DOE lab caught in patent dispute

DOE lab caught in patent dispute

Some House Democrats are calling on Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to investigate whether Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory acted improperly in a patent dispute over technology that can be used to send and receive information over the airwaves.

Democratic Reps. Bud Cramer, Ala., and George Brown, Calif., the Science Committee's ranking member, sent a letter to Richardson calling for an investigation into the lab's development and commercialization of Micropower Impulse Radar technology, a small lower-power ultra wideband radar device. The device is the subject of a patent dispute filed by a Huntsville, AL, company now known as Time Domain, which claims it invented and patented the technology several years before the lab.

"We believe there is sufficient information to suggest that [Lawrence Livermore] personnel engaged in activities that do not live up to the high professional and ethical standards expected of a federally funded entity," Cramer and Brown wrote.

They sent the letter in response to a report conducted by the House Science Committee's Democratic staff into allegations that the lab ignored Time Domain's work on similar technology before developing and obtaining license agreements from other companies.

The report found serious problems with the lab's technology and patenting practices. In addition, the report said the lab may have mislead members of Congress about its work on early forms of the radar technology and mislead licensees by claiming the technology could be licensed by the FCC even though it knew it did not comply with the agency's regulations.

In response to the allegations and report's conclusions, Lawrence Livermore spokesman Ron Cochran said, "I don't think we did anything wrong. If you were to ask if we would do things better, sure."

On some of the specific allegations, Cochran said the FCC has approved the device for some uses but has had problems with its use for others. He said he expected the Energy Department will launch an investigation.

The University of California, which runs the lab for the agency, is conducting its own probe into the matter, Cochran said.

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