Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Green Roadway Project IP Auction

No sooner does the federal government entertain serious climate change legislation in the form of the Waxman-Markey bill than some opportunistic entrepreneurs develop a way to capitalize on it. In this case, I am referring to The Green Roadway Project, a scheme by inventors Gene Fein and Ed Merritt to promote a portfolio of patents that purportedly will give the acquirer the rights to install and grid-connect wind, solar, and other technologies along thousands of miles of public right of way.

Perhaps you've already heard of this venture. It's been featured in a number of newspapers across the country including the New York Times. I first heard about it when I was contacted by representatives of the project who suggested that the state should submit a bid (reserve price of $500K for Colorado, $1.5 million for California). So, tomorrow, July 24, 2009, is auction day -- the day on which these entrepreneurs will attempt to auction off a license to their IP on a state by state basis for six figures plus... each.

I have to wonder if these folks seriously believe that state governments will bid on this IP. That simply isn't the way that states would promote such development. Moreover, the schemes that they are promoting (e.g. micro wind turbines turning in the breeze generated by passing automobiles, etc.) are years from being practical, if ever, save possibly for projects such as the Oregon solar highway which is really just conventional PV in an open area near a highway intersection (and which apparently does not infringe on these entrepreneurs' IP). Also, not mentioned is the small issue that not included in these auctions is the right to public rights of way, generally controlled by various state highway departments.

So, while some of these technologies are interesting, no one has yet shown that they will work either at scale or in the harsh, real-world environment (think winter snow storms, snow plows, etc.). We'll see what the auction brings tomorrow but I would guess that they would have greater success offering a nonexclusive license to all takers, that is if they really have IP that will be difficult to work around. But it could be that they simply hope to strike while the iron is hot and capitalize on the Zeitgeist.

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