Friday, May 6, 2011

The Economist Demands Funding for Innovation to be Restored

The Economist, America's foremost "authoritative insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science and technology," is calling for the reinstatement of funding for the US Patent Office.  In an online editorial the magazine argues that Congress' rush to reduce funding stifles the very innovations that they profess the desire to encourage.

So how come Congress and the White House have decided not merely to underfund a crucial cog in American’s innovation machine but actually to take away revenue it earns?

According to The Economist, there are "more than 700,000" backlogged patent applications.  And "on average, hopeful inventors wait for two years until their applications are even considered. Ten months more may go by before they learn whether they have been successful. While they wait for a decision, the American economy is losing out."

They argue that it makes no sense to further slow the process. 

The backlog extends the uncertainty that the process causes to businesses, applicants and competitors alike, slowing investment and constraining the economy. 

But it doesn't stop there.  Congress has also been considering other patent reforms.  For example, one reform would "let the Patent Office determine its own fees and keep all the money that it collects."  This could help it reduce the backlog of applications.  And more importantly, both stimulate more inventors to innovate and speed up the process of getting those innovations to the people who can use them (perhaps to make even more innovations).

The article can be read in full in the online edition of The Economist.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Endosulfan to be Banned Under the Stockholm Convention

The widely used insecticide endosulfan is now on a path to be phased out and eventually banned under the Stockholm Convention, which is an international agreement designed to limit the use of chemicals that are considered persistent organic pollutants.  The decision was made in Geneva, Switzerland during meetings of the "Conference of the parties" held April 25-29, 2011. 

The Parties agreed to list endosulfan in Annex A to the Convention, with specific exemptions. When the amendment to the Annex A enters into force in one year, endosulfan will become the 22nd POP to be listed under the Convention. 

Annex A listing means that production, use, import, and export of the substance is banned.  This decision is a follow up to the recommendation by the POPs committee last fall.

The exemptions include a relatively long list of special cases requested by the two biggest users of endosulfan, i.e., India and China.  Endosulfan has been banned in about 80 countries because it is considered by many to be highly acutely toxic and an endocrine disrupter, as well as potentially very bioaccumulative.  The ban will take effect in 2012, with about 5 extra years available for the special case exemptions and to allow time to identify and develop safer alternatives.

More information is on the Stockholm Convention site.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

NGO Adds 22 More "Endocrine Disrupter" Chemicals to its SIN List

An international chemical secretariat, Chemsec, has released an update to its "Substitute it Now!" list, aka, SIN List.  The first SIN list contained 356 chemicals that the NGO felt qualified as "substances of very high concern."  SIN 2.0 adds another 22 substances based solely on "their endocrine disrupting properties."  Chemsec argues that many of these are "commonly found in toys, food packaging, and cosmetics." According to their press release:

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can interfere with our hormone system and have been increasingly linked to a range of health problems including cancer, diabetes, behavioural and attention deficit disorders, as well as impaired fertility. We are all exposed to a range of EDCs via everyday consumer products as well as via food and water.

Chemsec believes that EDCs pose a significant threat to human health, and that while the EU has committed to addressing this threat, they have "so far not properly regulated their use.  Chemsec notes that hundreds of chemicals are considered of high concern, the EU has so far only designated 46 "substances of very high concern" under the REACH chemical control law, and of those, not a single one was listed specifically for their endocrine disrupting properties.

More information on the 22 new chemicals added to SIN 2.0 can be found on Chemsec's web site.

The list of 22 can be viewed here as a PDF file.

Chemsec's full SIN List database can be searched here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

ECHA Explains How Companies Can Apply for Chemical Substance Authorization Under REACH

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) held a seminar on April 12, 2011 to guide companies in how to apply for REACH authorization of chemicals placed on Annex XIV.  Now they have made the seminar presentations available online for all to download.  The seminar "was primarily targeted to potential applicants for an authorisation, and in particular for the first substances included in the Authorisation List, as well as the substances in ECHA's second recommendation for the inclusion of substances in the Authorisation List."

According to ECHA, about 40 people participated in the seminar.

The seminar agenda can be viewed here.  Topics included the content requirements for the Authorization application, the tools and guidance available from ECHA, and then an open discussion period where ECHA representatives and presenters answered questions.

The seminar presentations can be downloaded here.