New Technology Reporting Begins Practically With A Researcher's First Thought Data Gathered Can Be Vital, And The Rewards Great
Reporting the results of research is almost as important as the work itself.
For that reason, NASA requires investigators to file new technology reports to explain the results of their research and make the findings available to others seeking to do related work. Reporting new technology developments also protects NASA's intellectual property, or technology advanced from its research, said Lance Richards, a Dryden research engineer.
In a modern era where the demands are many, it can be a challenge for investigators to complete their reporting requirements, but it must be part of the NASA culture, he said.
"It comes down to stewardship. We are entrusted with the responsibility to taxpayers to conduct flight research. We work to accomplish the mission, but we still have to answer the mail on our reporting of our findings. A second benefit is the personal satisfaction of flying a one-of-a-kind aircraft to advance technology and the tangible result of providing something to the technical community that solves a need or makes life better," said Richards, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering.
New technology reports are incorporated into the searchable NASA Technology Tracking System database that includes new or improved techniques, products, devices, materials, processes, compositions, systems, machines, apparatuses, articles, fixtures, tools, methods, basic scientific data and software. The database includes inventors' contact information and provides opportunities for connecting a technology need with the innovator.
Although it is not a primary reason for the reporting, there also is the potential for some research projects to result in patents, he added. NASA is tasked with transferring its technology to the private sector for people to reap the benefits of NASA's research, but the patents also allow NASA to use the technology it has developed without having to pay a private company to use it, Richards said.
New Technology Reporting
Good research culminates with a publication that explains what was accomplished, provides analysis of the data and synthesizes the results so others can read and benefit from the work, he said. However, reporting of the new technology begins even sooner.
"Reporting should begin when the experiment is being designed and the researchers should think about types of data they want to see in published format. They should be thinking about where are the gaps in knowledge and use the research to hit the right target by filling that gap," Richards explained.
The reporting also can have unintended benefits.
"In the midst of a flight experiment you might see something you didn't see before. I thought of an idea for real-time loads measurement when I was looking at data. I thought, 'that's interesting,'" he said.
"In the midst of day-to-day flight research is when you can have an 'ah-ha' moment. This could be very beneficial, this is patentable, it is something the scientific community can benefit from."
Sometimes it takes longer to determine the real value of the research, something that can be cleared up by writing about it.
"Sometimes you don't realize what you have until you put it in a presentation or put the rough draft together for a paper. In the case of the Fiber Optic Wing Shape Sensing Technology we had already released it publicly, but there is a window you have to operate in for the patent process," he said.
Richards and a team of researchers proved the merits of their technology developments of the FOWSS, which was demonstrated in flight on the wings of the remotely piloted Ikhana unmanned aircraft system in 2008.
William Ko, who has a doctorate in aeronautics, and Richards collaborated to obtain a patent on the Method for Real-Time Structure Shape Sensing. The system uses fiber optic strain sensors to measure surface strains and the Ko Displacement Theory to determine the wing shape using those strains as inputs.
Yvonne Kellogg, Dryden's awards liaison officer, nominated the team's fiber optic work for a NASA Space Act Award. NASA's Inventions and Contributions Board, which is chaired by NASA's chief engineer, is composed of representatives from across 40 fields of science and technology across the agency. Based on the value of the work's contribution to NASA and to the public, as determined by the board, Space Act awards of up to $100,000 are available.
In addition, Allen Parker's work on algorithms for high-speed acquisition processing of data was also put in for a patent. Other potential patents, which include the work of partner Anthony "Nino" Piazza, are for operational flight loads on complex structures using fiber optic strain sensors, real-time loads measurement using the fiber optic strain sensors, and several others, Richards said (see related story).
A researcher has a year to file for a patent after releasing information about it, such as a research paper. The idea to patent the concept is not always immediately obvious.
"I have given presentations and then figured out that it is something we should protect. We think about publishing results, not about applying for patents," Richards said.
Applying for a patent can be a daunting process, but there are resources to help.
"It is a formidable task that can be hard to get your arms around. Mark Homer, a JPL patent attorney who also assists Dryden, made it as painless as possible," Richards said.
Reporting begins with a one- to two-page summary of the invention or description of the intellectual process in an email to Homer. A second step is going to the eNTRe [Electronic New Technology Reporting System] Web site and talking to Kellogg, who also serves as Dryden's Intellectual Property manager. To begin the patent process, Homer works with researchers to convert the summary language from technical to legal wording then completes a search to ensure that similar patents do not already exist.
Additional NTR results
New technology reporting - NTR - helps move technology along and gives future researchers a starting point for their research.
"NASA is not in the business to make money; we are not here to build systems and provide those to our customers," Richards emphasized. "We want to spin this technology off and let those who develop systems for profit do what they do best. Our goal is, once we have our intellectual property protected we want to license those patents and allow companies to build those systems and provide them to customers.
"We want to solve problems so they can do their business. We don't want to compete with private industry, we want to complement private industry."
Reporting has a lot of value, Richards said.
"Take the process to publish seriously. A lot of times we just want to get our publications out. But there's a form and you have to disclose what technology is potentially worth protecting," he said.
Form 1676, Scientific and Technical Information Document Availability Authorization process, and Dryden Form 156, Technology Transfer Assessment, allow release of the findings. The forms are available on the forms link on the Dryden Xnet page. New STI manager Greg Poteat is available to assist in developing STI documentation.
"It's helpful to talk to people who have done it before. Having gone through it now I would be willing to talk to anyone who has questions about how to work through it," Richards said.
"I know there are quite a few steps and it takes a lot to overcome your own daily work load to complete New Technology Reporting - the pressures to deal with the day-to-day of flight experiments or projects. However, the biggest hurdle and bottleneck is usually the researcher. We need to get out of the trenches and, with due diligence, get that paperwork filed," he concluded.