outlines MIT's global entrepreneurial impact" by Rob Matheson presents the output of businesses by alumni of MIT as the world's 10th largest economy, somewhere between Russia and India. Why this happens is because MIT is environment taht fosters "traffic" which brings projects from "fire" to "ready" to "aim". The Fab Lab Network, therefore, is another ecosystem for invention. While one fab lab is not a critical mass, the international network is.

Simple projects and documentation shared or "trafficked" (in the invention context) can then be used to solve issues or "pain" (no matter how tangential) within other parts of the network.

Discussion on patents

Moving from an invention to intellectual property, we need to address the issue of protection. Patents are limited in scope. There are two types of patents: utility and design. These can be searched through various public sites. Thinking about either utility or design, a person should search the databases to see if something has already been achieved. If that is not the case, there is the issue of discloure. Disclosure means making something available, whether publicly or privately. In the US, an inventor can file a patent up to 1 year from public disclosure. In most international cases, disclosure blocks the ability to file a patent. Sometimes, disclosure is used to prevent filing of patents.

Making the decision of when to file a patent, a person has the option to file a "provisional". Provisional filings are cheap and quick. The content of provisional filings could be (almost) any form of documentation. These are works in progress. At The Center for Bits and Atoms, many provisionals are filed throughout the year. These then get weeded out for full filings. Provisionals are given up to a year to convert to a full filing which is included in the lifespan of the full filing.

A full patent filing must be teachable for someone with skill. Two main sections of the patent filing are the specification and claims. The specification is the narrative that tells the story of the invention (i.e., how it's achieved, what was work that was done previously, etc.) The claims section is carefully crafted to assert what is different what is new about the patent. If claims are too generic, the patent filing may be rejected. If the claims are too narrow, the patent will not be of use to others. A utility patent comes in different types. A person can patent the compostion of a thing, the method of making a thing, an apparatus which is a thing that does something, or manufacture which is the output of making something.

During the patent examination, the criteria are whether an invention is: novel (is it a new thing?), non-obvious, and useful. The examiner must also check if the invention is possible. An applicant previously had to submit a physical appartus to be granted a patent. This is no longer the case. Because of this, patents are weak in that many things can be patented that are not actually possible. So, a patent is not an endorsement of an idea. A patent is granted because an inventor successfully navigated the process.

Going from the domestic scope to the international arena, Neil discusses Patent Cooperation Treaty. While filing with PCT does register a pareson's patent internationally. The patent then has to go through the nationalization process to be enforceable in specific jursidictions. Europe has an European Patent Office. This function the same as the PCT in that the patent still needs to be nationalized in specific jurisdictions.

Precedence initially was defined by "first to invent" meaning that careful notes were taken in labs and people had to prove who had an idea for an invention, first. Now precedence is a "first to file" process, meaning whoever gets the paperwork in first is the inventor.

Once a patent is issued, the inventor has a duty to maintain it. This involves defending the patent against infringement. The inventor should have the ability to identify infringement. There must also be barriers to infringement. For example, any work that can be accomplished in a fab lab does not have a sufficient barrier. Litigation to defend a patent is costly in addition to the process of fully filing a patent. Patents are useful when an invention is a large investment. For work achieved in a fab lab, not so much.

Discussion of Copyright

Use of copyright is for creative works. While copyright does not protect the design of a thing, it does protect the actual files which were authored. Copyright regulates: reproduction, modification, distribution, performance, and display of creative work. Copyrights are secured upon creaton, and not dependent filing. You can register the work with a copyright office, but this only creates a papertrail. Copyrights last for the oerson's lifetime, plus 70 years. A "clean room" redesign of work can be done to accomplish the same design, but must be created from scratch and absent of knowledge of the original work.

Licenses can be commercial that are paid for and maintain the secrecy of the work. Open-source only means that the source code is shared, the actual work is not necessarily available for free. There are several flavors of open-source licensing. Neil crafted a blanket statement which would cover the work done by Center for Bits and Atoms independent of the source of funding for specific projects. While somewhat sufficient, companies prefer to have "pages of legalese". An exercise in modifying the MIT license respective of indigenous concepts is part of my homework for this class.

Neil points out several questions that companies want to know when reviewing a license:

  • Does the author certify that he or she created the work?
  • Can the author clearly assert that he or she can transfer ownership?
  • Does the author commit to the transfer to the company for reproduction, modification, distribution, performance, or display?

"Pedigree" of work as warranted by a license is only one factor. What companies also need is the ability of the author to support and share knowledge related to the design files.

Discussion of Trademark

Trademarks protect the mark or brand of a product. This could be a name or slogan that identifies a product. In order to claim a trademark, a person would have to mark it with a trademark symbol and then defend the use of that name or slogan. This is useful for a commercial brand, but not specifically useful for protecting intellectual property.

During the discussion on income, there was a question on the use of "fablab" by a french grocer. This is perhaps despite new entries in French dictionaries such as Le Petit Larousse and Le Petit Robert. Neil suggests to "snow under" big corporations with all the previous uses. A potential feature of the fab lab network web portal project would be to include this letter for translation into specific languages for regional use.

Discussion on Income

Neil recommends two factors for a successful business based upon an example from a former student. In lieu of a scheme to get rich, an entrepreneur is better to consider: what type of environment is preferrable for a workplace, and what is the impact on society that the entrepreneur wishes to make.

Neil warns that one of the worst ways to make money in a fab lab is to sell something that you make. After working with Neil since 2014, I've come to appreciate the constant refrain of "sell the benefit of using the thing, not the actual thing." Google, for example, sell the benefits of search through placement in results and advertising. As with the example of Sindoh 3D Wox printers which are affordably priced, the majority of income is generated around filament cartridges which are refillable. You can sell a license to users, which is normally the case of selling software and video games. You can create a platform for people to connect. You can also create infrastructure for communities. Services such as: operations, customization, education, entertainment, generating impact, or research; these are all viable strategies for generating revenue.


Gregory, Pete "re: Nerataya Book" Message to Jean-Luc Pierite. 24 April 2009. E-mail.

Oustry, F. “Blockchain based solutions for intellectual property management.” Prax Value, 20 May 2017, Accessed 11 Sept. 2017.

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