Archive for the ‘Conservation’ category

Floating Island Patent Portfolio Combines Clean and Green

July 2nd, 2014

Floating Island International (FII) is a Montana-based company that has developed technology for creating islands that can effectively support plant and animal life (full disclosure:  FII is a client of my firm and FII CEO Bruce Kania agreed to be interviewed for this post).

The company’s BioHaven® floating islands help maintain the health of wetland ecosystems through a “concentrated” wetland effect, i.e., higher removal rates of nitrate, phosphate and ammonia as well as reduction of  total suspended solids and dissolved organic carbon in waterways.

According to Kania, what differentiates FII from other floating treatment wetland providers is that FII’s islands are made of massive biofilm grown within a matrix that includes microbes and their residue, with high volumes of trapped biogas.  Put another way, the company’s floating islands “incorporate nature’s models to solve problems with water.”

While other floating island technologies achieve buoyancy through use of buoyant chambers in a raft, FII used either buoyant nodules or foam sealant interspersed within the matrix.

FII’s patent portfolio includes a number of worldwide patent families focusing on different aspects of the company’s technology, including:

U.S. Patent Nos. 8,327,579 and 8,250,808 and U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2011/0146559 (’559 Application), each entitled ”Super enhanced, adjustably buoyant floating island.”  These patents and applications are directed to floating islands comprising at least one layer of water-permeable, non-woven mesh material and including different innovative features for achieving and adjusting the buoyancy of the islands, such as pressure injected foam sealant.  Figure 4 of the ‘ 559 Application is reproduced here:

U.S. Patent No. 8,372,277, entitled “Floating treatment streambed,” is directed to a floating streambed including a circulation pump and treatment channels made of a permeable matrix.  The water entering the treatment channels flows both horizontally through the treatment channel and into the water body and also vertically downward through the permeable matrix of the treatment channels.

U.S. Patent 7,784,218 is entitled “Combination cell foam floating island” and directed to a floating island comprising a flat sheet insert in the matrix layers of the island that traps gas underneath the insert.  A representative figure is reproduced below:

U.S. Patent No. 8,132,364, entitled Highly buoyant and semi-rigid floating islands,” is directed to an island made of two modules where each module has a semi-rigid internal frame, a bottom layer, and a semi-permeable top layer.  The island has a planting pocket disposed between the first and second modules and supported by the semi-rigid frames.
U.S. Patent No. 7,810,279 is entitled “Buoyant wetland system” and directed to a simulated wetland system that includes a plant habitat that is normally submerged and has a first and second buoyant blanket assembly.  Each buoyant blanket assembly comprises a non-woven mat that includes buoyant bodies.  The plant habitat is comprised of a container of a non-woven mat  that encircles a portion of growth medium.  A representative figure is reproduced below:

FII’s patent portfolio forms the foundation of the company and is critical for its success spreading its technology around the world.  As Kania told me, “without IP and an ability to enjoy a limited monopoly on behalf of its license holders, our ability to forward in the undeveloped world is minimal.”

The company has entered into a number of licensing deals.  Partners and potential partners are “intrigued and energized for a clean tech solution to water quality issues.”  FII’s licensees include a variety of people and business entities that have business dealings around water, particularly wetland work, but also include companies involved in plastics recycling and stone masonry.

Though FII’s path is a “departure from conventional green technology efforts” because it’s not about renewables or conservation per se, its technology is making an impact and is most definitely green.

Bricor Sues Ecotech Over Seinfeldian Low Flow Showerhead Technology

November 10th, 2008

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Since low flow showerheads were installed in Jerry and Kramer’s apartment building in 1996, advances in the technology have eliminated the low impact problems that rendered the sitcom sidekicks unable to get the shampoo out of their hair (see The Showerhead).  

Bricor Analytical, Inc. (“Bricor”) is a Texas company that makes low flow water conservation products.  Bricor owns U.S. Patent Nos. 6,260,273 (’273 patent) and 7,416,171 (’171 patent), which relate to low flow showerhead technology.

Last month Bricor filed suit against Ecotech Water LLC (“Ecotech”), in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, accusing its Florida-based competitor of infringing the ’273 and ’171 patents.  The complaint (bricor_complaint.pdf) did not identify which Ecotech products were alleged to infringe the patents.

Both patents are directed to “Venturi”-based vacuum valves for use with showerheads.  The Venturi effect refers to the increase in velocity that occurs when a fluid flows through a constricted section of pipe. 

According to the patents, prior low flow devices had drawbacks including incompatibility with pre-existing showerheads, a lot of moveable parts and attachments, and air entering from the outlet end, which increased clogging and fouling of the device.

Bricor’s patented valve (10) has a plug (12) with a first opening (14), a second opening (16) and a third opening (18), which forms an air suction hole.  The water flows in the direction of arrow 28. 

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Instead of air entering at the outlet end, as in prior art devices, the air enters the third opening (18).  The air mixes with incoming water and, due to the suction force, produces a hard, rushing stream of water at a reduced flow rate. 

Bricor’s patented technology conserves water while the improved shower performance presumably gets the shampoo out of your hair.

Note:  thanks to Stu Soffer for bringing this case to my attention.

Green Energy Resources Offers Certified Wood and Carbon Credits

July 22nd, 2008

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Green Energy Resources (GER) provides wood fiber fuels, including wood chips, sawdust and biomass for various applications, including power production and for raw materials for cellulosic ethanol production.  GER’s wood products comply with the Kyoto Protocol and meet all European Union regulatory requirements, so they can be used in the EU as well as the U.S.

GER made news recently when it began offering carbon offset credits to its customers.  These allow companies that operate in markets that have carbon caps to offset any shortfalls in their carbon emissions.

According to the company’s web site, GER’s products are certified with the UTCS eco-mark.  UTCS is an acronym for Urban Tree Certification System.  A recent Reuters article states that GER developed the UTCS certification and describes it this way:

UTCS (urban tree certification system) is a NYS and internationally recognized urban forest management plan developed by GER CEO Joseph Murray.  UTCS certification system is a socially responsible and environmentally friendly methodology to recycle government approved forestry and non-forest industry generated waste wood.  UTCS includes chain of custody documentation (a tracking system from origin to end user) and 3rd party verifications of sourcing.

So GER certifies its own products, which is quite unusual.  I haven’t been able to find any independent verification of the UTCS certification mark, and the description from the Reuters article quoted above is from the “About Green Energy Resources” text which was probably taken from GER’s marketing materials.

A search of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s trademark database reveals that GER has not filed a trademark or certification mark application for UTCS.  Indeed, UTCS wouldn’t be eligible for federal certification mark registration because a certification mark is used not by its owner, but by others whose products or services are certified by the owner of the mark.

The MusicPad Pro Plus: Sheetless Sheet Music for Greener Gigs

June 10th, 2008

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I received an e-mail recently from the folks at FreeHand Systems (Freehand) about the MusicPad Pro Plus (MusicPad), a patented device that can save reams of paper by electronically storing and displaying sheet music.  The MusicPad’s LCD back-lighting also obviates the need for external music stand light fixtures.

The MusicPad is covered by Freehand’s U.S. Patent No. 6,483,019 (’019 patent), which is directed to a system for displaying music including an internet server, a computer, a plurality of viewers and a plurality of styluses.  Musical compositions are downloaded from the internet (including one of FreeHand’s own web sites, which offers 98,000 digital music scores) and stored in the computer’s memory.  The computer sends the musical compositions to the viewers, which have memories to store the compositions. 

The musician reads the compositions from the viewer (shown above), which, at 13.3″ x 9.9″ x 1.8″ and weighing about four pounds, can fit on a music stand.  The stylus allows the musician, conductor or bandleader to annotate the musical composition in the viewer, and save the annotations.  Multiple annotations by different people can be overlayed and saved in the MusicPad.

The first thing I wondered was how the MusicPad “knows” when to “turn the page” of the musical composition.  There the device relies on prior art; the ’019 patent incorporates by reference U.S. Patent No. 5,760,323 (’323 patent), which discloses a display stand that can advance the pages of the composition by a hand- or foot-operated actuator, sound translation software which “hears” the musical sounds and translates them into the notes on the page, or a timed interval.

The claims and examples in the ’019 patent primarily contemplate multiple viewers displaying multiple groups of a musical composition to multiple users, with variations in the composition within and among the groups, i.e., a musical score for an orchestra.  Perhaps institutional performing groups like the philharmonic orchestras around the world might invest in MusicPads for their players.  For the average working musician, however, the $899 price tag could be prohibitive. 

At the moment, FreeHand does not appear to be marketing the MusicPad as an environmentally-friendly device.  If they do consider marketing the MusicPad as a “green” solution for musicians, they should first substantiate the device’s environmental benefits (i.e., by estimating whether the environmental gains from the paper saved by using the device would offset the impact of the energy the device uses).  But it seems that the potential is there for bringing an increasingly paperless world to the world of music.