Utah's cold-fusion discovery is safe from the Cubans.
But Japan and India - countries much more likely to cash in on the phenomenon - still pose a threat.Patent attorneys hired by the state to protect Utah's interests in cold nuclear fusion as an energy source have filed their first foreign patents - in China, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa and Cuba. All are contracting countries of the Paris Convention.
But Japan and India have launched huge national research programs to duplicate the experiments of University of Utah electrochemists B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann. The attorneys did not file patents in those countries.
A sixth application, however, has been filed in Canada, but it's too late for the U. to file patents in India, which adheres to no patent treaty.
"The only thing you can do in countries like India is make an original filing, which means we would have had to file patents there a year ago. No patents can be filed in India now," said Gregory Williams of Giauque, Williams, Bendinger & Wilcox. The Salt Lake law firm was hired by the state to protect the U.'s fusion discoveries.
Attorneys say they will eventually file patents in Japan and probably in France and the United Kingdom.
According to Williams, Japan belongs to yet a third group of countries - those adhering to the Patent Cooperation Treaty.
Patent attorneys with the Houston, Texas, firm of Arnold, White & Durkee - which works with the Utah firm - recently filed a ninth U.S. patent (three more are being prepared) to protect Utah taxpayers' $5 million fusion investment in Patent Cooperation Treaty countries.
Attorney Michael O. Sutton said the ninth is an omnibus patent application - a combination of all the original applications, plus updated information on Pons' and Fleischmann's new experiments.
When they filed this hefty consolidated application in the United States, attorneys filed it with other countries in the treaty as well.
Between 30 and 40 countries comply with the treaty, which extends protection to Utah's fusion discoveries in those countries for eight to 18 months.
Then attorneys will have to file, if they decide it's worth it, patents in each country - at a cost of $4,000 to $10,000 each.
"We will unquestionably file in some of other (treaty) countries like Japan, probably France, probably the United Kingdom," Williams said. "We unquestionably won't file in some countries like the Congo."
Canada, too, is a member of the Patent Cooperation Treaty.
"Even so, we also filed separately in Canada because there has been some question within that country as to whether it has been constitutional for that country to join the Patent Cooperation Treaty," Sutton said.
But why Canada and not Cameroon? Why Mexico and not Mongolia?
Williams said the board of trustees of the U.'s National Cold Fusion Institute elected to file patents in countries that are industrially sophisticated and have a large population.
The cost of filing also affected their choices, he said.
"But I don't think this (money) was particularly a factor in making those selections. They considered costs, but when the trustees were worried about where to file they were thinking which countries are worth it for the bucks," Williams said. "If the trustees of the institute had felt it was worth it to file in some other country, they would have done that.
Williams said the filings were based on "prudent business judgments, but cost is definitely a factor."
It will continue to be so.
"Clearly more money for patents will be needed as the effort continues. Some of the best applications are yet to come," he said.
More than $350,000 of the $500,000 allocated by the Legislature for cold-fusion legal matters has been spent on attorney fees, disbursements and patent applications, according to Gregory Williams of Giauque, Williams, Bendinger & Wilcox.
The attorneys, like fusion institute officials, are hopeful that private companies soon will invest in the Utah-born phenomenon. They don't have plans now to ask the Legislature for additional fusion funds.