High-power lasers are used in semiconductor electronics fabrication for micro-machining by ablating selected materials to form various structures. The ’818 patent discloses a “photonic milling” system that uses a beamlet array to mill away selected conductive material (e.g., to remove an electrical connection between two conductive circuit portions). According to the ’818 patent, a pulsed laser beam is parsed into a beamlet array, and the beamlets are each modulated and focused onto the workpiece. The workpiece is moved around underneath the optical system by an x-y positioner in coordination with the delivery of the modulated beamlet array to ablate specific targets on the surface of the workpiece.
According to its website, ESI markets “innovative, laser-based manufacturing solutions for the microtechnology industry,” and its product line includes laser systems (e.g., for fuse processing, trimming, and micromachining) that can utilize the laser milling system of the ’818 patent. According to the USPTO database, ESI received 24 U.S. patents in 2010, 34 U.S. patents in 2011, and 14 U.S. patents (so far) in 2012.
I will be attending the upcoming 2012 Photonics West conference in January 2012, and I’d enjoy meeting any readers of the Photonics Patents™ blog that may also be attending. If interested, please feel free to contact me at @Itchkawitz or at bsi “at” kmob “dot” com.
One of the highlights of the Photonics West conference will be the 2011 “Prism Awards”, scheduled to be presented by SPIE and Photonics Media on Wednesday, January 25th for innovations in the field of photonics. Prior to the awards, I thought it’d be interesting to look at the U.S. patents and published patent applications of some of the finalists in various categories.
The three finalists in the Optics and Optical Communications category each have filed U.S. patent applications directed to the products for which they have been nominated:
Haas LTI’s recently-published U.S. patent application US2011/0249342A1 describes a method for thermally compensating lenses in an optical system for high power lasers by “harnessing the thermal advantages of fused silica and offsetting the [positive] change in index of refraction [versus temperature, i.e., dn/dT] with a second material having a negative dn/dT.” Listed examples of suitable materials include CaF2, BaF2, LiF2, NaCl, and KCl. According to the USPTO website, Haas’ application was recently examined by the USPTO, which found that some of the claims recite allowable subject matter. I expect that Haas will make the relatively minor changes which will place the application in condition for allowance, likely resulting in the patent issuing in early 2012. The company will likely also file a continuation application (perhaps via the company’s pending PCT application: WO2011/127356) to pursue additional scope of protection, perhaps including apparatus claims (which can often be more desirable than method claims).
Optotune’s recently-published patent application US2011/0267680A1 describes a device using an optical element connected to a polymer film that is electroactive, i.e., is responsive to an electric field applied to the film. In response to an oscillating electric field, the polymer film distorts so as to displace the optical element back and forth, thereby destroying visible speckling effects. While the USPTO has yet to examine the U.S. application, a corresponding PCT application has been examined by the European Patent Office, which found that the claims were not patentable in view of prior art references. Optotune will have the opportunity to respond, either by presenting arguments regarding the prior art, amending the claims, or both.
Earlier this year, PixelOptics received U.S. Pat. No. 7,971,994, directed to spectacles having a pair of electroactive lenses and a synchronization transmitter which coordinates changes of the refractive indices of the two lenses to adjust the optical power of the lenses while they are worn. This U.S. patent is one of a series of patents owned or licensed by PixelOptics, directed to adaptive focusing lenses, which have the potential of making bifocals and progressive lenses a thing of the past. The core technology was developed by researchers at the University of Arizona (UA), and PixelOptics has a license to UA’s patent application US2006/0164593A1, which even though filed in 2006, is still winding its way through the USPTO. While the application has received multiple rejections, a review of the file history shows that the examiner has recently agreed that some proposed claim amendments overcome the existing rejections, but that further searching of the prior art and consideration will be necessary to determine patentability.
So which product do you think will win the Prism Award? Based on the sizes of the patent portfolios, as well as the consumer goods aspect of the product, PixelOptics seems to have an edge over either Haas LTI or Optotune. Take the poll below to see if the collective wisdom of the internet can make the right guess.
According to the ’433 patent, the power of a laser beam can be increased by increasing the number of passes of the pump light through the lasing material. However, in existing systems, the number of passes is limited by the size and number of mirrors used to direct the pump light, as well as the complexity of the mechanical system used to support the many mirrors. The ’433 patent discloses a system and method that avoids the problems of other systems to direct the pump light through the lasing material many times by using a pair of optically-coupled imaging systems with non-coincident optical axes.
According to its website, Apollo Instruments manufactures and sells fiber-coupled laser diodes, fiber lasers, and other laser systems that ”press the limit of today’s power and brightness levels together with superior performance.” The website also explains that with the company’s “superior pumping source, fiber lasers delivering more than 300W in a high quality beam (TEM00) have been conveniently realized.”
The ’433 patent provides a lesson in the value of having a patent attorney prepare a patent application and represent the applicant before the USPTO. Apollo had first filed a patent application that one of the inventors prepared back in 2005. The USPTO allows inventors to prepare and file their own application and represent themselves before the USPTO (the Latin phrase is “pro se,” which means “on one’s own behalf”). However, the USPTO does not relax its rules regarding requirements for such applications. Even if it wanted to give a break to such pro se applicants, the USPTO is not permitted to apply the patent laws differently to different groups of applicants. Given the complexity of U.S. patent laws and the potential for destroying the possibility for obtaining patent protection, the aphorism that “a physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient” has a corollary in inventors serving as their own patent attorney/agent.
Upon reviewing Apollo’s first application in 2007, the USPTO found that it did not conform to the various requirements with regard to the information provided and the format in which this information is given. The application was rejected on a whole series of bases, both substantive and formality-based, and the USPTO noted that “applicant is unfamiliar with patent prosecution procedure” and advised him to seek out the services of a registered patent attorney or agent to prosecute the application. While the USPTO cannot aid in selecting a particular attorney/agent, it does provide a list on its website: www.uspto.gov.
After receiving this rejection, Apollo Instruments wisely retained a patent attorney, who was able to cure the format issues raised by the USPTO, but he was unable to convince the examiner to withdraw the substantive rejections. Apollo appeared to be interested in appealing the examiner’s decision to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences, but instead decided to file a continuation-in-part application in 2008, which resulted in the ’433 patent.
According to the USPTO database, Apollo Instruments owns seven U.S. patents, including the ’433 patent.
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