The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) is perhaps the most iconic and influential agency within the United States government. Established in 1958, its mission statement is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.” Throughout the years, NASA has not only sparked curiosity and wonder in millions of individuals around the world, but has also successfully stayed in line with their mission by contributing to the advancement of many fields ranging from environmental science to medicine.

The patent portfolio of NASA, while extremely impressive on its own, is also just a small sample of their overall impact on the world. Currently, 1878 publicly-accessible patent applications on file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) list NASA as an assignee. This number does not include those patent applications that are under a secrecy order (i.e., classified for national security), nor does it include those patents filed by entities owned by NASA (such as patents filed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) or partners that work closely with or are commissioned by NASA.

Of all of the patent applications filed under the NASA name, the agency has been issued a patent 84.6 percent of the time (and 81 patent applications are currently pending). NASA faces an average of 1.6 office actions per patent application, and each NASA application remains in prosecution an average of 3 years, 1 month, and 2 days before its final resolution. The agency readily utilizes Requests for Reconsideration (RCEs) – 20.8 percent of their patent applications have been accompanied by at least one RCE – whereas appeal cycles have only been needed in six percent of their total patent cases.

Many NASA patents have either been voluntarily released to the public domain for others to use and improve on, or they have been licensed to third parties who have found new applications and markets for the agency’s inventions. Some of the more widely known NASA inventions have resulted in:

  • Memory Foam – a material now used for household comfort was once intended to keep pilots cushioned during flights;
  • Enriched Baby Formulas – a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids now found in most baby formulas was discovered in an effort to develop life support systems for missions to Mars;
  • Invisible Braces – the translucent ceramic used for the first invisible braces was invented by a company through working with NASA;
  • Cardiac Pumps – NASA simulations of fluid flow through rocket engines helped with the development of a cardiac pump used by many with heart trouble;
  • Cochlear Implants – sound and vibration sensor systems developed by NASA are now utilized in a commonly-used hearing aid; and
  • Solar Cells – NASA inventors have designed a high-efficiency, selenium-based solar cell that is low-cost, robust, and easy to manufacture.

NASA has had a profound impact on how we live our everyday lives and has inspired a new wave of private spaceflight companies that are expected to take mankind even further into the final frontier. While NASA may be a product of the USA, it is undoubtedly a treasure for the whole world.

USPTO patent data has been presented by LexisNexis PatentAdvisor®. PatentAdvisor® provides patent practitioners with patent analysis tools to ensure sound patent portfolio assessments and to help devise more efficient and effective patent prosecution strategies.

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