For the “Defense and Security” category, the three finalists for the 2011 “Prism Awards”are:
According to Headwall’s website, the company “has been at the forefront of hyperspectral imaging since 1994″ and “[w]ith its patented, aberration-corrected Hyperspec™ sensors, the company has established a worldwide reputation for exceptional imaging performance.” Using hyperspectral imaging, spectral data at wavelengths outside the range seen by the human eye are acquired and the generated images distinguish items within the sensor’s field of view based on their chemical composition. Headwall touts its RECON™ handheld sensor as being ruggedized and providing “very rapid hyperspectral scene rendering of small targets at distances up to 1.5 kilometers.” Its defense and security uses are explained as allowing a user ”to spectrally resolve a 6 by 6 inch target from a distance of one mile” such as “a face in a treeline.” Last year, Headwall’s “Hyperspec™ Point & Stare” sensor was a finalist for the 2010 Prism Award in the same category.
According to the USPTO database, the latest U.S. patent awarded to Headwall was U.S. Pat. No. 7,518,722 in 2009, and there are not any published applications assigned to Headwall. Perhaps the company has stopped filing patents, or perhaps they are filing their patent applications via an unidentified subsidiary or “holding company.”
A military technology summary on its website describes the MEPAD system as “a compact, field-ready pathogen detection system that implements a full ELISA sandwich assay in a microfluidic format,” that is powered by a USB connection, and ”can detect an array of biological and chemical threats, and identify them within a 1/2 hour processing time.” The system was described back in April 2011 as including “a disposable microfluidic chip,” “a highly sensitive portable microfluidic fluorescence measurement unit that also controls the flow of samples and reagents through the microfluidic channels of the chip,” ”a commercial 635-nm diode laser, an avalanche photodiode (APD) that measures fluorescence, and three filtering mirrors that provide more than 100 dB of excitation line suppression in the signal detection channel.” In 2006, Physical Optics received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant from the Department of Homeland Security of nearly $100,000 to develop the MEPAD system, which is “based on a novel, disposable, microfluidic lab-on-a-chip (LOC) that performs conventional ELISA and is equipped with a unique fiber optic measurement system.”
According to the USPTO database, Physical Optics owns more than 100 U.S. patents, and numerous pending U.S. patent applications, but I was unable to find any that described the MEPAD system. This could mean that such a U.S. patent application does not exist, but it could also be that the patent application has not yet been made public by the USPTO. Under current U.S. patent law, U.S. patent applications are published 18 months after their earliest priority date, so a search will not turn up the application until then. Furthermore, if an applicant plans to only file a U.S. patent application, then the applicant can request that the USPTO not published the patent application at all. This way, the contents and the existence of the patent application can be kept secret, until the application eventually issues as a U.S. patent, at which time the U.S. patent is made available to the public.
There are conditions under which even a U.S. patent is kept secret from the public. When a technology of a U.S. patent application is deemed to be sensitive enough, a “secrecy order” is imposed that keep the existence and the content of the patent application and its resulting U.S. patent secret in the interest of national security. We can be sure that a patent application describing the MEPAD system isn’t subject to a secrecy order, because if there were such an order, Physical Optics wouldn’t be able to present its system at the Photonics West conference.
According to its website, the micro-Z is “a compact, handheld, battery-powered Terahertz Time Domain spectrometer which has the total freedom of operation previously unattainable with stationary instruments” and “can be targeted for a variety of on-site inspection tasks using THz waves, including real-time chemical identification.” A company video shows the micro-Z in action.
Zomega’s Chairman and President is Dr. Xi-Cheng Zhang, recent winner of the IEEE Photonics Society’s 2011 William Streifer Scientific Achievement Award. Dr. Zhang is inventor or co-inventor on 26 U.S. patents, many of which are assigned to Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, where Dr. Zhang is the Eric Josson Professor of Science. Reviewing the titles of Dr. Zhang’s U.S. patents and pending patent applications, only one is directed to a compact THz spectrometer (US2009/0066948 A1, now abandoned), which is assigned to Hydroelectron Ventures, Inc. (HEV) of Westmount, Quebec, Canada. A video on HEV’s website explains that Zomega has partnered with Hydroelectron Ventures on a THz “spectroscopy at a distance” imaging system.
If you like, you can register your guess regarding which product you think will win the Prism Award in the poll below. There is not much to go on in terms of U.S. patents, but I’m guessing that Headwall Photonics will win this year.
Also, if you’re planning on being at the Photonics West conference and are interested in talking about patents, I’d enjoy meeting you, so feel free to contact me at @Itchkawitz or at bsi “at” kmob “dot” com.