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NASA Patents To Be Auctioned

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the free-pair-of-scissors-for-the-red-tape dept.

NASA 224

Presto Vivace writes to tell us that as a continuing push to commercialize NASA-funded technology a group of 25 NASA patents will be auctioned off this coming October. "The sale, which will include rights to signal processing, GPS for spacecraft and sensor technologies, is the first auction under a partnership announced earlier this month between Goddard's Innovative Partnerships Program (IPP) and Ocean Tomo Federal Services LLC. Ocean Tomo provides a marketplace for intellectual property, which NASA wants to leverage in commercializing its technology."

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Great! (4, Funny)

BitterOldGUy (1330491) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016771)

The HHT technology is a highly efficient, adaptive and user-friendly set of algorithms for analyzing time-varying processes, designed specifically for nonlinear and nonstationary signals.

Finally a version that can be used in the home! I'll see if my grandma needs this.

Re:Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25016951)

Ocean Tomo provides a marketplace for intellectual property

I will do even better! I will provide a marketplace for dragons, magic spells, and all kinds of imaginary stuff!

Oh crap, the MMO's beat me to the punch. :(

http://www.zoofur.com/ohmy.jpg (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017045)

The Danes are buying all the IP! Here is the first draw of a buyer. [rapidshare.com] No, I don't mean MMO's and grandmas. We're talkin deep cuntlery of the southern shore.

Re:Great! (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017233)

Nonono, User-Friendly means Illiad gets a discount.

Auctioned off? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25016781)

Those patents belong to the American people!

Re:Auctioned off? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017467)

I agree. Where's our cut?

I had the same reaction (4, Informative)

Presto Vivace (882157) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017549)

this is our property.

Great, we get to pay for them again! (5, Insightful)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016789)

As a US taxpayer, I already funded the research that led to these patents. Now they'll sell them off, which superficially sounds like a good thing. But the reality is that it means that I get to pay for them again. The companies buying the patents aren't ultimately the ones paying, it's those of us that buy products from those companies.

The results of taxpayer-funded research need to be made freely available, not sold to the highest bidder.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (5, Funny)

morikahnx (1323841) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016863)

Maybe NASA is planning on paying us back?

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (4, Funny)

msauve (701917) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016963)

"Maybe NASA is planning on paying us back?"

Free Tang for everyone!

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017325)

So long as it's not free Bane (slightly obscure Sarah Jane Adventures #1 ref).

Re:"Free Tang" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017727)

"Maybe NASA is planning on paying us back?"

Free Tang for everyone!

Oh no. I'm not falling for that again. Still paying for the last "Free Tang" I was offered.

Only you can prevent orbital bombardment. (4, Funny)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017073)

The only way they could possibly pay me back is to go back to the moon and deliver several thousand payloads of rock to DC. That should cover any debt they owe me nicely.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (5, Insightful)

BitterOldGUy (1330491) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016885)

Ah. So the American Corp who would get these patents (by lottery or by political connections), saving money on R&D, can now pass the savings on to the CEO in terms of even higher salary and perks. He earned it after all by saving the company millions of dollars in R&D costs.

In the meantime, NASA doesn't get to recover the costs that they spent (our tax dollars) and therefore has to beg Congress for more money. Congress, on the other hand, has things they would rather spend money on: wars, pork barrel spending, things that buy votes from joe sixpack who doesn't give a rat's ass about space - space science is one of those "elitist" pursuits, bridges to no-where, tax breaks to big oil, tax breaks to big corps who've lobbied for them, their own increasing salaries and perks, etc....

Sorry, I didn't mean to sound bitter.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (2, Funny)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017285)

No, you don't sound bitter. Bitter, preferably draught and in the form of three pints (with plenty of peanuts) might be a good thing right now. I would argue that you sound perceptive.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017311)

Tax cuts for big oil [seekingalpha.com] ? They should really pay more than 40% of their profits in taxes, and also jack up the price of gas to $12/gallon so they have even more profits to suck from so we can raise welfare salary for those 4th generation welfare kids.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (3, Interesting)

onionlee (836083) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017423)

I think your basic assumption is incorrect. Rather than saving on R&D, the company will be forced to make a better cheaper product. If the research was made freely available, no single company has a monopoly on the technology. This of course will increase competition, in the end bringing back our well spent tax money. Imagine if mp3 players still were held under a single patent (see: http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/09/08/1343248 [slashdot.org] ) No iPod D: and no Zune (>_> then again, that could be a good thing...)

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1, Insightful)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016905)

No, you'll still have paid only once, assuming the terms of this sale are equitable. Your original investment (taxes paid) into the research that created these patents is being *sold*, not given, to a private company. NASA is getting something in return for this, which means you are getting something in return for it.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (4, Insightful)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017225)

No, I get to pay more every time I buy products using the patented technology. When I paid the taxes to fund NASA, it was most certainly NOT with the intention or stated purpose that they would develop things to sell to me.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017527)

No, I get to pay more every time I buy products using the patented technology.

The value of the research that happened due to your tax contributions is still in NASA's hands, because NASA traded that research for cash at (presumably) a fair market value, via an auction. It's still your money, if you subscribe to the notion that the government is yours.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

beakerMeep (716990) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017257)

Except if they need to license the patent back from whomever they sold it too. This is the common great swindle of privatization.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017281)

which means you are getting something in return for it.

You mean we get another orbit for the International Space Station??

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (2, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017433)

This assumes that I own part of NASA or that NASA pays me something out of its profits. All of which is false.

GP was right. I funded the research with my tax dollars, I own part of it. Either I get some of the cash that the auction netted, or this is nothing but corporate welfare. To anyone who's arguing that the corporation is still paying for it: there's a world of difference between paying for research and stumbling on something that makes money, and paying for a patent on something that makes money. In one, the money overlord bears the risk of the research failing. In the other, the research risk has already been born.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017823)

(Hmm, Slashdot seems to have eaten my reply to this. Sorry if it appears twice.)

This assumes that I own part of NASA or that NASA pays me something out of its profits. All of which is false.

I disagree that this is false. NASA is "owned" by the US government, and we individually have some say in how it uses its assets. NASA's "profits" are the benefits that NASA provides the people of the US (and the world, if you prefer). If NASA is not providing any sort of benefit, you need to write your legislators and tell them to eliminate it, just like you would any other government program that's not doing anything useful.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25016977)

This is what happens when a government actively screws its own people to benefit corporations.

Don't ever vote Republican again.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016981)

And if they gave them away you think that the products would be cheaper?
What do you think would be better?

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017245)

Of course. If company A has to buy a patent to produce product X, don't you expect they'll factor the cost of that patent into the selling price of the product? Or do you think they're running some kind of charity?

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (5, Insightful)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016983)

But the reality is that it means that I get to pay for them again.

Suppose instead that you were the sole owner of the patents, but for some reason (you choose) you didn't want to spend money to develop and market products based upon the patents, even though you might personally be interested in buying whatever products are ultimately produced using the patents. Would you not be happy with a cash settlement from the sale of your patents? Presumably you could still purchase whatever products came out of the patents and enjoy them while paying a small share of what the patent buyer paid you (in the form of a higher product price) in exchange for a product that you want. How is this not a good deal?

Now, in theory it would be better if all of us taxpayers saw some "return" on our investment in the form of lower taxes going forward based upon the proceeds of a successful sale of patents generated from publicly funded research. However, in practice any proceeds will probably go to NASA and not be returned to the US Treasury so in that sense the US taxpayer is getting a bit of the shaft. On the other hand, maybe some useful products, which wouldn't otherwise be available to the public, will come of this so it may not all be bad.

If the patents were made freely available then other countries and foreign companies could free-ride and enjoy the fruits of our research efforts without reimbursing us for any of the costs that we have already paid for the research. How would that make you feel? Perhaps you prefer that nobody earns any profit, even though your tax dollars are already a sunk cost either way, just to spite the winning bidders? Either way you still paid for the research and got no direct return.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017289)

Lower taxes resulting from sale of the patents? What are you smoking, and where can I get some?

If I was concerned about foreign companies being able to take advantage of the research I've paid for, I'd want NASA to sell the foreign patent rights, not the US patents. But the reality is that it's just as much in my interest for foreign companies to be able to use the research results as domestic companies, because in either case if they have to buy patents, they'll mark up the prices they charge me for their products.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (2, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017333)

How reasonable. What are you doing on Slashdot?
The other choice would be to grant none exclusive rights to companies. Maybe on a per product basis? That would then open up problems with auditing and do we want NASA doing that?

My choice would be to offer the patents free to any US company that builds their product in the US. But that would be a mess to monitor.
Frankly this seems like a reasonable way to deal with these patents.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (2, Insightful)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017493)

Of course. Except the analogy is wrong. In this case, I (NASA) was paid by someone. That someone is the US taxpayer. As it seems that the patents were work for hire (as evidenced by the fact that they belong to NASA, and not the inventor), they belong to whoever paid the money. I.e., me (the US taxpayer).

I could accept the alternative of lower taxes because NASA wouldn't require so much funding, but alas, I'm pretty sure DC will find some other uses for my taxes.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016999)

Well, don't waste your steam here. Vent your indignation at your senators, congress-critters, etc. Raise a stink in the newspapers. Make it an election issue. Where does Barak sit on the issue? What about McCain?

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017071)

As a US taxpayer, I already funded the research that led to these patents.

It would be nice to think that the $$ made by selling off these patents would reduce the increase in tax dollars to fund nasa, sure the consumer is ultimately paying for it... but at least it would be for something that they WANT to buy this time.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (3, Insightful)

reebmmm (939463) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017147)

Let me just add: nothing is being sold. Each of the lots is "an exclusive license" and not an actual assignment. Presumably, the exclusive license will have development and commercialization requirements--just like any other federally funded patent license agreement. Typically, the point is to bring the technology to market. Obviously, NASA doesn't think it's doing a good job of that right now.

Also, you have a very messed up idea of how government works. Things that happen with your tax monies aren't freely available to you. If a pig farmer gets a subsidy, you can't go take a pig.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (3, Insightful)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017331)

Whether it's an exclusive license or a sale, the result is the same. I get to pay for the research again and again.

Your example with the pig is exactly why the government shouldn't be giving out subsidies. I am unable to identify which of the Powers of Congress enumerated in Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution includes the power to grant subsidies to private entities.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

gunner2028 (922634) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017373)

Thank you for your insightful comment. Nothing is permanently being given away, instead a single purchaser will have the right to utilize and control the utilization and implementation the technology patented. The right of ownership will still be retained by NASA (and hence the U.S. Public).

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017531)

Since Patents last for 20 years, if that right to utilize and control the utilization is for a period of 20 years, then would in fact be a sale.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

trickonion (943942) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017405)

If a pig farmer gets a subsidy, you can't go take a pig.

Maybe you should be able to

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017537)

If a pig farmer gets a subsidy, you can't go take a pig.

Actually, I can. The supermarket will sell me a pork loin for less than I would have without the subsidy. That works for me.

However, when a patent is sold, a monopoly position is sold. And monopoly rents work completely different from regular supply and demand curves.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017191)

The entire purpose of NASA to begin with was for open research and space-technology.

ALL NASA funded research should be property of the US public domain. i.e. Patented by the USA but no specific company or entity.

I have always been a firm supporter of NASA, but if they privatize then pull the funding. If they want taxpayer money fine, but if they are going private then go all the way, and let the insiders pay for their own research instead of leeching the public.

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017197)

I agree... the whole point of NASA research is that it is public domain and now they are going to sell it to the highest bidder?!?

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017307)

I thought that was part of the plan? Reduce the size of government (all your "social" programs and "social" laws) by increasing a big business ideal that means very rich people supported by a whole lot of very poor people -- at home and elsewhere. Enlarging of course your "anit-social" programs to protect those rich people from those poor people (at home and elsewhere) meaning the military, Homeland Security, and your last decade of rather bizarre legislation for copyright cops, surveillance, etc.

I say this as an outsider of course, and I've only been around for the last fifty years, but that sure is what it looks like. Call it neo-con or Reagan Revolution or whatever you like, this NASA auction sounds perfectly in step. Isn't that what you wanted?

Re:Great, we get to pay for them again! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017663)

That's exactly what I was thinking--although my thought went something like "does nasa actually own those patents to sell them" ?

I mean...my understanding is that those patents are 1/301,139,947th mine. I'm sure there's some legal construct set up so they aren't--but it still rubs the wrong way to think about it.

Auction? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25016791)

Why not release into the public domain?

This can't be good. (1)

Kid Zero (4866) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016801)

So NASA gets a couple of pennies while anyone who wants to use the technology gets their pocketbooks pillaged?

Am I understanding that right?

Re:This can't be good. (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016939)

The patents are being auctioned, not given away for "a couple of pennies."

Re:This can't be good. (1)

Bobzibub (20561) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017213)

If I ran China or Russia, I'd auction a t-bill and bid a couple pennies more.

Tax payer funded patents (0, Redundant)

chasingsol (743706) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016809)

Wait a second. Wasn't it my taxes that paid for the research that led to those patents? They should release the patents to the public that paid for them. I can understand wanting to raise funds, but not if it means that the patents will end up being abused by some random patent troll to stifle innovation.

Re:Tax payer funded patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017275)

My thought exactly. How can they even have patents in the first place? This is absurd.

Hell No! (3, Insightful)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016817)

If my tax dollars paid for the research and development that has lead to a patent, then that patent should remain in the hands of the government, not sold to the highest bidder.

If these patents are so valuable that someone is willing to buy them (and theoretically license them), then NASA should be licensing the patents themselves. Sounds like a better long-term supplemental funding solution to me. Several other agencies have fee and license structures (FCC, FDA) that helps supplement their annual Congressional appropriations. Why not NASA as well?

Re:Hell No! (4, Insightful)

Adambomb (118938) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016949)

Why not NASA as well?

Easy answer with a question: Why would they set up a licensing setup (with all the overhead and fun as their investment) when the government can instead get the big boost from the initial sale and then tax both the sale itself, the revenue of the company, and the sales of the consumer? This would then shunt any overhead of profiting off the patent to the winning bidder as well.

Granted, the answer only makes sense when it goes with the assumption that it can be spun such that your objection doesn't become the 51%+ demographic as you're exactly right that this is complete bull.

Re:Hell No! (1)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017261)

Easy answer with a question: Why would they set up a licensing setup (with all the overhead and fun as their investment) when the government can instead get the big boost from the initial sale and then tax both the sale itself, the revenue of the company, and the sales of the consumer? This would then shunt any overhead of profiting off the patent to the winning bidder as well.

Then contract out the license management (just like the armed forces contract out the supply chain) with a percentage cut for the private contractor. This way the license manager has an incentive to get licensees in the private sector, and NASA retains ultimate control. But don't sell the patent!

Once you've sold the patent there isn't anything you can do to stop mishandling of it. I wouldn't be surprised to one day find out that NASA can't move forward on a project without a hefty license fee on a patent they once owned...

Re:Hell No! (1)

StreetStealth (980200) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017019)

This is like selling your state's tollway [motherjones.com] because you can't balance the budget.

Yes, you get to feel like you solved the budget crisis this year. Too bad you can only do it once.

Re:Hell No! (1)

RabidMonkey (30447) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017153)

They did the same thing here in Ontario - Highway 407 was built with public money. Then the conservative government came into power leased it for 99 years to a foreign company (407 ETR). I'm sure after 99 years is up, if we're even using roads then, the government will have to pick up the cost of it, as well.

Something as public as a road (or water, hydro, etc) shouldn't be privatized - it just leads to gouging as there can't be competition in these spaces.

Short term gain for long term pain.

Re:Hell No! (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017081)

Suppose that NASA did license them and got paid a yearly fee for the remaining duration of the patent. You could even throw in revenue from multiple interested licensees (since the patents are valuable and more than one firm would probably like to license them...or at least lets suppose for the sake of argument that this is true). Shouldn't we be willing to accept instead a lump-sum payment at auction equivalent to the present value [wikipedia.org] of those future licensing payments? It doesn't really matter whether we sell up front at auction or collect license payments, it can be discounted to a present value either way.

WTF? What about public domain? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25016829)

NASA is a government agency, it is funded by taxpayers money. All research by NASA and patents they own should be in the public domain, it belong to the people.
They cant just auction them away. The work was made by a government agency, so it belongs to the people!

"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (4, Insightful)

hirschma (187820) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016839)

TFA didn't really get into detail, but does this mean:

1. Taxpayers fund research,
2. Government patents results,
3. Government sells patents to private concern,
4. Taxpayer gets to pay for research again via the consumer channel,
5. Private concern profits?

Seems like another form of corporate welfare to me. Is this the case?

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016925)

"Seems like another form of corporate welfare to me. Is this the case?"

In the US, welfare is a dirty word unless linked to "personal" or "corporate", then it's the best thing since sliced bread.

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017007)

The patents are being auctioned. This means these corporations are paying your government (thus you, indirectly) cash money. It's not corporate welfare, but it is effectively a one-time tax (you paid taxes to fund the research that went into these patents, and the money resulting from their sale is going to the government, not back to you).

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017149)

Unless, of course, you buy anything that the corporation sells.

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017385)

Which you undoubtedly will, at some point, where the prices have gone up to cover the cost of paying for the patents and make a healthy(?) profit on top. I don't disapprove of companies making money, or of companies using NASA patents, but I am definitely not keen on anything that turns a potential benefit to society into an exclusive benefit for a board of directors and select shareholders.

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017387)

How so?

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1)

hirschma (187820) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017479)

You are assuming that the corporation will be paying at least the R&D costs, or more.

As this is an auction, they may be getting very valuable patents, which cost dearly to research, for very cheaply.

And, even if they get the patents for the cost of the R&D, they may still make horrendous profits off the backs of the consumer.

I fail to see why the government should be spending tax dollars to solely benefit private companies.

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (2, Insightful)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017697)

The government spent tax dollars for NASA. NASA did research that resulted in patents. The value of those patents is all that matters at this point. The rest is a sunk cost [wikipedia.org] . An auction swaps two things of equal value: here, a patent license, and cash. NASA will be able to do more with the cash than they will with a patent. The company owner will be able to do more with a patent license than they can with the cash. For taxpayers, it's a zero sum, except now we have products coming to market that we wouldn't have had before.

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1)

elBart0 (444317) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017495)

What are the odds that the cost to generate the research will be greater than the monies received from the auction?

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017755)

So in your world, where NASA would be forbidden from selling these patents, could you explain how NASA could recover the sunk cost [wikipedia.org] of that research? The difference between the money you paid for the research, and the fruits of that research, is gone. It's not coming back. It's the value of that research (i.e. the patents) that matters now. NASA is converting that value from a useless thing (patent) into a useful thing (cash). You and your government have exactly the same value of assets as you had before.

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017369)

I'm against corporate welfare like the next guy. It could be argued that having the patents go into the public domain would actually be the corporate welfare. If those companies got to use those patents for nothing, would that not actually be the corporate welfare?

It's not like grandma is going to pull out a soldering iron and start hacking spacecraft sensors, where some of us hackers on slashdot might.

Why is it that using that word... (1)

msimm (580077) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017381)

'Government' makes it sound like you're talking about something somehow different or greater then yourself.

I mean, the people did the research, which was funded by...the people and now a small group of people want to sell it to private interests. Sometimes people need to remind people who and what their government is for. Sometimes we even need to remind ourselves.

Re:"Socialize losses, privatize gains" variation? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017545)

Let me speak as someone who has worked directly with some of the IP involved in this auction. NASA chooses to pursue some types of technology development because it:

A) has a direct benefit to NASA and
B) private corporations for one reason or another choose not to explore the area

NASA will develop and mature this technology for its own use (often to the point of building functional devices for its own missions), even though it might have further commercial (usually in the space business, not consumer items!) applications. Obviously, if the technology has uses beyond NASAs own, then the technology should be "spun off", it should not be locked up within the agency. A smart company will buy the IP, build the device, and reap the monetary rewards, hopefully with a benefit to the end consumer of the technology. NASA is not in the business of building widgets for profit, or even at cost, outside of its own use. Yes, in some ways it is corporate welfare, a corporation gets valuable technology. Hopefully the price paid reimburses NASA for the costs of development.

Strange disparity between patents and copyrights (4, Insightful)

compumike (454538) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016859)

For copyrightable material, "Works created by an agency of the United States government are public domain at the moment of creation." [wikipedia.org]

But here, for patentable material, it's clear that that is not the case. The theory goes that since the taxpayer paid for it, the taxpayer should get the rights to it. It's essentially always the case that the inventors will "assign" the work to the organization... but should NASA really be able to hold a competitive IP position when we're all forced to pay for its work?

Think of the private spaceflight organizations, for example, who might want to enter similar fields. They're already being forced to pay for NASA's research (via taxes), but they're being excluded from the result, while the opposite (NASA forced to pay for private company XYZ's research without a return of IP) is not happening.

--
Hey code monkey... learn electronics! Powerful microcontroller kits for the digital generation. [nerdkits.com]

How to screw the U.S. Taxpayer (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25016895)

Gee, we paid for these patents. The end result of this will be higher prices when consumers end up using the results of this technology.

If they wanted to promote technology, they should put these in the public domain; but instead they've opted to make some more money by screwing the people who provided the funding in the first place.

This is also what Universities have been doing with public money and the patents they come up there, over the last 20 years. Which has lead, IMO, to less innovation (and a few richer professors). So, while NASA isn't alone here, the entire US government has plunged headfirst into doing their best to stifle innovation, and worsening the common good, all in the name of a few quick bucks.

If today's stock market action is any indication, this whole steaming mess is about to come crashing down. But with NASA and the Universities approach, it will stay down for quite a while.

When will they get it that the economy is better off by increasing innovation, rather than hindering it?

Thank G*d we still have OSS left.

The Public Owns That Stuff (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016901)

It's bad enough that NASA patents its inventions at all. But perhaps it's occasionally necessary, to prevent dangerous tech from getting into private hands. And maybe if the patents were awarded to American holders strategically to "promote progress in science and the useful arts", which is the only basis patents have, from the Constitution, they might be worth their infringements on free communication and further innovation.

But those inventions were paid for by the entire American public, as directed under the government elected by the public to serve the entire public. Simply turning them over to private corps for a little money doesn't justify the public investment.

It's just another subsidy forced on the entire public on some special preference for some private corporation. I thought Republicans hated that kind of thing.

Re:The Public Owns That Stuff (1)

chromatic (9471) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016937)

How would patenting (that is, disclosing the mechanism of an invention publicly in return for a government-supported monopoly in producing, distributing, and using that invention) prevent dangerous technology from getting into private hands? If those private hands can't afford it, that's one thing -- but very dangerous and well-funded private hands might not care that they don't have a legal right to produce, distribute, or use a publicly-disclosed invention.

Re:The Public Owns That Stuff (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017069)

Well, I'm not talking about a death ray or anything. I'm talking about new tech that doesn't yet have any laws protecting the public from some danger posed by a new invention, but which patent laws could stop from distribution. Stuff that would make its possessor laugh in the face of patent laws or any other laws, because they've got more power, shouldn't be disclosed, and typically isn't, as a matter of national security. But violating a patent to make, say, some new radio jammer or eavesdropper is going to raise a barrier to the patent jumper, even if they do have a lot of lawyers, and a reckless disregard for public safety.

But your question does show that patents are only very rarely justifiable at all. There is even less legitimate reason to put most NASA inventions that the whole country pays for into the hands of some single monopoly on it.

Re:The Public Owns That Stuff (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017051)

It seems to me that by patenting an invention, it allows the US government to ensure that only US companies (taxpayers) can exploit that patent. Making something the equivalent of public domain would seem to allow companies in other countries to profit from this research. It also seems plausible to me that the WTO might have a few things to say about the US government preferentially licensing patents to US companies.

Re:The Public Owns That Stuff (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017161)

I like the idea of the US government requiring all patents it registers to be licensed or sold to only US companies, or else revert back to the US government.

But I see no sign that such a policy is in effect.

As for the WTO, if someone wants to sue the US government for preferring to subsidize US people, I'd like to see such an argument make a lot of noise, enough to get the US out of the WTO - or any other international trade regime that requires a "suicide pact".

Re:The Public Owns That Stuff (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017207)

It's just another subsidy forced on the entire public on some special preference for some private corporation.

It is not a subsidy because it is being sold at auction which means that if the patent is valuable then it will very quickly be bid up to its fair market value (or perhaps even higher) by competing interested parties. Some of them might want to use the patent to produce products while others might want to acquire the patent and use it to sue other firms that are infringing the patent. Either way, the auction is the best format to sell these patents because they are not generally sold as everyday items and nobody is exactly sure what the fair market price is before competitive bidding has settled it. It would be special preference if the government sold it for a low ball price to a preferred buyer in a no-bid deal (the same way they did with the no-bid cost plus Iraq logistics contracts) but this appears to be a fair public auction.

Re:The Public Owns That Stuff (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017419)

When its "fair market value" is below the cost to produce it, a cost paid by the taxpayers, that's a subsidy.

I didn't argue with the auction as the format to sell it. But I will, since you brought it up: the better way to award the patent, if that is at all appropriate, is strategically to a company that will provide the most public benefit (or patch a hole in a public liability).

The problem is not the preference: that's a proper role for the government to play, when such preference is in the public interest. The problem is that the public interest doesn't seem to enter into these transactions at all. Only a way to subsidize some private interests, even if they have to fight among themselves for the privilege of being the one to win the prize.

Re:The Public Owns That Stuff (1)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017765)

You don't even understand his complaint. People are upset because they feel that if tax dollars paid for the research, then the patent ought to be public domain, instead of sold to the highest bidder for a profit. That's like making everybody pay for the patent once, and then granting monopoly powers to whomever elects to pay for it twice.

"The public owns it" (1)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 6 years ago | (#25016947)

No. No one can own a patent, not a person, not the public, not a corporation, not the government, not NASA. An invention is not property, it cannot be owned. Replicating a process does not infringe on property rights.

ObFuturama (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017719)

Farnsworth: "Hey! Unless this is a nude love-in... get the hell off my property!"
Free Waterfall Junior: "You can't own property, man."
Farnsworth: "I can. But that's because I'm not a penniless hippie."

Re:"The public owns it" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017847)

Oh for $Deity's sake!

The invention isn't the property, the patent is. You can't "own" anything but a set of legal rights to a thing, no matter what the thing is. No one has the authority to grant you ownership over land, your car, or your stapler. The entire idea of "ownership" is an artificial legal construct. Property is nothing more or less than a government-backed set of exclusive rights. Without law, you can only possess something, but that only works so long as your force holds out over competing forces.

If it's a system of physical exclusion, it's only yours so long as someone stronger doesn't come along who wants it. That's not ownership, because inherent to the idea of ownership is that someone doesn't have a right to take it from you.

An eBay auction perhaps? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017009)

Item is of fantastic quality! The packaging was notably fine. Swift to send. A+++

The Best Way? (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017057)

They claim they want to sell the patents so that the technology is available for American businesses? Wouldn't the best way to do that be to not patent them at all in the first place? Or at least liscense the patents cheaply to any and all interested American businesses?

We already paid for the research once, now we'll end up paying for it again when some company begins gouging prices because they hold the patent and no one else can compete.

Re:The Best Way? (1)

Theoboley (1226542) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017151)

That's called creating a monopoly. There are laws in effect to prevent that.

Re:The Best Way? (1)

SomeJoel (1061138) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017303)

These laws you mention are suspended as it relates to patented material until the patent expires.

The same Ocean Tomo ... (1)

DrJimbo (594231) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017167)

... that was part of the SCO scam? [groklaw.net]

Great.

Couldn't they make a ton more money (2, Insightful)

WiglyWorm (1139035) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017199)

by liscencing them?

Say what? (2, Insightful)

miffo.swe (547642) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017237)

Correct me if im wrong but since when did NASA fund its own research instead of receiving enormous sums of money from the taxpayers? From where i stand this does look like NASA wants to cash in twice. US taxpayers have already paid for the patents once.

These patents should be free to use for Americans but by all means use them competitively against the rest of us.

Re:Say what? (1)

Fastolfe (1470) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017471)

The sum of the money you've paid NASA in taxes, and the value of NASA's cash and assets, will not have changed at the instant this deal goes through. The value of the patents will be converted to real cash. If you buy products from the company that wins the auction, you will pay for the company's expenses (the value of the patent), because it will be priced into their products, but the cash originally taxed for NASA is still in NASA's hands (minus the difference in value of the research vs. patent, which is a sunk cost and unrecoverable no matter what you do).

How old are these patents? (1)

kaaona (252061) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017295)

I don't suppose anyone knows when those patents were granted and how many years before they expire. If Engulf-And-Devour, Inc. wants to pay for a patent that's got three years left on the clock, that doesn't seem quite as bad as EAD, Inc. snapping up a patent on a technology or process that has 15 years left on it.

hmmm... why not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017301)

... put 'em in the public domain and ask for donations? They've already been paid for by the tax payers... our band usually makes more money at gigs where we ask for donations than at those where we charge for admission. Just a thought.

I swear I understand this the first time I read it (1)

Elementalor (551544) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017375)

If NASA patents to be auctioned, does it mean that my parents will have to pay NASA if they want to auction me?

::ducks..::

Only patents? No Aliens? Boring! (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017435)

Patents, schmatents.

I want to bid for the Aliens that NASA secretly captured!

Well, some Alien technology would be cool, too.

Does the US Patent Office have jurisdiction over Alien Intellectual Property?

What is NASA anyway ? (3, Insightful)

billcopc (196330) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017583)

Pardon my unamerican ignorance, but what is NASA exactly ? If they are a government operation, shouldn't these patents be delivered to the public domain ? After all, they are the fruits of tax dollars.

Maybe I have a weird, overly accurate definition of democracy, but it seems as though government property should be considered public property... but hey, don't mind me and my commonwealth mindset. I'm just a cocky Canadian after all.

Wrong approach (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017589)

Experience has shown us that the correct way to make money off unexploited patents is to sue people in the Eastern District of Texas.

I Smell A Rat (3, Interesting)

mpapet (761907) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017633)

Question: HOW does it come to pass that the contractor was awarded this?

James E. Malackowski (CEO of the auction firm) is very well connected in government. He sits on the board of the non-profit running invent.org, whose main sponsor is the USPTO.

His campaign contribution record is decidedly democratic, but the contribution to Henry Hyde's reelection campaign is interesting.

Is this the proverbial "Smoking Gun?" No. But probably a case of paying into the system to stay inside the beltway on these issues and pick up a contract along the way.

What I didn't do was see if this was your average "no-bid" private contract for cronies and whether the dollar amount would qualify the matter as a violation in the contracting process. Please contribute!

First dibs (1)

BigJClark (1226554) | more than 6 years ago | (#25017653)


Shotgun velcro!!!

Patent trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25017679)

What if patent trolls buy them and wait for someone to use a similar technology then sue? This would be HUGELY counter productive, I hope they prevent this from happening.

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