Janet I. Stockhausen, Esq., US Forest Service Patent Advisor
Janet Stockhausen heads the USDA Forest Service Patent Program in Madison, Wisconsin. With the help of her staff, Stockhausen reviews researchers’ inventions and develops patentable technologies for licensing. Through cooperative agreements, partnerships, and other mechanisms, the Patent Program can help convert research into usable information and technology that benefits both researchers and the forestry industry. "Part of USDA’s mission is to provide leadership on natural resources and related issues based on sound public policy and the best available science. I believe these technologies advance our mission because they allow for the efficient use of natural resources that, on their own, have low market-place value," said Stockhausen.
As its name suggests, the Patent Program helps researchers obtain and license patents. A patent is an instrument filed with the U.S. government that grants an inventor the exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a specified number of years. To qualify for a patent, the invention must be new, useful, and not obvious to those in the field of study that would use the invention. The invention can be in any field of science, from the most complex to simple inventions by everyday inventors. If an invention would be valuable, an inventor can seek a patent as protection from competitors, and the Patent Program helps in this process. Having a patent is one way to document research accomplishments.
The Forest Service and its inventors share in the income made from the licensed invention. "Government has been patenting a long time," said Stockhausen. "Despite decades of this practice, it wasn’t until 1980 that Congress realized that many of their patents were sitting idly, gathering dust on the shelves." Two laws passed in 1980 and the Technology Transfer Act of 1986 changed all that. As Stockhausen explains: "The Technology Transfer Act of 1986 dictated that every Federal agency conducting research should make patenting and licensing an active part of its mission. Patents on the fruit of government research make the technology more appealing to the marketplace because of the exclusivity they offer. Most government technology is best transferred for the benefit of the public via journal articles, poster sessions, and other "public domain" methods. However, sometimes the product of government research needs to be manufactured or otherwise picked up by a company in order to benefit the public. In that case, patents are the best mode of technology transfer." The Patent Program works with a variety of beneficial products. Some of these are useful only for scientists in a certain field, such as a method of bleaching paper products that reduce the large volumes of waste generated by traditional bleaching methods. Others can be used by people every day. These include a new kind of wood chips that can be used on playgrounds so people in wheelchairs can use the equipment without getting their wheels stuck in the bark, or a new kind of flooring for basketball courts that gives players a better bounce.