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Why teenage girl's smartphone battery breakthrough may never see daylight

Solaroad CEO threatens patent suit if 18-year-old California student tries to commercialize her research on supercapacitors

By , Network World
May 29, 2013 12:54 PM ET

Network World - EDITOR’S NOTE: After this article first appeared, readers questioned why they had trouble finding the patents relating to the issue. In his first conversation with Network World on May 23, SolaRoad Technologies CEO Kahrl Retti said he had filed the patents in 2005 and emailed a copy of the relevant patent application, which made several references to his nanocapacitor technology that Retti believes is related to Eesha Khare’s research.

Yesterday, Retti reached out to Network World and clarified that the provisional applications for his patents were filed in August of 2005, which “is recognized as the date of first disclosure of the invention.” A non-provisional application was filed in 2006, and his patents reached “final examination” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2011. This five-year wait was a result of “the massive backlog at the PTO,” Retti says.

Shortly after that examination, Retti says a “patent office action” required him to abandon the original application and re-file after dividing the application into six different groups of claims to avoid “extremely high fees.” Even so, the “date of recording the invention is still the same since all applications relate to an office action.”

“We have re-filed the claims as required by the USPTO. These applications are not searchable until after the application publication number is issued. Only then can the app [sic] be searched in the USPTO data base,” Retti explained in an email to Network World.
Retti says his application remains in patent pending status, which grants him “the ability to file an interference suit, but does not allow an infringement suit until after the claims are allowed.”

Eesha Khare, an 18-year-old senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif., won both the first prize at the Intel Science Fair and the Project of the Year award for the senior division of the California State Science Fair with her research on supercapacitors.

However, her work has also attracted the attention of the company that has filed a patent involving similar technology, and its CEO says he may be forced to bring legal action against her if she tries to commercialize it.

Khare’s work on supercapacitors, specifically the creation of a nanorod electrode capacitor with the ability to achieve the energy density of a supercapacitor, could help manufacturers make proper use of flexible displays for smartphones, according to Tech News World.

[ALSO: Flexible display smartphones just a 'novelty' ... for now]

[History of flexible displays]

Specifically, Khare’s work with supercapacitors could make a difference in the design and performance of smartphone batteries, which, in turn, could help make flexible smartphones a reality. According to Tech News World, Khare’s design involved a hydrogenated titanium dioxide core, which, when combined with its polyaniline shell, increases both capacitance and density, essentially meaning the battery could create more energy and store it for longer. In a test, Khare’s supercapacitor boasted a capacitance of 238.5 Farads per gram, a substantial improvement from the 80 Farads per gram achieved with alternative designs.

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