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.