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Skyline Solar Gets a Green Light in Express Lane for Cleantech Patents

When the Obama administration set out late last year to create an express lane for greentech patent applications, it aimed to shave a year off the typical time for patenting these technologies. Skyline Solar, a 3-year-old startup working on concentrating photovoltaic systems, claims today to be among the first companies to receive a patent under the program.

Going through the standard review process, in which applications come up for review in the order they’re filed, applications for patents in greentech take an average of 40 months to get a final decision from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO. And a typical application spends as much as 30 months just waiting in line, according to the USPTO. Skyline tells us it won approval Tuesday morning — just 10 weeks after it applied for consideration under the fast track pilot program.

Skyline’s new patent covers the startup’s so-called dual trough concentrating solar photovoltaic module (we’ve explained more about Skyline’s technology here and here), and it joins at least five other patents the company holds for various processes, its system of passive heat sinks for keeping solar cells cool, and some of its manufacturing tech. A spokesperson for the company told us Skyline has one more patent still under review in the expedited program.

Back in December, the USPTO said only “the first 3,000 applications related to green technologies in which a proper petition is filed,” would go through the accelerated process. From there, the patent office said it would “examine ways to continue and expand the initiative.” The idea is to accelerate the process for “inventors to secure funding, create businesses, and bring vital green technologies into use much sooner,” the patent office explained at the time.

Having patents in hand — the result of an often laborious and expensive process — can give some startups an important lever to pull, as Celeste has written over on GigaOM Pro (subscription required) in the competition for venture capital investment, joint venture partners and other opportunities to grow their business in a challenging market environment.

Skyline CEO Bob MacDonald commented in a statement this morning that the program, “has turned what used to be a multi-year delay in patent issuance, into a process where we received a Notice of Allowance on this application,” less than three months after being accepted for the fast track. He added that he expects this accelerated process to stimulate innovation and reduce risk for investors in greentech. That could come in handy as the company looks to finance commercialization of its technology in the fourth quarter of this year.

According to the patent office, as many as 25,000 applications that were already in the system when the pilot launched could qualify for the expedited process. By late March, USPTO spokesperson Jennifer Rankin Byrne told us the pilot had, “gotten a great response,” with more than 850 petitions filed to request consideration in the program.

But as Scientific American reported, only 316 of the 925 applications filed as of late April “qualified to jump to the front of the patent-examination line,” dashing the some of the hopes of companies and the patent office alike. The disappointing acceptance rates even prompted USPTO’s commissioner for patents, Bob Stoll to question whether the agency needs to “open up the definition for green tech,” which currently covers a range of technologies related to “environmental quality, energy conservation, development of renewable energy resources or greenhouse gas emission reduction.”

Photos courtesy of Skyline Solar

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