A nuclear-fusion experiment costing $100,000 to invent may end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to patent worldwide.
But if the experiment pans out, University of Utah chemistry professor B. Stanley Pons likely will get a good return on his investment - someday.According to U. president Chase N. Peterson, it may be five to 20 years before expected royalties pay back the money Pons and British colleague Martin Fleischmann invested to "satisfy scientific curiosity."
Officials predict that's how long it will take for the technology to reach the "man in the street." But corporations are expected to invest in the commercial aspects of the project long before then.
And, if the cold nuclear fusion process is proved effective in commercial energy development, it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars to the university and state through patent royalties.
Norman A. Brown, director of the U.'s Technology Transfer Office, said the university has already applied for two patents to protect the revolutionary nuclear-fusion process, which has focused international attention
on the state university the past week. A third patent is in preparation.
Brown declined to identify the specific patents requested, but Peterson said they have broad application.
They've requested one patent, he said, for a "heat producing device." The patent applications, likely to cost $10,000 to $25,000 each by the time they are issued, are just the beginning. The U. will patent all follow-up inventions that originate at the university.
"The way you play this is to generate a patent pool, ranging from the most basic and broadest to the most specific so that people who want to use the technology frankly find it easier to license the technology, than to explore the 200 patents you have and see if they can produce something that is outside of all that technology," said James J. Brophy, U. vice president for research.
The university, which owns the discovery and will own the patents, wants to protect its technology worldwide. Foreign filing is considerably more expensive and cumbersome than patent application in the United States. It also varies from country to country.
Brown said through the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the U. maintains its U.S. filing date. It also buys the institution time.
While the technology is being tested, money can be generated to pay for expensive patent filings."We will want to file in every appropriate country and that would cost a quarter of a million dollars or more," Brown said.
In each country, patent attorneys representing the U. will have to prepare and file a separate patent in the host language and by each country's rules.
From the time the U.S. patents are filed, the institution has a year to file in other countries.
Brown said the patents won't prevent other countries from doing cold fusion research similar to that being done at the U. They do, however, prevent companies from selling patented products.
Unless of course it's a communist or some Third World countries.