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Touchdown on earth for space technology


16th Jun 2016

The US National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) has recently taken a step which may assist innovation in the commercial sector.

NASA is responsible for the US space programme and aeronautic and aerospace research, but NASA’s technology can regularly be seen on Earth. Baby formula and portable cordless vacuum cleaners are two examples of such Earth-based technology.

NASA has now released 56 patents into the public domain for unrestricted commercial use. These patents are free to use and do not require any licensing agreements with the US space agency. One of the patents discloses a means of removing harmful oxide compounds for combustion exhaust streams, particularly for fossil fuels. The patent describes a method of removing nitrous, sulphur and metal oxide compounds using chlorine dioxide and/or hydrogen peroxide. Another patent describes a method of manufacturing carbon nanotubes, which is estimated to be 20 times cheaper than current techniques. It uses an electrical arcing process between graphite electrodes to produce single walled carbon nanotubes which are free from normal metal catalytic impurities. These 56 patents are in addition to the plethora of other NASA patents which have expired or were also previously released for public use.

The technologies were initially developed by NASA for various missions, but they may have non-aerospace applications. Memory or temper foam, for example, had its beginning in a programme designed to develop a padding concept to improve crash protection. The material is now widely used in mattresses and pillows as well as in automobiles, motorcycles and amusement parks rides. Private space companies, such as Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, may also find NASA’s newly public patents useful, and may save them and anyone else wishing to use the technology, time and money which is usually incurred when licensing in intellectual property.

NASA has said that these are patents are being released into the public domain to initiate innovation in the US economy. NASA, being funded by the government and the US tax payer, ideally want a return on their investment by means of growth in the US economy. A boost in the US economy from its research and development endeavours may additionally strengthen NASA’s argument for greater funding. By releasing these patents into the public domain, it can be seen as a way to share research and development for a more collective benefit.

It will be interesting to find out what commercial innovations will result from the technology and information released in these patents.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

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