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Our EmTech Law Blog provides timely legal and business information on issues impacting companies developing or investing in new technologies, new companies, and new ideas.



Patent Office Reduces Accelerated Examination Fees for COVID-19 Treatments

Not only has the global pandemic spawned a race to develop a cure for COVID-19, it has also created a race to the Patent Office to protect the massive investments companies are making in their attempts to develop novel diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines to combat the disease. In the United States, the first inventor to file a patent application that teaches a new and non-obvious way to treat the virus or its effects will be eligible for the limited monopoly that a patent provides. As has been reported, researchers are employing a variety of different mechanisms to attack the virus and it is expected that a significant number of patents will ultimately issue from these efforts.

While Big Pharma is well-poised to incur the expense of patent filing, including the additional expense of paying for accelerated examination of their applications, smaller concerns may not be in a position to do so. To help small businesses and solo inventors in this regard, the United States Patent Office has announced a program that would fast-track the examination of certain patent applications related to the pandemic. While the typical turn-around time for an Examiner to provide an initial review of a new application is about two years after filing, payment of an extra fee to accelerate examination is also an option. Small businesses and startup companies, however, typically can’t take advantage of this program due to the substantial increased initial cost. To remove this impediment, the new program enables business with less than 500 employees to request accelerated examination of certain COVID-19-related applications with no additional upfront payment. If an application qualifies for the program, the Patent Office promises to fully examine it within a year of being granted prioritized status.

The program is further limited to therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostic tests that are subject to FDA approval for COVID-19 related uses. FDA approvals include, for example, Investigational New Drug (IND) applications, Investigational Device Exemptions (IDE), New Drug Applications (NDA), Biologics License Applications (BLA), Pre-market Approvals (PMA), and Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA).

As of Thursday, August 20th, there have been 274 applicants with 146 requests having been granted. The program is limited to the first 500 approved applicants.

Tagged:  COVID-19, Coronavirus, Industry News, Patents, Startups

FTC Investigation of Twitter for Alleged Privacy Violations Reinforces Need for Strong Privacy Policies and Practices

On August 3, 2020, Twitter disclosed in a regulatory filing that it is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for allegations that the company used user phone numbers and email addresses for targeted advertising in violation of a 2011 Consent Agreement. Twitter estimates that it could face $150 to $250 million in losses due to legal fees and enforcement penalties resulting from this matter. The 2011 Consent Agreement resolved charges that Twitter violated the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act) when hackers obtained administrative control of Twitter allowing them access to non-public user information, private tweets, and the ability to send out fake tweets from any user’s account. The FTC found that Twitter’s actions neither upheld statements in its privacy policy, nor provided reasonable and appropriate security to prevent unauthorized access to nonpublic user data and honor the privacy choices of its users. Read more. 

Tagged:  Emerging Technology, Industry News, Privacy, Regulations, Technology

Justine M. Kasznica – Emerging Technologies Attorney

This is one in a series of profiles featuring members of Babst Calland’s Emerging Technologies team of attorneys who provide business and legal representation on matters impacting companies developing or investing in new technologies and businesses. Read more. 

Tagged:  Drones, Emerging Technology, Innovation, Invention, NASA, Profile, Startups, Tech Industry, Technology

$27 Million Available for Zero-Emission Trucks in California

Significant funding will soon be available in California to support the expansion of zero-emission trucks in the heaviest weight class that has previously relied on diesel engine technologies.  On August 18, 2020, California will start to parcel out $27 million in funding from the Volkswagen (VW) Environmental Mitigation Trust program to replace higher polluting trucks with zero-emission vehicles.

The VW Environmental Mitigation Trust provides about $423 million for California to mitigate the excess nitrogen oxide emissions caused by VW's use of emissions defeat devices in certain of its diesel passenger vehicles.  The trust is a component of partial settlements with VW and provides earmarked funding opportunities for actions like "scrap and replace" projects for the heavy-duty sector, including on-road freight trucks, transit and shuttle buses, school buses, forklifts and port cargo handling equipment, commercial marine vessels, and freight switcher locomotives.  As required by the settlement, California developed a Beneficiary Mitigation Plan that was approved by the trustee in June 2018.

As part of the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan, $90 million was made available for the Zero-Emission Class 8 Freight and Port Drayage Trucks category to replace freight trucks (including drayage), waste haulers, dump trucks, and concrete mixers.  The first $27 million installment of the total $90 million has been approved and applications for funding will be available on August 18.  Eligible applicants will be awarded funding on a first-come, first-served basis.

To qualify, existing vehicles must be powered by engine built in model years 1992 to 2012, in compliance with all applicable regulations, and scrapped in exchange for a zero-emission replacement vehicle certified or approved by the California Air Resources Board or eligible under the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project. Applicants must be able prove ownership for at least one year, and the old and new vehicles must operate within California at least 75% of the time.  Applicants granted an award must submit annual usage reports for the term of the contract.

Maximum funding will not exceed $200,000 per eligible replacement vehicle and funding is available for both public and private entities.  Non-government entities, however, may only receive an incentive up to 75% of the cost of the vehicle, while government-owned vehicles are eligible for 100% of the cost up to the $200,000 cap.

VW Environmental Mitigation Trust funding for this and other projects, in California and in many other states, promotes the development of and investment in cleaner transportation technologies and the infrastructure that supports them.  While the total $90 million is simply a drop in the bucket when it comes to meeting California’s goal of phasing out diesel trucks completely by 2045 under its newly passed Advanced Clean Trucks regulation, it is a start.

Tagged:  Funding, Vehicles, Zero-Emission

Emerging Technologies in a Time of Pandemic – Part III

Can Technology Help Us Return to Work? 

Coronavirus restrictions are both easing and tightening in cities around the country, and a nationwide return to work seems further off than it did a month ago. But it is never too early to plan ahead. As the United States looks to safely return to work, offices are preparing for a radical shift, accelerating a need for emerging technologies to address challenges in the workplace. Separation, space, health, and cleanliness concerns are paramount, in an abrupt about-face from the pre-virus trends towards flexible workspaces and open floor plans. This has created a host of novel issues for business administrators, who are leveraging technology to keep work environments safe while maintaining a semblance of business normalcy in these unprecedented times.

Read More. 

Tagged:  Artificial Intelligence, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Efficiency, Emerging Technology, Innovation, Tech Industry, Technology

From Idea to Invention to Intellectual Property: What Startups and Innovators Need to Know

On Thursday, June 11, 2020, Attorneys Justine Kasznica and Carl Ronald joined the Scott Institute’s Jay Whitacre and Anna Siefken for an informative discussion, “From Idea to Invention to Intellectual Property: What Startups and Innovators Need to Know.”  To view this discussion, click here.

Tagged:  Copyrights, Due Diligence, Innovation, Intellectual Property, Invention, Patents, Startups, Strategy, Technology, Trade Secret, Trademarks

Client Spotlight: Congratulations, Astrobotic!

An artist’s rendering of NASA’s VIPER rover, which will roam the Moon’s south pole looking for water ice.
(Source: NASA)
Today, we are thrilled to celebrate with Astrobotic Technology, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based space robotics and lunar transportation and logistics company, on receiving a $199.5 NASA award to send the NASA Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the lunar surface in 2023 to search for water-ice. Not only is this a historically significant mission, as it is the first “resource-mapping” mission of its kind, this is an amazing achievement for a company that that has worked tirelessly for 13 years to prove a new commercial space market. For more information, click here.

Our Emerging Technologies attorneys are fortunate to work with incredible innovators, entrepreneurs and visionaries pushing the frontiers of technology and industry. We love to showcase our clients, especially when they hit notable milestones that may be of interest to our entire Babst Calland EmTech family.

Our newly launched EmTech Blog will enable us to do more of these Client Spotlights, so stay tuned! If you would like your company to be featured, please send accomplishments or highlights to jkasznica@babstcalland.com.

Tagged:  Emerging Technology, Industry News, Innovation, NASA, Robotics, Technology

Emerging Technologies in a Time of Pandemic – Part II

Regulatory Challenges to Fully Utilizing Existing Technology On May 1st, Amazon Prime premiered Upload, the story of a software engineer whose consciousness is transferred to the cloud after his fully autonomous vehicle (AV) rear-ends another car. The accident takes place in 2033. By then, the show imagines, vehicles that drive themselves will be the default. We won’t spoil the ending. But, in the fictional 2033 only 13 years from now—the public is astounded when the vehicle is involved in a wreck. It is an entertaining take on the future. In reality, however, we’ve got a lot of regulations to update if autonomous vehicles (AVs) are going to play the role imagined in Upload. Read More.   

Tagged:  Autonomous Vehicles, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Drones, Efficiency, Emerging Technology, Industry News, Innovation, Mobility, Pandemic, Robotics, Tech Industry, Technology, Transportation

Emerging Technologies in a Time of Pandemic – Part I

Opportunities: Leveraging Technology to Meet New Demands Most of the world is staying home,  but businesses must still pay their bills.  In late April the federal government estimated the U.S. economy contracted by 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020, mostly due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Because the real economic consequences  of social distancing  occurred in April, future numbers will likely be as bleak, if not worse. Yet, some businesses are taking bold steps, innovating in communications with their customers, and leveraging pre-existing tools to retool how their customers interact with the company and its product. Companies that never before offered delivery are experimenting with last mile logistics. Farms whose regular restaurant or hotel customers are closed due to public health orders are retooling their supply chains to supply local households. And companies that previously relied on face-to-face interactions are turning to virtual solutions to bring their product to market, even in a field like wine production—where taste is an essential part of the purchasing decision. These companies described here provide just a few examples of how creatively leveraging existing technologies can allow a company to maintain operations. Read More.

Tagged:  COVID-19, Commercial, Coronavirus, Corporate Law, Drones, Efficiency, Emerging, Emerging Technology, Industry News, Innovation, Last Mile Logistics, Logistics, Mobility, Pandemic, Regulations, Regulatory, Remote Learning, Robotics, Robots, Supply Chain, Tech Industry, Technology, Transportation, US DOT

Dealmakers: Managing Through Uncertainty

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed numerous legal issues that entrepreneurs and business leaders hadn’t faced before. Christian Farmakis, chairman of Babst Calland explains what c-suite executives should be thinking about, including giving a new level of scrutiny to contracts. Click here to listen. 

Tagged:  COVID-19, Commercial, Coronavirus, Corporate Law, Industry News