CHALLENGE.GOV: Prizes as an Additional Incentive Layer

In my patent law course last week, we had discussion of the role of a patent system as compared with other potential governmental pro-innovation initiatives such as grants or prizes.  Our current patent system does not provide any strong mechanisms for channeling innovation toward particular identified issues.  Rather, investors and inventors choose their own paths according to their own subjective perception of the potential market upside.  When an important challenge is publicly identified, we may want to add an additional layer of incentive to funnel research in a particular direction. In that vein, the Obama Administration's Chief Technology Office Aneesh Chopra and Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra unveiled CHALLENGE.GOV at yesterday's GOV 2.0 conference.  CHALLENGE.GOV identifies 35 challenges and offers prizes for folks who provide novel solutions.

Identified challenges include:

  • Create nutritious food that kids like — $12,000 prize.
  • Reducing waste at college football games — school prestige award.
  • Best original research paper as judged by the Defense Technical Information Center.
  • Provide a whitepaper on how to improve reverse osmosis membranes — up to $100,000.
  • Digital Forensics Challenge
  • Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge (Create the best virtual world for the US Army) — $25,000 in prizes.
  • Advance the field of wireless power transmission — $1.1M for a team that can wirelessly drive a mechanical climber to 1 kilometer height at a speed of at least 5 meters/sec. 
  • Strong Tether Challenge — create a material with 50% more tensile strength than anything on the market for $2 million.
  • etc.
Dennis Crouch

About Dennis Crouch

Law Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. Co-director of the Center for Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship.

55 thoughts on “CHALLENGE.GOV: Prizes as an Additional Incentive Layer

  1. The true weakness in the present patent system is the fourty different methods that inventors are cheated by the present system and big business domination of the money and unwillingness to deal with inventors fairly if at all.

  2. It’s true that the patent law incentive system has proven fairly weak — see, e.g., the somewhat-underwhelming public response to the USPTO’s fast-track plan for “green” tech patent applications. With its birds’-eye viewpoint, I think that it’s entirely appropriate for the federal government to identify desired certain areas of research, as long as such action does not tend to penalize or prejudice those innovators who select different paths.

  3. to Ianae No I am refering to the only law in question obviously.We may get someone else to ring in on this If your memory is lapsing or your not regularly checking news reports.Invent a method of pulling it up on your computer.

  4. Ianae because I herd it on the news I dont see how you could have missed it.

    Oh, you are referring to the only law that was in the news in 2009/2010?

    Come on, out with it. Which law? For Crist’s sake, tell me already.

  5. Ianae because I herd it on the news I dont see how you could have missed it.It cleared the legislatures of these states however my letter to govenor crist may have caused them to reconsider and the goveners to veto.I looked on fl senate.gov but the titles are short and non explanative taxation and finance is where it should be. My non provisional filing established a new method of collection by denying usage to promote payment this may work.The patent is litely defined on my website listed below click on patents for sale there is 15 or so others two with click ons to published apps.

  6. to Ianae I just herd of the legislation on news reports to do it right a copy of the actual legislation from all states ratifying should be obtained to see the exact wording and inclusions or exclusions of the original.

    You didn’t even read the legislation? Then how do you know what it says? News reports get legislation wrong a lot, because journalists don’t read the law either. Remember “death panels”? Not in the bill, but all over the news.

    Nevermind, I’ll request a copy from one of those states. Florida, I guess. What statute should I request?

  7. to Ianae I just herd of the legislation on news reports to do it right a copy of the actual legislation from all states ratifying should be obtained to see the exact wording and inclusions or exclusions of the original. Then an amedment would be the easyist thing to get approved depending on what the legislators did consided in the original aproval and what situations they did not consider.Florida was an approving state but havent found the specific location of the document.

  8. To IANAE: In 2009/2010, the legislation was nationally publicized with approximately 15 states ratifying. It was likely associated with the concept of banning the implementation of federal gasoline taxes for the purpose of encouraging gasoline conservation. As a by product, my patent is also included in the general concept.

    That’s all well and good, but if correcting the injustice requires a statutory amendment, won’t I need to explain what specific amendment is needed and why? Or does that entire statute need to be repealed?

  9. To IANAE: In 2009/2010, the legislation was nationally publicized with approximately 15 states ratifying. It was likely associated with the concept of banning the implementation of federal gasoline taxes for the purpose of encouraging gasoline conservation. As a by product, my patent is also included in the general concept. With regards to why the legislation passed so quickly, the patent office is full of leaks with regards to anything that’s filed and if not there, hacking of computer lines which I also believe is common. I’ve had the same problem throughout my life. Any business lobbied legislators in congress that see a way to cheat the inventor will do so if they’re able. They consider it saving the public money and just stealing this one particular invention. They have no concern of the future impact their actions have on invention conceptions.

  10. Presently, the application is in an unpublished status so I’m still disbelievingly optimistic of obtaining business partners to bid on future startup rights concerning this patent so I would need a credit worthy application to discuss the merits of the patent with.

    Okay, but legislators have banned it, right? And laws and regulations are public. So can we see the legislation in question?

    Also, how did the legislators (1) know to ban this technology and (2) get their act together to pass legislation so quickly, before the application was even published?

    Clearly your emphasis should be on correcting the injustice situation of the present law by amending the law which I asked the Governor of the state of Florida, Charlie Crist, to do before he signed the legislation.

    Okay, I’ll write Charlie Crist. To what law shall I make reference?

  11. To Ianae: Dumb Huh! Sorry I misspelled which is not uncommon for me. Presently, the application is in an unpublished status so I’m still disbelievingly optimistic of obtaining business partners to bid on future startup rights concerning this patent so I would need a credit worthy application to discuss the merits of the patent with. The technology is not so revolutionary although the resulting fuel savings are. Clearly your emphasis should be on correcting the injustice situation of the present law by amending the law which I asked the Governor of the state of Florida, Charlie Crist, to do before he signed the legislation. As far as the term (still allow us to us it for the good of humanity), clearly your emphasis should be on promoting progressive patent reform. The use of the term ‘for the good of humanity’ is nice but is often used to conceal the unnecessary rip off of inventors. There’s plenty of money generated and saved to pay the inventor except legislators and others want to devise new methods of stealing intellectual properties or obtaining the usage for nothing and pocketing large profits. Clearly inventors cannot continue their great work without compensation. However, this theory is becoming a capitalism incentive killing method, particularly as R&D departments close down and the greedy thieves move out of the country with their ill gotten gains, gutting America of its greatness and throwing us into a permanent recession, not to mention creating a huge black hole in human advancement.

  12. Dumb hugh!

    Yeah, if Hugh were smart he’d be using your invention.

    What’s the publication number of that invention, by the way? I’m curious to see what technology is so revolutionary that Hugh and all the other legislators banned it somehow, and whether there’s a loophole in the legislation that will still allow us to use it. You know, for the good of humanity.

  13. Ianie all thats needed is my proposed changes to the present patent system and throw leaheys in the trash.Of course changing attitudes in big business is critical to. They want to steal it all like they have been doing with nothing for the inventor.Ive been puting anew request in my patents for 15% of the savings to the consumer in my patent applications it looks like it sparked a bunch of states to ban the concept with reguards to gasoline sales on my non provisional I requested no sales of my energy saving product so that the citizens will not recieve the 85% savings so the legislators burnt themselves and retarded the whole field of invention.Dumb hugh!

  14. “Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge (Create the best virtual world for the US Army) — $25,000 in prizes.”

    Anyone understand what this means?

    Avatar

  15. Dear IANAE,

    Thanks for the comment, your best to date!
    Marvelous; stay away from the controversial stuff (this kinda thing is your calling :-)

    Posted by: Just an ordinary inventor(TM) | Sep 09, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    JAOI: Dear IANAE, Thanks for the comment, your best to date!

    Thanks, same to you!

    Posted by: IANAE | Sep 09, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    I just threw up a little in my mouth.

    And I can’t believe that JAOI is applauding IANAE’s arguments for why social engineering and bigger government to provide regulations that steer markets. I mean, it sounds like something I would do. But I thought JAOI was an ultra conservative. Maybe I’m confusing JAOI with AI, IDK.

    How about we just get rid of patents, and businesses that innovate can apply to the goverment for an award recognizign the innovation. If granted, the goverment can just take a bunch of money from the market competitors who copy that product, and give it to the innovator. But wait, the filing of the application for the award might then disincentivize others from copying the invention. That’s too much like a patent, and it doesn’t help in the case of the innovator who comes up with healthy food kids like that costs more than unhealthy foods kids like. Better to just take money from the market competitors, regardless of whether they copy the innovation, and give it to the innovator. Oh wait, that’s a subsidy. Never mind.

  16. Yes, if only there were some system that allowed people who created lots of jobs or invented large-scale economically feasible projects to make lots of money…

  17. I would challenge the inventors of this mickey mouse system to create a real adiquatly funded challenge like catigories for most jobs created or large scale economically fesiable green projects ,health,longevity,space colonization environment damage reversal, hard labor reducing,productivity improving,Us economic world standing improvements ect.

  18. I wonder who gets the intellectual property rights after submission to these contests.Hopefully its not a rip off.For 25000 they are only going to get dopy school kids. Clearly they need a seperate professional grade level prize catagory.The though of our militarys inovation budgets being so underfunded is scarry. The only thing being scarrier is the potential corruption in awarding this tiny sum.

  19. Wouldn’t that be the worst virtual world for the US Army?

    Depends on your perspective, I guess.

    I’d suggest creating and submitting both extremes, but for only $25k “in prizes” (i.e., not all to the winner) it hardly seems worth it.

  20. “Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge (Create the best virtual world for the US Army) — $25,000 in prizes.”

    Anyone understand what this means?

  21. (The role of a patent system as compared to other proinnovation innitatives).These people are clearly not of a caliber too be running the white house.Offering incentives prizes to augment the patent system is good.But Instead of a patent system is grosley innovation retartive and corrupt and unconstitutional.Also their selection of particular catigories for prizes is grosley innovation retartive. however selecting the top invention based on top human advancement importance is a innovation progressive contest.Clearly financially struggling inventors need funds to develop their inventions and bring them to market so big business will not steal them for cheap.

  22. I’ll bet you have kids.
    I’ve a daughter 41 and a son 21.
    I’m looking for an unwed unattached special lady who wants kids so I can have more.

    Are you suggesting that one of IANAE’s kids might be this “unwed unattached special lady”?

  23. Dear IANAE,

    Thanks, same to you!

    I’ll bet you have kids.
    I’ve a daughter 41 and a son 21.
    I’m looking for an unwed unattached special lady who wants kids so I can have more.

  24. We already have motivational “trinkets” like this. They are called government grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts.

  25. Malcolm: And most of the big name brands have tons of sugar added.

    That’s another problem. There’s far more profit in marketing inexpensive manufactured foods with dubious health claims than there is in creating actually healthy foods.

  26. lots of people are scared of peanuts now. I’m sure that’s put a dent in the peanut butter market.

    And most of the big name brands have tons of sugar added. The important thing though is that you have 20 different kinds to choose from when you go to Wal-Mart.

    GOD BLESS AMERICA.

  27. Malcolm: My pets eat better than this.

    All our pets eat better than this. Lamb and rice twice a day, I’ll wager.

    It’s our kids who don’t eat better than this.

  28. The list of cheap healthy foods that are available and easy to prepare is extensive:

    Easy to prepare is a relative term. Take rice, for example. Making plain old rice is literally as easy as boiling water. But that’s not easy enough. You can buy par-cooked “minute rice” that cooks faster. But even that‘s not easy enough. So they made rice in a microwave-ready bag or bowl.

    Of course, you have to pay extra for all that convenience, so it’s not quite as cheap as plain white rice. And you can’t really eat it with your hands, which is a turn-off (or a challenge?) for kids. And it still can’t compete for the palates of children who were raised on french-fried potatoes that parents mysteriously consider a vegetable.

    Fruits are a great snack. They’re brightly colored and full of sugar, but also healthy. They’re not even as seasonal as they once were. The only problem is that now we feed our kids manufactured treats that are far sweeter, non-seasonal, and come in fruit flavors, and are probably still cheaper per snack than most fruit. Once kids develop a taste for the sensory overload of candy, it’s harder to sell them on fruit.

    Also, lots of people are scared of peanuts now. I’m sure that’s put a dent in the peanut butter market.

    Yes, there are some options for even the cost-conscious non-negligent parent, and it’s true that “people just don’t want that stuff”, but I really think the reason they don’t want it is because they’re conditioned to like all the mass-produced, convenient, unhealthy options that weren’t available a generation or two ago when poor people subsisted on such nutritious and tasty staples as red beans and rice.

  29. Don’t underestimate the cost issue. Most of the processed foods that are fed to children (and adults too) are essentially leftovers nobody wants – processed meat cuttings, mechanically separated meats, sweeteners processed out of highly-subsidized surplus corn…

    My pets eat better than this.

  30. IANAE:
    “The real problem there is the lack of a real market for [healthy foods].”

    “sweeteners processed out of highly-subsidized surplus corn”

    I’m trying to follow your narrative, but I just can’t figure out what it is.

    The list of cheap healthy foods that are available and easy to prepare is extensive: beans, rice, nuts, fruits and vegetables in season (you have to follow what is cheap as it changes throughout the year), peanut butter (the non-hydrogenated oil kind). Most of these are a cost reduction even from cheap fast food.

    People just don’t want that stuff.

  31. Weren’t the British East Indies and British West Indies Companies given exclusive markets so that they might have the incentive to develop trade in their respective areas of exclusivity?

    Worked like a charm.

    Perhaps Obama might think along these lines in terms of the kind of reward that might incent investment.

  32. Dear IANAE,

    Thanks for the comment, your best to date!
    Marvelous; stay away from the controversial stuff (this kinda thing is your calling :-)

  33. CAPat: The market is, by far, the best mechanism for directing research.

    I don’t think it is, in all cases. Take the “healthy food for kids” challenge, for example. The real problem there is the lack of a real market for it. Kids don’t care whether their food is healthy, and parents don’t want to spend extra time or money on healthy foods when they can buy cheap unhealthy foods their kids like.

    Don’t underestimate the cost issue. Most of the processed foods that are fed to children (and adults too) are essentially leftovers nobody wants – processed meat cuttings, mechanically separated meats, sweeteners processed out of highly-subsidized surplus corn… Real foods can’t compete with that. Even whole cuts of meat and table sugar can’t compete with that. Taco Bell will give you half a pound of ground “beef” for a dollar. Including labor, service, and overhead, and profit left over for them. Go to your local grocery store and see how much beef you can buy in whole cuts for a dollar. Hint: avoid the words “prime”, “choice” and “select”.

    There is simply no significant market in America for healthy food for kids. Besides which, parents have to feed their kids something, so they will buy food anyway no matter what is available. Healthy foods would have to steal customers away from burgers and fries to be profitable. $12k won’t even pay for the patent application.

  34. “Create nutritious food that kids like — $12,000 prize.”

    Missing elements of “easy to prepare,” “can be frozen,” and “inexpensive.” Most kids will eat grilled turkey, whole-grain pasta, fresh fruits, and such. It’s just usually easier/cheaper for mom & dad to throw some hot pockets in the microwave or stop by McDonald’s.

    “Reducing waste at college football games — school prestige award.”

    Don’t have college football games, or don’t sell food and drink at them.

  35. IANAE,

    I really chuckled over your comments. But in all seriousness, you’re comment about the nutritious food issue is definitely on target. Nutritious foods, prepared appropriately, can taste good, even to kids.

  36. 6 — claims rejected under both the first and second paragraphs of 35 USC 112.

    As to the proposed items and the attached dollar amounts, my guess is that the potential market for a technology meeting any of these challenges is worth at least a couple magnitudes more than the value you’ve given as a prize.

    As such, the motivation already exists for any of these challenges and the prize is not needed. The presumption, however, is that the first one to invent gets rights to the invention. It does a researcher no good to be the first one to invention and have somebody with great manufacturing contacts in China flood the market.

    In the end, the patent system provides a great incentive, and does not have to rely upon any organization/individual to identify needed products. Instead, it is up to the individual inventors and the market to decide what needs to be invented and what does not.

  37. A nutricious food that kids like.

    I guess the patent on Life Cereal ran out. Are there no continuations pending?

  38. Oh and btw I think I just invented our way out of these particular problems. See appended claims.

    1. A nutritious food that kids like.

    2. A material with 50% more tensile strength than anything on the market.

    3. A mechanical climber functional to climb to 1 kilometer height at a speed of at least 5 meters/sec.

    Do I win like 3 million?

  39. The problem with government-directed “challenges” is that they are inevitably politically motivated. Also, once established, they become ensconced (as all government programs do), and slow to respond to updated needs. The market is, by far, the best mechanism for directing research. If there is a market for products and services, there will be investment toward meeting the demands of those markets.

  40. Students, repeat after me. Central planning is great. Capitalism sucks. Profit is a lousy signaling mechanism. We must have more government wonks substituting their infinite wisdom for the messy rigors of the marketplace. Please raise my taxes to support these noble government initiatives. They will undoubtedly result in a much improved world, as have all government initiatives before them.

  41. “I might add that even a $2 million prize is a pittance compared to the profit that any of these ideas could realize on the free market.”

    Egxactaly.

    These prizes are woefully small. Why bother giving a prize if it is practically nothing?

    “Since most people in attendance at the games are wasted, I recommend the games not be attended at all.”

    You win prestige sir.

    “Create nutritious food that kids like”

    I thought Kix had us covered on that front? lulz. But IANAE is right. It’s how you raise tha kids.

  42. Our current patent system does not provide any strong mechanisms for channeling innovation toward particular identified issues.

    Ya mean the Green Fast track is not a strong mechanism? Shockers.

  43. Okay, let’s tackle these one by one. I’m sure they’re easier than Hilbert’s problems.

    Create nutritious food that kids like

    This one is fundamentally misguided. Kids will like nutritious foods, or enough of them at least, if they are raised on nutritious foods instead of processed animal leftovers and industrially-modified corn. Kids have been eating enough to survive and thrive since before non-nutritious foods were even invented, and before processed sugar and salt were readily available.

    The real challenge is that we’re into the second generation of children being raised on processed foods and fast food. That means even their parents think that diet is normal and appropriate, so the kids are even harder to wean.

    Reducing waste at college football games

    Since most people in attendance at the games are wasted, I recommend the games not be attended at all.

    Best original research paper as judged by the Defense Technical Information Center.

    This one seems trivial. Someone will win it regardless of the quality of the work.

    I might add that even a $2 million prize is a pittance compared to the profit that any of these ideas could realize on the free market. Especially that paradoxical tether one, where you’d presumably have to choose between claiming your prize and putting your product on the market.

Comments are closed.