India: Patent Nirvana It Is Not
By Anadish Pal
The year was 1998. I was a system integrator and occasional troubleshooter for India’s largest automaker Maruti Suzuki.
At the end of one day in the factory, as it was becoming dark, the question struck me while watching a tractor move: How safe you would be if you sat inside a wheel – a big wheel -- instead of sitting outside of it, on top of it or between it. I discussed this with a couple of colleagues and neighbors over the following months. In India, people are mad about consumer stuff, but nobody bothers for mad ideas. After all, they reasoned, between the West and now China, they would have tried it out there first. If it were practical, you’d already be able to buy it.
Still, I had a couple of well wishers who very keenly wanted me to file a US patent application on the concept of a "diwheel" vehicle which was published here in EV World. Later on, I realized that it was considered a good way to derail somebody’s career to suggest him to go for US patenting. You needed big dollars to pay the attorney and then you were sure to lose track of your mail some day, and that would end up in the abandonment of your application.
In 2002, when I was writing to EV World about my design, little did I realize that my examiner’s non-final rejection was already lost in the mailing process. I had Internet by then, but I had no customer number from the US Patent Office (USPTO), and, as my application was not published by then, I could not get any information about the progress of my application on the USPTO website.
In the fall of 2002, I received this letter from the USPTO, telling me about the abandonment of my patent application. I was aghast. I tried calling my examiner Daniel G. DePumpo (I now had his name on the letter). A lady called Sheryl responded to my calls on a number and faxed me a part of the non-final rejection. I read, and I thought, and I thought, and then I wrote out a petition to the patent office telling them about my not getting their letter at all in January 2002. After nearly a year, I received a rejection to my petition. I had an opportunity to petition again. I did that and in June 2004 I get a letter that told me my application has been revived. I now had to write to my examiner, clarifying the issues that he had raised in his non-final rejection. I did that. Then I filed a Request for Continued Examination (RCE), on and on…
Just look at the transaction history of my application taken from the patent office website.
I’m sure it is one of the longest that they ever had, or at least it seems that way to me. In the process of prosecuting (patent office terminology!) my application, my original examiner Mr. DePumpo got transferred and I had a new examiner in his place to examine my application. I sent nearly $3000US to the USPTO as fees during the last seven years.
I stopped working for Maruti Suzuki and got fully devoted to inventions and patents. The government of India, interestingly, lately started a lot of campaigns to encourage inventiveness and patenting in our country. But when I did not receive my mail the patent grant for my first patent and went to see the government minister for science and technology in New Delhi (I had to get a personal reference from a common friend, of course), he was uninterested. I wrote to the Prime Minister’s office, but there was no response. What I wanted to know was, where did my patent certificate go, if it had not even gone back to the US patent office? The Indian postal department promptly wrote to me earlier saying, they cannot help, as it was not a registered letter.
Incidentally, my first patent (No.6,717,300) was to my second application. This invention helps you monitor an induction motor after a power outage or shutdown. You can notice a decline in the motor performance using this invention and easily either repair or replace and reduce downtime and burnouts. I cannot expect a federal grant to develop this patent, as I am neither a US citizen nor a resident. I wrote to NASA, but they are not interested. FEMA could have used this technology to increase the energy efficiency of induction motors, but I did not have the courage to write to them. I am planning to develop it with my own family resources, using a micro-controller and some other components. In the meantime, Delhi has joined the race to catch Shanghai, so they do not allow you to do any commercial work. Luckily, my government doesn’t have any clue about what inventions are.
Anadish Pal, his wife and her maternal grandfather, age 96
Two years back, when my wife’s grandfather was alive, I once kneeled before his 96-year old frame and wanted to be blessed so that I am able to make my ‘gaddi’ (in Hindi we call a vehicle a ‘gaddi’, a cart… may be). Six months after that he died. His family migrated 300 years back from a place near Atok on the river Indus to Shrinagar in Kashmir to sectarian violence. His new village Gunni is still known for its witches. Could there be a possibility of magic…? But, sure, no magic can do away with hard work.
Not to forget Russel Shreve who took pains to give me pictures of a pendulum dicycle after reading my first article in EV World in 2002. I got in touch with Prof. Kazuo Yamafuji who had made a two-wheel balancing vehicle in Japan in 1997. He had wished me good luck, I remember.
In the meantime, after I got my first patent in 2004, I started working on a few new ideas and filed four more applications to the US patent office. Can you imagine this coming from a chap who used to scorn patenting anything. I’d tell people about how Prof. Armstrong (the inventor of FM and the super heterodyne radio receiver) jumped from the RCA building, because he was fed up with the way the RCA people treated him.
Lately, Indians are doing a good job on the original patent front, especially since US companies began outsourcing their call center jobs to Bangalore. From 1994 to 2004, there was a kind of patenting holiday – you need not file an Indian patent first, before filing a foreign patent. Now, the government has withdrawn that scheme. Still, Indians at the most get 400 US patents every year, many of these patents are assigned to foreign companies not even having their bases in India.
This tells you how and why I cannot think of getting any support from my government. One, it is extremely bureaucratic, then, the politicians are mostly unprofessional. So, how do I go about building my much-touted Personal Mobility Device or PMD? Can it really be something more than a retrotech curiosity?
My plans are...
But wait, I also have to answer my examiner on the objections he has on my third patent application which is about an encoder which may also work as a detachable steering column to my PMD. I am also working on, how to make a ceiling fan more efficient. I have started from where Ronnie Parker of Florida Solar Research left off and, I am making progress. I had a technical assistant till last year. He went back to his village; working with ideas and new designs was too boring for him! He wanted to work on projects so that he could make some extra money while shopping for hardware.
Seriously, my plans are to locate thin cross section ball bearings weighing just 14 kilos (like SG 350 by Silverthin Bearings), develop dovetail kind of modular stampings for my stator and to get down to making my small one-person PMD with around 1.2 meter wheels. Finally, we have to have strip core rolled and stamped – the kind they use to make car alternators. Use of a direct-drive motor definitely would lower noise compared to the noise generated by frictional or geared drives. Rubber tires are an immediate problem. But, I think, it would be possible to develop a mould to make solid tires – I know a friendly manufacturer. My wife teaches would be elementary education teachers. She is a great help. My brother in law has been regularly paying my patent office fees. My father has some modest savings, he seems to be helping at the moment. Then we have our house here, may be it can be sold and we move over to our ancestral house in Calcutta…..
I also have to pay my patent maintenance fees for the patents I have received and may receive. Well, I save money by filing for myself. I have proved my well wishers wrong by not getting sunk in inventions and patenting. You can just go to the USPTO site and go to patent application search and key in my name, you’ll get my published applications.
However, there is a possibility that a US PMD maker is listening and decides to contribute to the making of the prototype. I keep reading that the PMD market in the USA will expand, as more and more older people would depend upon these modes of personal transportation. Of course, Segway™ do not have a solution to that, except for a wheel chair.
May be there are rich people who’d like to place an order for this new kind of PMD, or simply donate… Ugh, too much optimism!! But, why not? They say, India is growing as a major hub for auto parts outsourcing. I have been working for more than ten years for the company which spawned this growth. There are, of course, all sorts of part manufacturers here who make everything for automobiles, except for just the microchips. You just need to pay them for their job, and I know many of them too.
The Indian government runs a technology initiative to search for grass root inventors. Unfortunately, they only search and make a database of sorts. They study the inventions too much – much more of evaluation and less of promotion. May be we start an inventions campus, where people are informed about evaluating and developing their technologies themselves – the Indian inventors need the government much less and need the Internet much more.
blog comments powered by Disqus