Federal CTO Steps Down, But Not Out

Todd Park, the second-ever federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO), is leaving his position.  While he has been CTO since 2012, he has been part of the Administration since 2009, when he joined the Department of Health and Human Services as its CTO.

While the President will need to find a new CTO, Park will continue to work for the Administration.  Once he returns to California, he will serve as a technology adviser to the President.  To my knowledge, having a presidential appointee based outside of Washington is rare, if not unique.  But in Park’s case, it makes a lot of sense.

His main focus on the West Coast is to recruit technology-savvy people for work in Washington.  Personnel has been an interest of Park’s; he was instrumental in developing the Presidential Innovation Fellows, a program where technologically savvy professionals would serve short stints in federal agencies.  Those fellows were part of the technology overhaul of the health care website, and helped staff the General Services Adminstration technology team, called 18F.  They, and others who have worked with Park may well play a part in the newly formed U.S. Digital Service housed in the Office of Management and Budget.

Given how low on the priority list science and technology appointments are now in this Administration, I do not expect Park’s successor to be announced quickly.  (If a successor has been identified from within Park’s current staff, I may be proven wrong.)  And there is still the matter of an Associate Director for Technology and Innovation at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  Continue reading

Delaware Sets Law To Deal With Digital Records Post-Mortem

The state of Delaware recently passed a law that could provide a boost to the services that help maintain digital assets after death.  It follows on suggested text approved by the Uniform Commission on Laws.

The need for this wasn’t obvious to me in earlier posts on the subject, as I figured directives to relatives and/or representatives could address the matter of accessing online accounts, blogs, etc.  But access is just one part of the matter.  The extent of one’s digital collection is usually larger than expected – even to the decedent.  And many of the items in that collection are more than information.  Being able to transfer, download or otherwise take hold of the photos, recordings, and other content can be just as meaningful to the family as the financial accounts that might be more top of mind.

Delaware is but one state of 50, so for now most of us will need to take our own steps, through powers of attorney or similar directives, to make sure digital assets and accounts are addressed.  And then tell your relatives.

Government Still Muddling Through Updating Critical Materials Policy

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) recently reported on the latest activities by the government related to critical materials.  As I might have expected, progress has been halting and modest.  The House did manage to consider a critical minerals bill (H.R. 1022) before its latest recess, but failed to pass it, perhaps due to members of the House who considered the bill harmful to the mining industry.  Read the full AIP report for additional details.  With this being an election year, what few Congressional working days remain will likely be filled with other bills, and maybe a budget.

Things are slightly better in the Executive Branch.  There is an open comment period on a recent request by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  It closes on August 31.  There is a subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council (which is coordinated by OSTP) focused on the strategic and critical minerals supply chain.  They are seeking input from the public to help the subcommittee develop a methodology for identifying critical materials and monitoring their status.  Ideally it would make it easier to predict shortfalls in these materials so that proper measures could be taken.  The specific questions in the request focus on all aspects of the supply chain for critical minerals and the associated demand.

Comments can be sent electronically, but must be received by August 31.

USPTO Post-Myriad Guidance Prompts Concerns And Comments

In March the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released a guidance memo on patents involving natural processes, natural products, or laws of nature.  This is the second such memo USPTO has issued connected to the Myriad and Mayo cases.  Those decisions dealt with medical tests (genetic in the case of Myriad and diagnostic in the case of Mayo) and whether or not the work done with various natural products and processes was sufficient to warrant patent protection.  The USPTO requested comments on the guidance memo, which were due by July 31.

Reaction to the guidance memo suggests many feel the memo goes much further than the Supreme Court intended with respect to its decisions.  To wit, the USPTO guidance would apply to patents involving natural processes, natural products or laws of nature outside of the genetic and medical testing contexts of the Myriad and Mayo cases.  This inference is made from the examples cited in the guidance, which include derivatives of natural products.  The Supreme Court has not ruled on such patents, and some comments argue that absent Supreme Court rulings on that subject matter, the USPTO should not provide guidance to its examiners that would constrain patent activity.

However, USPTO has recently taken more active measures in terms of evaluating what can be patented.  In the amicus brief (highlights by The New York Times) USPTO filed in the Myriad case the agency argued for distinguishing between products that were merely isolated from natural processes, natural products or rules of nature and those products that represented additional work. than mere isolation.  It may see this guidance as an extension of that approach in areas outside of genetic tests.

Again, I am not a lawyer.  Readers who are should feel free to complain in the comments.

It’s too soon after the close of the comment period to know exactly what USPTO might do in response to the comments.  It’s conceivable that parties opposed to the current guidance may take the office to court should any revisions are not to their liking.

PCAST To End Summer With A Report Doubleheader

While the next meeting of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) is September 19, there are some items that cannot wait.  Namely the release of two reports.

On August 28 PCAST will hold a public conference call in connection with the release of two new reports.  One will be a review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (periodically required by law) and the other focuses on educational information technology.

The call runs from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern.  Registration is required, and closes at noon Eastern on the 26th..


So There’s A Strategy For American Innovation

Back in September 2009 the Obama Administration released A Strategy for American Innovation, a policy roadmap for establishing a long-term, well, strategy, for providing a foundation for innovation in the country that would serve it better than reliance on technology waves that can become bubbles and burst.  The three major themes of the Strategy are: Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation, Promote Market-Based Innovation, and Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities.  In short, provide infrastructure, a research base, and other tools to facilitate innovation, and try not to get in the way.

The Administration revised the strategy in 2011, and is working on another update.  To that end, The Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council issued a Request for Comment.  Submissions are due by September 23.  There are 25 specific questions in the request, though comments need not be restricted to answering those questions.  The questions are organized in the following categories:

  • Overarching Questions
  • Innovation Trends
  • Science, Technology, and R&D Priorities
  • Skilled Workforce Development
  • Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship
  • Regional Innovation Ecosystems
  • Intellectual Property/Antitrust
  • Novel Government Tools for Promoting Innovation
  • National Priorities

I’d like to call particular attention to the following questions, as they could get lost in a wide-ranging request like this.

  • (6) How has the nature of the innovation process itself changed in recent years and what new models for science and technology investment and innovation policy, if any, do these changes require?
  • (11) Given recent evidence of the irreproducibility of a surprising number of published scientific findings, how can the Federal Government leverage its role as a significant funder of scientific research to most effectively address the problem?
  • (18) What investments, strategies, or technological advancements, across both the public and private sectors, are needed to rebuild the U.S. “industrial commons” and ensure the latest technologies can be produced here?

Submissions can be sent in via email, regular mail, or fax.  Check the Request for further information.

UK Minister Responsible For Science To Grow Hair

The UK cabinet just underwent a reshuffle, with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron replacing several ministers in advance of the 2015 Parliamentary elections.  Incoming ministers are, generally speaking, younger and more diverse than the people they are succeeding.  Since this is a coalition government, it should be noted that at the moment, cabinet ministers appointed by the Liberal Democrats remain in place.

Replacing MP David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science is MP Greg Clark.  He’s been a member of Parliament since 2005, and prior to his new ministerial position he held ministerial portfolios (some of them while in opposition) for cities and local government as well as for energy and climate change.  CIties will be part of Clark’s portfolio going forward, in addition to Universities and Science.

It’s too early to tell how Clark might address matters of science policy in his new position.  Unfortunately, he seems persuaded that homeopathy has some therapeutic value, based on his signature on this Early Day Motion in support of National Health Service homeopathic hospitals.  This may simply reflect an interest in protecting one such hospital in his constituency.  However that matter is explained, Clark may well be seen as a step down from his predecessor, simply based on his divided interests and the begrudging respect MP Willetts received from some quarters.

What might further complicate the change is another ministerial appointment.  MP George Freeman was announced as Minister for Life Sciences near the end of the reshuffle.  He has been in Parliament since 2010 and has 15 years experience before that in venture capital focused on biomedicine.  He had served the Government as Life Science Adviser since 2011.   The ministerial appointment is split between the Health Department and the Department on Business, Innovation and Skills.

As for science degrees in the bunch, Willetts and Clark have degrees in economics, and Freeman has one in geography.