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Title: Johnson Space Center Patent Counsel Location: Houston Age: 66 The Patent Frontier Edward K. Fein has outlasted many of his colleagues and knows his retirement is waiting for him, but he’s not ready yet. Good thing, because his engineers aren’t ready, either. “His dedication to space is clear. He’s been there all along, which has been invaluable in deciding when to produce new patents, which bodies of technology should be included and which patents to produce a reasonable portfolio,” says Dr. David Wolf, a National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut and inventor. Fein joined NASA from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1967, after the first manned space flights of the Mercury and Gemini programs. “I’ve always been a space nut. When the job came open, I thought that would be my dream job, and it has been,” he says. Fein has shepherded some of the most groundbreaking technologies to come from NASA, including the pumping technology behind the DeBakey left-ventricular heart pump and the zero-gravity rotational tissue-culture system. The tissue-culture system, like many new ideas, faced strong criticism from the scientific community when NASA began developing it in 1986, Wolf says. The idea was that by altering gravity through the rotation of space flight, cells could grow in a more realistic three-dimensional structure. Fein took an open approach to the idea. “Ultimately we came up with over 20 very strong patents that are heavily licensed, producing significant royalties and now considered state of the art,” Wolf says. That technology is used in cancer research and tissue engineering � exactly the result Fein is after. By licensing technologies that originate from space research, private industry gives the public an extra bang for its tax buck through new products and processes. “All of our licenses are royalty-bearing. Roughly at this center, we’re generating over $1 million a year,” Fein says. That’s a drop in the bucket for NASA, but it’s only the beginning. “By virtue of the exclusivity provided by patents, private industry is [given incentive] to invest the capital necessary to create commercial products for use by the public. It is not within NASA’s charter to do that, and industry does that best,” he says. Chief Counsel Bernard Roan, Fein’s supervisor, says Fein has been at the forefront of the commercialization of NASA’s inventions. Budget Suites of America owner Robert Bigelow, for example, launched Bigelow Aerospace, aiming to build commercial space stations. He licensed some NASA inventions, and that has led to a deeper relationship, encouraged by Fein. “It may seem small [but] the synergy and the effort that both sides will put to the ultimate goal are huge,” Roan says. For Fein, that ultimate goal was to be involved in the space program. As for Fein’s retirement: “We’re talking him out of it,” Wolf says.

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