Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music
From Trinidad & Tobago Government News
April 20, 2011 2:38 pm: The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the Ministry of Legal Affairs (MLA) has moved swiftly to defend against another attempt in the United States of America to secure patent rights for the steel pan.
It has recently come to the attention of the MLA, through attorneys in the United States that a challenge was made since October against a previous ruling which preserved the right of pan manufacturers to make and distribute the national instrument. If successful, the challenge would place a legal bar against manufacture and export of the steel pan into the United States.
Immediately upon learning of this development however, the Minister of Legal Affairs, Honourable Prakash Ramadhar, consulted with the Attorney General and gave approval for lawyers in the US to file a defense with the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO).
The Ministry is advised by its attorneys that the issues raised in this recent challenge are substantially the same as those which the USPTO had ruled on previously – in favour of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Honourable Minister gives his assurance that the Government and the MLA will continue to do all within their respective powers to protect the legitimate Intellectual Property Rights of its citizens and the right of everyone to enjoy this country’s musical gift to the world. The MLA will continue to work closely with its foreign lawyers to defend this recent challenge and is confident of victory.
A more detailed background to this recent development is contained in the accompanying document below Appendix One:
STEELPAN ZOMBIE PATENT
Ardent steelpan technology fans will recall a challenge mounted in 2006-2008 by the then Government of Trinidad and Tobago against two patents granted by the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO). One patent was entitled “Cycle of Fifths Steel Pan” (US patent No. 6,750,386). It was applied for on August 26, 2002 in the name of Trevor King and granted on June 15, 2004. It was the prevailing opinion at the time that the invention claimed the same arrangement of notes on what is now considered the standardized steelpan invented by Mr. Anthony Williams in the 1950’s but run in the opposite direction. The invention was thought to have lacked the criterion of inventive step or non-obviousness in the same way running the notes on a piano backward would be considered not to be inventive. However, after the State requested an inter partes reexamination request, the patent was revoked.
The other patent under challenge at the time was entitled “Production of a Caribbean Steelpan” (US patent No. 6,212,772) that was filed in the name of Whitmyre and Price and applied for on June 23, 1999 and granted on April 10, 2001. This patent was upheld by the USPTO due to differences in clamping and operating pressure which rendered it inventive over previous technology.
So where is the zombie? The owner of the “Cycle of Fifths Steel Pan” has successfully petitioned the USPTO to re-open the closed proceedings and is asking the USPTO to set aside the revocation. The Government was informed recently that this process began since October 2010 but was informed via former counsel only recently. The Government has since renewed its engagement with the firm that represented it previously to examine the petition.
As the patent is out of the way presently, any steelpan with that configuration of notes can be exported to the US or manufactured in the US. The risk of this petition to revive the patent is the curtailment of those freedoms – such pans will not be able to be imported into the US or manufactured in the US.
The conclusion of the matter was to have put Anthony Williams’ arrangement of notes in fourths and fifths back into the public domain for all to use freely. Many aspects of the traditional steelpan are not presently patentable as they have been out in the public domain for too long. However, it does not prevent innovators and inventors from anywhere in the world from improving on the instrument itself and the processes used in its manufacture from being invented and patented. This we have seen with the “Bore-pan” and the more recent “G-pan”.
This Government has been and continues to be deeply committed to ensuring, through the protection of intellectual property in its various forms, that our steelpan, our artistes and the livelihood of all those who are dependent upon the fruits of intellectual property are well protected and that there is fair use of all publicly available steelpan technology. The public is assured that the Government will continue to do all that it can to respond to this renewed petition to revive the patent. The same firm that represented the Government in successfully having the patent revoked in 2008 has already formulated a response to this petition and will continue to assist the Government in looking after the interests of Trinidad and Tobago in this matter.
It has nothing to do with what "the world knows." Ask Nikola Tesla. The question remains, why have Tony Williams and others not patented (or attempted to patent) their work and why do we wait for someone else to take action before we make a step in the right direction? History is littered with great inventors who failed to capitalize on their inventions which were then stolen by others for a profit. America is all about the dollar, and if you don't protect your ideas and your assets you can bet your life someone will be there to take it for a profit.
Yes it is a "special gift from the almighty" but the almighty also talked about the importance of preparation and maximizing your talent. There needs to be some mechanism in T&T where inventors (like the steel band men) can be navigated through the patent process which can be exhaustive and intimidating to some.
I smell a rat here. Yes Trevor King is a Trinidadian, but who stands to gain the most from this move? Since Trevor King doesn't have the ability to collect - the only benefit is to block the sales of Trinidad pans and Trinidad styled instruments in the US to educational organizations.
Hindsight is 20-20, but we must remember where the pan came from, and I'm sure that the last thing on the minds of the young men who experimented and created the pan was applying for patents in a US court.
I'm pretty certain that few if any of us who were around in the fifties and sixties would have given any thought to patent law as it relates to pan, and we must remember this before criticizing the likes of Tony Williams and other pan pioneers from the early days.
We've gotten a lot more sophisticated since then.
That's the point fellas. It does not matter that they did not do it, even though the T&T Government was well-aware that it should have been done and still can. More to come on that topic.
My father, a.k.a. Papa D migrated from T&T to Canada in the 60's to work in the airline industry. But with AC having labour problems he had to find work. He was hired to manage the day-to-day operation of the T&T and Grenada Pavillion (we extended a helping hand to W.I. family-neighbours) at Expo '67 Terre des Hommes in Montréal.
Steelpan, Limbo, Calypso was all part of our popular culture, exposed to the world.
One day, while Esso Tripoli Steel Band was performing to a huge enthusiastic audience, the players noticed a man (from West Germany) scrutinizing the steelpans, examining underneath, touching as many did in those days. When someone asked what he was looking for, he said he was just checking to see how it worked and whether there was a recording device hidden from view as some onlooker suggested (because there was just no way the music or players could make this kind of music from oil drums). After a tutorial, he congratulated the players and asked for the person in charge of the pavilion. My father was summoned and the man advised he was an electrical engineer and also a musician on the harmonica, which my dad also played.
He strongly suggested that T&T pursue a world-wide patent and offered his help because he knew it could and should be done, then. My father got in touch with Stollmeyer (in charge of the T&T High Commission in Ottawa) whorelayed the info to PM Eric Williams and the T&T Government. Sadly and unfortunately it was never pursued.
Pan Trinbago president Patrick Arnold is equally concerned over the possibility of any part of the pan-manufacturing process being registered as the exclusive intellectual property of Whitmyre and Price.
“We have long felt that one day a problem of this kind might surface and as recently as 1999 we sought fresh advice from government’s finest legal minds on this same matter,” Arnold said yesterday.
“The State’s experts said it was too late to pursue security of intellectual property rights as inventor of the process and although one member of the legal team had a dissenting view, her opinion was overruled and the initiative was put to rest,” he said.
In a 1999 interview with this reporter, attorney Sharon Le Gall, a member of the legal team that investigated the Pan Trinbago request, cited countries where the time elapsed between invention and claim was far longer.
Even before that episode, Pan Trinbago had been pursuing the possibility of a patent for pan. At the first World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) meeting held here in 1983, then vice-president of Pan Trinbago, Nestor Sullivan, asked the experts gathered whether Trinidad and Tobago could patent pan.***
“They explained we would have to patent the process and that would have been arduous,” Sullivan said, “because it involved every detail, including how many times the hammer should hit a particular note when tuning and with what force.
“What it sounds like now,” said Sullivan, “is that we should have gone through all the trouble then because it might require some very intricate and expensive legal manoeuvres to secure our position at this time.”
Where the steelpan is concerned we do know that, No one person invented pan , but all who did could and should be recognized.
Steelpan is a gift to the world from the people of T&T, but it has been embraced and is now in a global domain. If we doh smarten up and stop playing the arse, innovations will be pursued, elsewhere.
***F.Y.I. My brother Wayne (R.I.P.) was an inventor and ardent supporter of such in T&T. He was an observer at that WIPO convention and participated in others later on. He helped found IATT and pushed for T&T's IPO. He also lobbied for a co-sponsored (public-private) incubation lab for ideas to be researched and developed in T&T. He was of the opinion that each time the idea of patenting steelpan was approached in T&T, far too many "crabs-in-a-barrel" mentalities would sabotage progress. Pity...