Yes and no
Readers say no to unions and a new sustainability standard, as well as to using lasers in lamps and lighting for houses. But they say yes to apprenticeships as a way to reinvigorate the U.S. manufacturing base and to efforts at streamlining and upgrading the U.S. Patent Office. And one of many readers pointed out that 180-hp outboard motors for boats were rare as hen’s teeth in 1962.

We can fix for the patent office
The U.S. patent system is suffering from two basic problems. It is besieged by submittals that are fundamentally flawed, but inventors are encouraged to patent them based on exaggerated promises from their patent lawyers. And second, the Patent Office employs technically weak staff that is overwhelmed by the sheer number of patent application. But we can fix this.

From 1977 to 2000, I was involved in an effort to evaluate concepts submitted to the National Institute of Technology. It was funded by the Energy Dept. and was eventually called the Office of Technology Innovations. Ideas were analyzed and evaluated by experts in the invention’s subject matter, and not all ideas revolved around energy generation or conversions. There was no charge to inventors for this service, and promising entries went on to further investigation in a second phase. If they survived the second round, inventors could receive up to $200,000 to develop working proof-of-concept models.

I worked at NIST in this Office and analyzed about 750 concepts over a 12-year period. About 5% of them involved patents. The vast majority of the concepts were dismissed at first glance because they were obviously impractical or fundamentally incorrect. The rest got closer scrutiny, but few went on to the second stage of evaluations.

I believe that reestablishing this Office of Technology Innovations and broadening its scope to cover all newly received patent applications would save inventors considerable effort and money, as well as taking pressure off the patent office. Of course, the patent office would also have to hire more knowledgeable staffers as well.

Andrew Wortmang

Not another standard
You are correct; we do not need a sustainability standard (“Do We Need a Sustainability Standard?” March 22). You can bet that this is another way of making money by the “standards” freaks and a way for the government to put more cost burdens on manufacturing. It’s also just more buzzwords to fill the law books by the environment crowd.

The government will see this as a way to force employers to hire more people to shuffle the sustainability paperwork. Larger companies will feel forced to spend millions on this stuff because they seek government contracts, and the costs of the standard will be passed on to the customer, the American taxpayers. And smaller companies will be forced to divert resources from innovation and breakthroughs to more nonproductive paperwork.

As usual, American citizens will be the ones paying for this useless stuff.

Thanks for your comments. It will be interesting to see if other business people have the courage to speak against this hare-brained idea of another standard.

Gerald W. Yankie

This is no more than a job-security program for third-party quality- control “consultants” and eco freaks. You would have to be crazy to even consider establishing this program in your company. Endless, mindless, and never-ending make work for want-to-be bureaucrats.

Leo V. Cranch

Crank up the apprenticeships
I read the recent column (“Don’t Wait for Government to Address Skills Gap,” March 8) with great interest. But I contend that the Society of Mechanical Engineers (SME), together with the National Tooling & Machining Association, has failed miserably at ending the shortage of skilled machinists and at creating quality, long-term machining training. What’s needed is a modernized machining apprenticeship run on a national level.

Instead, here is a typical example of the kind of short-term program that the NTMA puts on (www.trainingcenters.org/). It reminds me of a late-night infomercial, a really bad one. After years and years of failure, SME and the NTMA should no longer have anything to do with machiningapprenticeship programs.

Jon Banquer

Lasers make bad table lamps
Regardless of how “pleasant” a narrow- band laser light might be for illumination (“Your Next Table Lamp Could Be a Laser,” Feb. 9), it still is composed of several narrow bands. This means objects that are reflective over narrow bands of frequencies that do not match up with the laser’s illumination spectrum may often look unnatural under such lighting when compared to lighting having a “black body” spectrum similar to daylight or incandescent lighting.

Christopher James

No to the unions
There’s a reason they call Boeing the “Lazy B” (“Time for Engineers to Think About Unionizing?” Jan. 19). There’s a reason Boeing is expanding production into the South. There’s a reason GM went into bankruptcy. There’s a reason American companies are shifting production to foreign soil. And there’s a reason unemployment is high, especially in traditionally strong union regions. And it’s because overly strong unions are strangling the ability of American companies to remain competitive, resulting in domestic layoffs, bankruptcies, and increases in the offshore content of American products.

Unions indisputably raised our standard of living and established fair wages in the sweat-shop era of early America, and they were responsible for great increases in safety standards. But what happens when the pendulum swings too far, unions become too powerful, and union executives become too greedy?

America became great because of its manufacturing power, but overly powerful unions now seem to be more of a hindrance than a help to economic prosperity. Huge salaries to union execs who get full pay even when working union members are on strike with measly strike benefits is no more fair than Wall Street execs pulling down huge bonuses when they run their companies into the red.

Do union leaders really represent the best interests of their members if they keep them out on long strikes to negotiate ridiculous overtime rates that bankrupt the company and throw members onto unemployment? I’m not so much anti-union as I am pro-American worker.

Name withheld by request

Corrections
Is there the slightest possibility that there is a misprint in the “Looking Back” section (March 22)? It is hard for me to believe that a “rubber” boat, with sizes from 10½ to 15 ft, could support a 180-hp outboard. In fact, going back to 1962, if my memory serves me, the largest outboard engine you could buy was a 100-hp Mercury, which was an in-line six cylinder.

Robert Herol

It should have read 18 hp. — Leland Teschler

In the article, “How Servos and Steppers Stack Up” (Feb. 9), the stepper and servo profiles were mi s t a k enl y swapped in the graphic titled “Stepper versus servo profiles.”

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