Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Commerce Department’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) recently announced the latest winners of the Patents for Humanity program. The Patents for Humanity program was launched by the USPTO in February 2012 as part of an Obama administration initiative promoting game-changing innovations to solve long-standing development challenges.
“As innovation and economic progress have made the world increasingly connected, more and more industries are realizing that their technologies can improve lives everywhere,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office Michelle K. Lee. “The experiences of businesses across industries have shown that helping the less fortunate can go hand in hand with developing commercial markets, and that humanitarian entrepreneurship provides new opportunities for those with vision to pursue them.”
The Patents for Humanity Award is the top award for applicants best representing the Patents for Humanity principles. Award recipients will receive public recognition at an award ceremony sponsored by the USPTO. They will also receive a certificate to accelerate certain matters before the USPTO: a patent application, ex parte reexam, or an ex parte appeal to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board. Inter partes matters and other post-grant proceedings may not currently be accelerated. Honorable mentions will receive accelerated examination of one patent application and a featured write-up on the USPTO website. A portion of honorable mentions may be awarded for the best up-and-coming technologies.
Entrants competed in five categories: medicine, nutrition, sanitation, household energy and living standards. Applications to the pilot were accepted through October 31, 2014.
Following is a list of the 2015 Patents for Humanity winners:
Artemisinin is an important antimalarial drug derived from the sweet wormwood plant in Asia and Africa. Growing cycles, crop yields, and weather cause supply volatility of artemisinin, making it difficult to obtain at times. To address this problem, a public-private partnership to create synthetic artemisinin was formed in 2004 by PATH, the University of California Berkeley (a 2013 Patents for Humanity award winner), and Amyris, Inc., with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2007, Sanofi joined the project as the manufacturing partner for their chemical expertise and industrial capacity, taking this project from laboratory experiments to factory production. Sanofi is now supplying large quantities of artemisinin anti-malarial compounds on a no-profit-no-loss basis for use in developing countries.
Tuberculosis kills more adults worldwide than any infectious disease except HIV/AIDS. One of the biggest challenges facing tuberculosis researchers has been how to combat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which is caused by an organism that is resistant to the most potent tuberculosis drugs. Novartis has discovered a class of compounds called indolcarboxamides that are active against drug-sensitive and multidrug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. In an arrangement requiring no upfront or milestone payments, Novartis has provided their entire tuberculosis R&D program, including these compounds, to the TB Alliance, a non-profit product-development partnership that seeks to find new and improved tuberculosis treatment regimens. The agreement allows the TB Alliance to develop these compounds further into potential tuberculosis treatments and potentially conduct clinical trials. Early toxicology, safety, and therapeutic studies have been promising.
American Standard Brands
American Standard’s “SaTo” (Safe Toilet) Technology was created for people worldwide who do not have access to safe, basic sanitation. The SaTo Technology includes specially designed latrine pans and collectors with a counterweighted trapdoor-like flapper that can be flushed by pouring a small amount of water onto it. Upon closure, the flapper door creates an air-tight seal that reduces odors and prevents insects from entering and exiting the pit, eliminating a primary route of disease transmission. American Standard has partnered with BRAC, UNICEF, Save the Children, and other non-governmental organizations to distribute SaTo pans and collectors throughout the developing world. Over 700,000 SaTo pans have been distributed in Bangladesh, Uganda, Haiti, Malawi, and the Philippines.
Nearly 18 percent of the world’s population is energy impoverished. Traditional forms of lighting are combustion-based (firewood, charcoal, kerosene and dung), contributing to an estimated 3.5 million deaths a year from health impacts and house fires. For these communities, SunPower has outfitted a standard shipping container with solar panels on top and equipment inside to power hundreds of safe, rechargeable lanterns. Locals rent these lanterns for a small fee which is then reinvested to expand and improve the program. SunPower donates the container and supplies to partner organizations, along with ongoing technical support.
According to UNICEF, as many as 67 million children suffer from acute malnutrition every year. Children suffering from prolonged malnutrition often develop digestive problems that interfere with eating more food, causing further health problems and death. Nutriset developed nutritional products made from peanuts and other ingredients that helps malnourished children quickly and safely regain weight and digestive function. In addition to delivering their Plumpy’Nut branded products throughout the world with partners like UNICEF and USAID, Nutriset also offers open licensing to producers in the developing world so communities can work toward self-sufficiency. Their PlumpyField® network assembles entrepreneurs in participating countries to manufacture the Plumpy range of products for local needs.
Despite current interventions, vitamin A deficiency is the leading killer of children globally (2 – 3 million annually) and also is the leading cause of childhood blindness (500,000 cases annually). Most cases occur in Asia where the staple food white rice, eaten by 3.5 billion people daily, lacks vitamin A sources typically found in animal products and leafy vegetables. These deaths and blindness are preventable. Golden Rice was genetically enhanced to provide a source of vitamin A for people subsisting mainly on rice, making it one of the first biofortified foods. Professors Potrykus and Beyer invented the technology after a decade of research, and have worked with Dr. Dubock since 2000 to donate it to the resource poor in developing countries. Local Golden Rice varieties are currently being developed by public sector institutions in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Through licenses with national governments, farmers are free to plant, grow, harvest, locally sell, and replant seed – there are no licenses for farmers and no fees for use.
Global Research Innovation & Technology (“GRIT”)
An estimated 65 million people in the developing world require wheelchairs. However, conventional wheelchairs don’t function well on the rough and uneven terrain commonly found in developing regions. GRIT was created by engineering graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”) to increase mobility for the disabled around the world. Their three-wheel Leveraged Freedom Chair uses a push-lever drivetrain to help people move over broken pavement, dirt roads, fields, hills, rocky terrain and more. It’s built from standard bicycle parts to enable local repairs with available materials. After graduating, the MIT students founded GRIT to bring the product to market, and MIT assisted by transferring the patent rights to GRIT for further development. The chair has been distributed in partnership with the World Bank, Red Cross, and others in India, Brazil, Guatemala, Guinea, Kenya, Haiti, Easter Island, Nepal, and Tanzania. A new version of the Leveraged Freedom Chair, known simply as the Freedom Chair, is now available in the United States for recreational use, helping Americans move beyond the pavement.
For more information on Patents for Humanity, including expanded descriptions of the winning patents and selection criteria, visit www.uspto.gov/patents/init_events/patents_for_humanity.jsp.