U.S. Patent No. 7,918,583, issued on April 5, 2011 to RPC Photonics, Inc. of Rochester, NY, discloses an illumination device for producing uniform illumination from small light sources such as LEDs.
As described by the ’583 patent, various systems used to collect and collimate light from small sources, such as LEDs, suffer from non-uniform light distributions. For example, for paraboloid reflector systems (such as are often found in flashlights), “true collimation of all the light … cannot be achieved, [since] such designs compromise between the divergence of the light and the uniformity of the resulting beam.” Catadioptric designs can provide highly collimated beams, but when used with a smal source and a diffuser for general illumination applications, the light pattern can have one or more undesirable bright spots. The ’583 patent discloses a lighting device or “luminaire” with a LED source, a collimator, and a diffuser that provides an angularly dependent output light intensity so as to generate a predetermined illumination pattern.
According to its website, RPC Photonics started as a spin-off from the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics in 1989, was acquired by Corning, Inc. in 1999, and spun-out from Corning in 2003. The company “focuses on design, prototyping and manufacturing of optical components with precision structureed surfaces that can be applied to control light and distribute it in a highly efficient manner.” According to the USPTO database, RPC Photonics owns three U.S. patents, including the ’583 patent.
The company’s website includes a presentation titled “LED Luminaire with Controlled Light Distribution,” which appears to disclose the invention of the ’583 patent. This presentation was given at the 2006 SPIE Optics and Photonics Conference in San Diego, CA on August 17, 2006. Not coincidently, the filing date of the patent application that resulted in the ’583 patent was one day earlier, August 16, 2006.
In most countries, patent protection is not available if the patent application is filed after the invention is first disclosed to the public. The act of publicly disclosing the invention without a patent application already on file is considered in such countries to be an act of surrender of any patent rights. By virtue of international treaties, the filing of the U.S. patent application satisfies this condition in most foreign countries. Therefore, if RPC Photonics wanted to pursue foriegn patent protection for the “LED luminaire” invention, it had to make sure that its patent application was filed prior to its SPIE presentation, which it did.
U.S. patent laws are less draconian. The U.S. gives inventors a one-year grace period to get their patent application filed after the first public use or offer for sale in the U.S., or after the first printed publication description anywhere in the world. Thus, a company only interested in pursuing U.S. patent protection has one year to disclose or offer to sell the invention to potential customers in determining if there’s sufficient interest in the marketplace to warrant filing a patent application. However, at the early stages, it’s often not known whether an invention is valuable enough to pursue foreign protection, so it’s generally a good idea to get the U.S. patent application on file before undertaking such activities, as RPG Photonics did, to keep the option open.