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Innovation From Ashes - An Ongoing Series

by: David Nickelson, Director of Research

My first article in an ongoing look at how disasters and other acute events lead to innovation in the patent world.

As I look out my window during a visit to Montana I'm quickly reminded of current events unfolding across the western United States. Haze and smoke from wildfires both near and far is providing a muted orange/red glow long after the risen sun should be bright and clear.

In the immediate vicinity, the Howe Ridge fire in Glacier National Park, sparked by a lightning strike on August 11th quickly grew to an inferno, burning several historic cabins within the iconic national park and drawing widespread media attention. Firefighting crews quickly responded with 'Super-Scooper' airplanes and bucket helicopters but as of this writing the fire remains largely uncontained.

Eventually the fire will be extinguished, via firefighting crews or fall rains and cooler temperatures, but after that the restoration work will get started. Crews will clear hiking trails of fallen trees and in some situations, local park or forest managers may decide that the local flora needs a boost to get reestablished.

'Seed balls' or 'seed bombs', a relatively low-tech means of providing this boost have been around since shortly after humans began to establish agriculture. At its most basic form, a seed is surrounded by packed earth, often containing clay to hold the materials together, and formed into a ball which can be easily tossed or dropped by an individual. The soil and clay materials surrounding the seed retain moisture and provide a head start for the new plant when it emerges in the spring.

Even with thousands of years of seed bombs, innovation continues today. Recently published patent application US 2018/0077853 A1 entitled 'Loaded Seed Bullet' takes this idea a step further, combining seeds, fertilizer, fibers and polymers in a bullet form. This allows the bullet to be distributed over wide expanses or targeted to small areas from a single platform such as a helicopter or airplane.

With climate change creating increasingly longer fire seasons in areas such as the western United States, innovation will be key to address the changes. Fortunately there is no shortage of inventors and entrepreneurs ready to tackle this challenge, even for technology that dates back thousands of years.