MIT Patents Surprisingly Wide Array of Technologies

The 2014 annual meeting for the Association of University Technology Managers begins today, and here at IPWatchdog we’re back with more coverage of recent technologies developed by American institutions of higher learning. Of the U.S. universities engaged in research and development projects, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, is annually a contender for the most innovative campus in America. In 2005, the most recent year for which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office conducted rankings for American universities by issued patents, MIT was assigned 136 patents, the second-most among academic institutions in that year. MIT engineering and science feats run the gamut from a more accurate rendering of the end-Permian extinction on Earth as well as a novel system for converting electrical energy from the sun’s thermal energy.

It’s our job to give our readers an accurate and interesting overview of American innovation, and the extreme variety of MIT’s developed innovations makes it a very interesting organization to feature here on IPWatchdog. Today, we get an idea of MIT’s current research activities by looking at their patent applications, and we find out what the USPTO has recently awarded them the right to protect.

Our featured patent application today features an artificial knee device that surpasses the range of motion available through previous passive devices or surgical implants. The variable motion of the mechanical knee joint found in this patent application would grant an implant patient a much greater degree of motion throughout their daily lives. Other patent applications that we decided to look at more closely include a vehicle engine designed for more efficient methanol consumption as well as more energy-efficient incandescent lighting devices.

We also profile a series of patents recently issued to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to protect an array of technologies, most of them dealing with better designed computer user interfaces for various jobs. One system includes a collapsible stylus device that can enable better 3D image editing performance. Another system would control a novel style of vending machine that dispenses entertainment and information along with food and beverages. We also were piqued by a technology developed with a partner institution in Saudi Arabia for better desalination methods to create drinkable water.



Powered Artificial Knee With Agonist-Antagonist Actuation
U.S. Patent Application No. 20140046455

Even with a few decades of medical research into the field of prosthetics, there are various aspects where improvements could be made to better emulate genuine human movement. This is especially true for lower-body joint prosthetic devices. Most lower extremity prosthetic devices are passive and don’t allow for any mechanical actuation of body movement. Passive devices are also poor at reacting to environmental disturbances such as an uneven walking area.

Variable-damping devices allow for more mechanical movement and have been used to emulate knee movement in patients. These devices offer advantages over passive prosthetics, such as better stability and the ability to adjust walking speed over distances. However, these devices are fairly incapable of handling certain activities that require a great deal of knee motion, such as sit-to-stand operations or ascending and descending stairs.

This patent application, filed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the USPTO in August 2013, would protect a powered artificial knee component including a mechanical joint and a parallel series of rotary actuators that controls the joint through a linear screw linkage. These devices can behave like variable-damping devices when it’s beneficial for movement, while also allowing for agonist-antagonist during a patient’s gait cycle, or walking movement.

The patent application describes the joint component as rotatable and couplable to an artificial leg member attached to a patient’s body. A controller is responsible for alternatively powering flexion and extension actuators which activate knee movement for energetically expensive tasks that variable-damping and other knee devices cannot handle. Sensors responsive to knee acceleration and angular displacement can help this knee joint better handle environmental disturbances while in motion.

Claim 10 (Claims 1 through 9 cancelled) of this MIT patent application would give the university the right to protect:

“An artificial knee component, comprising: a) a mechanical knee joint; b) a first rotary actuator; c) a first linear screw connected to the first rotary actuator; and d) a link between the linear screw and the mechanical knee joint, whereby actuation of the first rotary actuator rotates the first linear screw which, in turn, causes the link to move linearly along a major longitudinal axis of the first linear screw and rotate the mechanical knee joint, thereby converting linear force on the link by the first linear screw to torque about the mechanical knee joint.”


Other Patent Applications

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is world renowned as a center of scientific research and engineering developments. Perennially, it ranks as a top contender among academic institutions for the number of innovations coming out of MIT research facilities. Today, we’re spotting a couple of patent applications filed to protect various improvements to vehicular systems. For example, U.S. Patent Application No. 20140003193, entitled System and Method for Collision Avoidance in Underwater Vehicles, describes a collision avoidance system for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). This system would help prevent collisions between AUVs used in surveying and mapping projects and surface craft, such as boats.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140003193, entitled “System and Method for Collision Avoidance in Underwater Vehicles.”

U.S Patent Application No. 20140034002, which is titled Ultra-High Efficiency Alcohol Engines Using Optimized Exhaust Heat Recovery, discusses an engine for light and heavy-duty vehicles that can convert methanol more efficiently. For heavy-duty vehicles, this engine provides 15 percent to 25 percent better fuel efficiency for diesel engines when hauling a load over long distances. For light-duty vehicles, the application states that this engine delivers 50 percent to 60 percent better fuel efficiency than conventional port fuel injected gasoline engines.

A few other intriguing patent applications regarding lighting and imaging systems caught our eyes here at IPWatchdog. Better methods of capturing 3D images from a camera are the focus of U.S. Patent Application No. 20140002613, filed under the title Three-Dimensional Imaging Using a Single Camera. The patent application was filed to protect an imaging system that provides better thickness measurements when capturing an image to create more accurate physical contexts in three-dimensional imaging. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140042890, titled High Efficiency Incandescent Lighting, would protect an incandescent lighting system capable of reflecting infrared radiation, typically wasted in most incandescent lights, back to an emitter to enhance visible light.



Issued Patents of Note

U.S. Patent No. 8,594,838, which is titled “Vending Machine.”

The same variety in innovation seen in MIT’s patent applications are also evidenced in the patents recently issued to the institution by the USPTO. This week, we’re closing our coverage of inventions from American universities with a look into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s recently protected inventions. These patents protect a surprisingly wide array of technologies, from 3D image editing to water purification to vending machines.

Better, more intuitive user interfaces are the focal point of a trio of patents assigned to MIT that caught our eyes today. An ultra-modern vending machine capable of detecting when a user is approaching a machine to make a selection is at the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8594838, which is titled Vending Machine. These vending machines, instead of simply dispensing products, could offer information and entertainment options to users and handle requests from multiple customers at the same time. An improved interface method for a three-dimensional image editing apparatus is protected by U.S. Patent No. 8648802, entitled Collapsible Input Device. This patent protects a system and device for 3D editing composed of a collapsible elongated device and a computer program capable of detecting when the collapsible device is compressed against a surface to manipulate 3D information. More technology pertaining to unmanned vehicles is featured in U.S. Patent No. 8644512, issued under the title Mission Planning Interface for Accessing Vehicle Resources. This system allows for better mission planning interfaces for unmanned vehicles that provide more secure encryption of video feed transmissions in diverse geographical areas.

From U.S. Patent No. 8,608,674, titled “Pelvis Interface.”

Another intriguing and useful medical device is explained in U.S. Patent No. 8608674, titled Pelvis Interface. This patent protects a robotic-assisted therapy device for those suffering from various orthopedic injuries, neurological traumas and joint diseases. The device is composed of a pelvis interface with waist and back attachments that enables assisted pelvic rotation for physical therapy.

Finally, we noticed a technology developed and protected in part by MIT that may provide widespread relief for a growing global problem: access to fresh water. U.S. Patent No. 8647477, entitled High-Efficiency Thermal-Energy-Driven Water Purification System. This patent protects a water purification apparatus that utilizes thermal desalination of seawater to enable purification of seawater at higher temperatures between 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Prior systems were forced to use lower temperatures to prevent hard scale buildup on components. This patent is assigned jointly to MIT and the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Typically, we only cover patents assigned to a sole institution or organization, but we were intrigued by the spirit of this technology, developed to benefit impoverished populations around the world.


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Join the Discussion

7 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for John Martin]
    John Martin
    February 20, 2014 04:18 pm

    It looks like the USPTO has updated the university rankings, here are the top 250 universities through 2012:

  • [Avatar for Mark Nowotarski]
    Mark Nowotarski
    February 20, 2014 10:58 am

    And here’s more information on MIT’s licensing performance.

  • [Avatar for Mark Nowotarski]
    Mark Nowotarski
    February 20, 2014 10:55 am

    AUTM publishes licensing surveys. You can access them here

  • [Avatar for Benny]
    February 20, 2014 07:13 am

    Here’s one example – US8400023, assigned to MIT.
    The technology is being successfully commercialized by Witricity, a company co-founded by the inventor.

  • [Avatar for ip guy]
    ip guy
    February 20, 2014 06:31 am

    The amount of money these patents generate would be interesting – if this data is available.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    February 19, 2014 12:51 pm


    I have no clue. Getting that type of information can be difficult, although I will be at the AUTM conference tomorrow and Friday. I will see what I can come up with.


  • [Avatar for Michael Feigin, Esq.,Patent Attorney,]
    Michael Feigin, Esq.,Patent Attorney,
    February 19, 2014 12:06 pm

    Out of curiosity, any idea how many / what percentage of MIT patents end up being commercialized?