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October Public Policy News

October 31, 2011: USPTO invites comments on international patent protection options for small businesses: Message from Director David Kappos: Congress has required the USPTO to study and report on (i) the scope of prior user rights; and (ii) international patent protection options for small businesses.  I invite the public to assist the agency with these studies by submitting written comments, which are due by November 8, 2011, and/or by giving testimony at hearings to be held very soon (schedule below).  Your input will enable the agency to prepare the most comprehensive and accurate reports possible.  And because our reports are due to Congress for both studies in mid-January 2012, your assistance is needed now. More information about these two studies is available in the Federal Register Notices provided here:

October 31, 2011: SBIR Reauthorization update: Authorization for the government’s SBIR program is set to expire within about two weeks barring Congressional action.  According to Small Business Insider, 11 Senators have written a letter asking that the House omit sections 101, 105, 106, and 505 from H.R. 1425 — the House version of the SBIR Reauthorization bill.  In effect, the Senators are requesting the House to keep the Senate's S.493 compromises that were agreed to by BIO, NVCA and all the major SBIR groups in December 2010. This includes keeping the customary 8 years for reauthorization, no direct to phase II grants, utilize the Senate's S.493 VC compromise numbers, and eliminate section 505 that limits the number of award dollars that participants can competitively win.

The eleven Senators signing the letter are: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Scott Brown (R-MA), Ben L. Cardin (D-MD), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Michael Enzi (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).  SPIE supports the Senate version and the efforts of the bipartisan group of senators.  Their letter can be viewed on the SBIR Gateway here.

October 28, 2011: President Obama announces new lab-to-market initiatives: President Obama announced a new directive on October 28 requiring all Federal research agencies to bolster efforts to transfer the results of research from their lab to the marketplace.  According to Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP), these agencies will streamline their research partnership programs for small businesses, universities, and local communities.  They will also launch new programs designed to support regional innovation clusters, launch new public-private partnerships, and share Federal lab facilities with high-tech startups.  Each agency will be responsible for designing a five-year plan with tailored goals and metrics to measure progress. The President’s directive builds on the recent lab-to-market initiatives that agencies announced in concert with the President’s signing of the American Invents Act and the President’s presentation of the National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation, which SPIE attended, including:

  • A new program at the National Institutes of Health to make patent licensing faster and more affordable for startups.
  • A new pilot commercialization program at the US Patent and Trademark Office designed to assist small businesses with their intellectual property.
  • An online platform at the National Institute of Standards and Technology NIST announced an online platform that will enable entrepreneurs to easily connect with more than 2,000 public-private organizations nationally that offer mentoring, technical assistances, and access to new markets.

October 28, 2011: SPIE joins letter urging deficit committee to avoid R&D funding cuts: SPIE joined almost 70 scientific societies and associations, universities, and organizations in signing a letter a special congressional committee that is charged with developing a deficit reduction plan to avoid cutting R&D funding. The submission of this letter comes amidst speculation that the committee may be unsuccessful in crafting a plan to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars during the next ten years.  If the committee cannot agree upon a plan by November 23, or if Congress does not adopt it a month later, the Budget Control Act mandates automatic reductions in federal spending in January 2013 (note that this is a year from next January.)  House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) recently outlined the likely impacts of such a reduction on budgets of interest to the science community.

The letter states: We recognize that our nation’s deficit poses a serious threat to our economy and our future. The Joint Committee faces a daunting challenge to lower the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. As you accomplish this difficult task, we urge you to keep in mind that drastic cuts to research investments in the discretionary accounts, both defense and non-defense, would set a dangerous precedent that would inhibit immediate scientific progress and threaten our international competitiveness long into the future. Indeed, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission last year identified federal research and development (R&D) as an area of U.S. investment too critical to be cut.

October 23, 2011: Momentum in Congress toward visa reform: Momentum is building in Congress toward offering expedited green cards to people with advanced scientific degrees, addressing complaints from companies that say the U.S. is training highly skilled workers only to lose them to other countries. In early October Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID), a freshman member of the Tea Party Caucus, introduced a bill in the House to expand the number of green cards available to foreign-born graduates studying STEM subjects at American universities. Mr. Labrador's bill would create a special green card category for science, technology, math and engineering master's and Ph.D. grads who have a job offer. There would be no quota caps, and company recruits would be fast-tracked through the visa process. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House immigration subcommittee, is planning to introduce similar legislation in the near future. It is uncertain whether Congress will be able to get through this legislation as a "stand alone" issue, or if it will be combined with larger immigration reform efforts which would decrease its chances for passage.

October 19, 2011: China temporarily slows rare-earth production: China's largest rare-earth producer said Tuesday that it would suspend smelting and separation work for a month starting Wednesday to use its market power to rally falling rare earth prices. Baotou Rare Earth said in a filing to the Shanghai Stock Exchange that the move was aimed at supporting Beijing's efforts to preserve rare earth resources and end a sustained decline in prices. Update: Industry consult pessimistic about prospects of non-Chinese rare-earth metal ventures

October 4, 2011: Omid Kokabee trial opens in Tehran: SPIE Member Omid Kokabee, a physics student at Texas University imprisoned in Iran since February, faced the first hearing of his trial this morning, Nature has reported. Kokabee denied all charges against him, during a one-and-a-half-hour-long hearing closed to the public, according to Kokabee's lawyer, Saeed Khalili. However, Khalili's defence presentation was postponed for lack of time to a date still to be announced. SPIE, the International Commission for Optics, and others scientific organizations have signed open letters to the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, requesting clemency for Kokabee. They join an online petition for Kokabee's release. Read the Nature News blog post for more information. Read the SPIE press release for additional background.