Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Ed Marcum | April 4, 2015
From electronic pet-training aids to technology that can scan the retina of an eye for potential disease, new patents have been plentiful for the Knoxville area.
If the number of patents is a measure of innovation, the area is just slightly behind Nashville and Memphis among the state’s top producers of new technology.
Figures released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office covering 2000-13 show that the Knoxville metro area generated 2,266 utility patents during that time. This compares with 2,670 for Memphis and 2,271 for Nashville in the same period. The Chattanooga area produced 626.
This ranks Knoxville 83rd in the country in the number of utility patents. San Jose, Calif., holds the top spot with 113,962 patents from 2000-13.
According to the patent office, UT-Battelle, management contractor of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has produced the largest number of first-named assignee utility patents for the Knoxville area with 664 from 2000-13. Mike Paulus, director of the Technology Transfer Division at ORNL, said developing and patenting inventions is a key job for the lab.
“A vital part of our mission is creating the technology that enables companies to go out and create jobs and wealth for the region,” he said.
Not to be confused with a trademark or copyright, a patent is a property right granted by the U.S. government, allowing an inventor to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. A utility patent is granted for a new “process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof,” according to the language of U.S. patents.
Top patent-holders in the Knoxville area range from UT-Battelle to Radio Systems Corp., makers of PetSafe brand pet products, to DeRoyal Industries, maker of medical equipment, and others.
At ORNL, scientists produce about 220 potentially patentable inventions each year and file about 80-100 patent applications from that number, Paulus said. ORNL grants licenses to its inventions if it determines a company or startup demonstrates the ability to develop the technology into successful products and services.
“Patents are important when a company needs to have protection for its product so that it has time to build a business around it,” he said.
Hubble Telemedical is one Knoxville-based startup that makes use of ORNL-patented technology. This technology was developed for examining integrated circuits but it was found it could also be used to study the eye’s retina for signs of disease, Paulus said.
Radio Systems Corp. was listed by the patent office as developing 50 patents since 2000. Its PetSafe brand produces electronic pet-training products sold in 52 nations and on six continents. In February, the company announced it would introduce 22 products in March.
Knoxville-based DeRoyal Industries has developed health care products and services since 1973. The U.S. Patent Office lists the company as having acquired 14 utility patents since 2000, but Bill Pittman, DeRoyal president and CEO, says the company has about 100 patents overall.
Developing and patenting new products is a priority, he said. The company has about 30 researchers who have patents on inventions and he has about six patents himself, Pittman said.
“We put a great amount of time and effort into looking for unique technologies that we can develop into products,” he said.
The company itself was built from a patented invention, Pittman said. Pete DeBusk, owner and founder of the company, was a pharmaceutical salesman who noticed how plaster casts worn on a person’s foot would deteriorate badly from walking. DeBusk developed and patented the orthopedic cast boot.
Pittman said it takes about three years to get a new product patented.
“So many times people have a good idea but they don’t know what to do with it,” he said. “We are always looking at how we can take that idea and make it into a product.”