NASA offered up three sets of its patents at auction last week, but had a hard time finding buyers. While a set of seven software development patents sold for $75,000, two other sets of patents went unclaimed. No one made a starting bid of $50,000 on a set of four patents covering autonomic computing (in this case, technologies that mimic autonomic biological functions) or made a starting bid of $30,000 on one patent for autonomic safety systems (like a sprinkler or smoke detection system) that automatically manage and detect failures in the system. The patents that did sell are focused around making coding easier by allowing for more "informal" inputs to be recognized and translated into formal, working code.
Of course, NASA wasn't auctioning these patents to make money — this auction was part of a pilot program in which NASA auctions off these patents to get its technology in the hands of people who can use it to create and commercialize new technology outside of the space field. NASA's auctions are also unique in that the winning bidder doesn't actually own the rights to the patent — NASA just offers them an exclusive license to use the technology, with provisions designed to keep the patents from being used just for lawsuits. While this auction didn't find a lot of interest from buyers, it's still good to see NASA trying to get its technology into the hands of innovators and keep it out of the hands of patent trolls.