SHELTON — Solar company Opel Technologies has announced its 36th patent for thyristor semiconductor devices that can determine the angle-of-arrival of an incident laser beam with high angular resolution (a “harlid”).

The core patent was issued in December, and additional development is expected.

The company is also dispelling various Internet rumors suggesting it fast-tracked an agreement for funds with NASA under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program without submitting required information in accordance with securities laws and regulations in the U.S. and Canada.

Opel says it is still in negotiations with NASA, and will make an official statement when any agreements are finalized.

 WALLINGFORD — Enterprise streaming video company VBrick Systems will have its video software and hardware products sold through Avaya, a global provider of business systems and software.

The VBrick products are being sold through the Avaya Select Product Program, and will provide Avaya customers with live meeting and event broadcast capabilities to corporations, educational institutions, health-care facilities and government entities.

 SOUTH GLASTONBURY — Streaming music platform Raditaz is getting a $150,000 boost from Connecticut Innovations Inc. (CII) to advance development and marketing.

Raditaz currently has a Web-based platform and an app available for smart phones. The service allows users to integrate with social networking sites and utilizes a map function to let listeners see which artists are trending in their area and throughout the country. That same information can be used to recommend music to users based on those nearby with similar taste.

The company also boasts having more music than the popular Pandora streaming service — 14 million songs, versus the latter’s 900,000.

As a startup, Raditaz appeared at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Summit at the Omni Hotel last October.

Raditaz’s CII funding comes through the Pre-Seed Fund, which supports Connecticut-based startup companies.

 CHESHIRE — Pharmaceutical company Alexion is seeing progress in the development of its HPP medication.

Asfotase Alfa, a targeted enzyme replacement therapy, was shown to improve skeletal abnormalities, pulmonary and physical function, and cognitive development in a Phase 2 study in infants and young children with hypophosphatasia (HPP).

HPP patients face life-threatening enzyme deficiency, which can lead to damage to vital organs, destruction of bones, muscle weakness, seizures and respiratory failure.

ORANGE — Tangoe Inc. has launched a new telecom expense-management product: The Tangoe Real-Time Telecom Expense Management (Tangoe rTEM), a portfolio of capabilities designed to eliminate “bill shock” resulting from unexpected mobile device charges.

The proliferation of mobile devices and related applications continues to complicate mobile cost containment efforts of organizations around the world. Governments have been debating regulations mandating that service providers offer bill shock prevention to their customers. The implications of bill shock negatively affect all parties involved: individuals, businesses, and carriers.

 

According to its maker Tangoe rTEM can help users reduce costs by proactively monitoring, reporting and analyzing mobile data, voice, SMS, and roaming consumption across multiple device operating systems and carrier networks. In addition to real-time capabilities, Tangoe rTEM provides predictive analysis, visibility and control over mobility usage and associated costs. This helps individuals and businesses avoid excessive charges before they are incurred, the company says.

$6.5 million engineering facility to promote multidisciplinary collaboration

NEW HAVEN — The Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science has begun construction of a versatile innovation and design studio to encourage the invention and prototyping of new, socially beneficial technologies — from robotics and medical devices to renewable energy systems and other innovations not yet conceived.

The $6.5 million, 8,500-square-foot Center for Engineering Innovation and Design will promote collaborative technology development among students in a wide range of scientific disciplines. It is scheduled to open in September.

“The establishment of this center underscores Yale’s surging commitment to engineering and technical innovation,” said T. Kyle Vanderlick, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS), which will host the center. “It will foster a culture of engineering at Yale, and by catalyzing collaboration and hands-on design experience, we will produce more ‘Y-shaped’ engineers — engineers whose intellectual depth and breadth allows them to innovate with purpose.”

Located on the ground floor of the Becton Center on Prospect Street, the new facility is the latest manifestation of Yale’s focus on engineering. The Cesar Pelli-designed Malone Engineering Center opened in 2005, and SEAS is in the process of hiring nearly a dozen additional faculty members, supported by last year’s additional $50 million gift from John Malone (Yale College ’63), chairman of Liberty Media.

SEAS mechanical engineering professor John Morrell, a former director of systems engineering for Segway, will direct the new design center. He also brings a background in medical-device development to his new role.

“The center will capitalize on Yale students’ intense desire to create something of purpose,” Morrell said. “While many projects can easily satisfy the criteria of being ‘engineered,’ the projects at the innovation and design center will be driven and supported by the real challenges that face society — energy, health, poverty and climate, to name a few.”

The courses and projects affiliated with the center will require the application of a broad array of engineering principles and will serve the interests of students and faculty in all of Yale’s engineering majors: biomedical, electrical, mechanical, chemical and environmental engineering. The center will be open to students in all majors for both academic and extracurricular projects.

“Innovation occurs when we get ideas from seemingly unconnected areas,” Morrell said.

Designed to make collaboration easy, the center will offer group work areas, meeting rooms, and fabrication facilities for metal, plastics, wood, biomedical materials and electronic devices.

 

“With the addition of the center,” Vanderlick said, “SEAS will deliver a unique engineering experience that prepares students for the daunting but inspiring challenges of technical leadership.”

Where employer electronic monitoring and employee privacy collide

 

 

Technology seems to advance at a rate faster than most of us can comprehend.

 

Wait too long to buy the latest gadget or become acclimated with new software or systems, and you’ll find yourself behind as they are updated or are rendered obsolete.

 

With the booming popularity of smart phones and GPS devices in recent years, we are able to have an entire world of information in our pockets, and getting lost on the highway is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

 

But it’s also never been easier to be found. Even before smart phones, the growth in use of mobile phones a decade ago made everyone accessible virtually 24/7. But now the iPhone in your pocket, or the global positioning system (GPS) in your car, can make you answerable at all times, and the very technology that can help you get directions, find a nearby restaurant, or locate your lost phone, is the same technology someone else can use to find out where you are at all times.

 

The way we work evolves with these new technologies as well — more and more e-mail correspondence, computer networks and the cloud. So who’s to say businesses can’t also find a use for all that’s at our fingertips? Whether it’s because times are tough, or simply because companies want to keep better track of their assets and control costs, knowing where your employees are can be helpful.

 

But installing a GPS in a company vehicle that can give employers the location of workers at all times may be disconcerting for those who do a lot of work on the road. This is a fresh issue in Connecticut, since in February Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration favored a budget proposal from the Department of Children & Families (DCF) that if approved would install GPS devices in 750 cars to improve employee efficiency and manage vehicle usage.

 

According to the proposal, installing the GPS units in the vehicles would yield a savings of nearly $250,000 in overtime and fuel costs. DCF cited statistics that non-profits using the devices have seen sharp declines in those costs.

 

The proposal also states that the ability to monitor vehicle use will help the DCF verify “numerous complaints from the public” the department has received regarding the operation of its vehicles.  

 

“It’s pretty simple. There are more than 700 cars used by department staff, and [using GPS units] is an important way to manage that significant public resource,” DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt says. “There’s no time more pressing than today to effectively manage resources.”

 

But the union representing DCF workers finds the proposal demoralizing. Local 2663 president Paul Lavalle says he isn’t opposed to the potential efficiencies that GPS devices can bring, but thinks the way they’re being proposed is an affront to workers.

 

“I haven’t had any employees disciplined for driving excessively or inappropriately, and if it was that people were getting lost all the time it would be one thing,” Lavalle says. “Our responsibility and how efficiently we provide services to our clients is based on trust. When I have a commissioner [DCF Commissioner Joette Katz] telling the world she’s putting GPS in the cars, she saying — if not implying it — that she doesn’t trust us. And that makes it harder to get the clients to trust us.”

 

“That’s not the point at all,” Kleeblatt retorts. “It’s just that if we’re going to be accountable to the public, we can’t manage what we don’t have information about. Social workers are doing very challenging work helping families with a lot of significant challenges, and this is in no way diminishing that fact.”

 

Lavalle says the matter of solving overtime issues could be solved with allowing DCF workers more flexible schedules with variable hours to suit the job; currently he says any hours worked after 5:30 p.m. count as overtime.

 

Connecticut is one of the only states in the country that has a law specifically addressing GPS tracking in the workplace; general statute 31-48d requires employers to give written notification to employees in advance of electronically monitoring their actions or communications via telephone, camera (including hidden cameras), computer, radio, wire, electromagnetic, photoelectronic, photo-optical and “other.”

 

However, the law only covers electronic monitoring done on a company’s premises (with the monitoring through any means other than direct observation); and in cases of reasonable suspicion of illegal activity, no prior notice is needed.

 

A 2009 Connecticut Supreme Court case on this topic involved two former firefighters, Frank Gerardi and Stephen Vitka, and the City of Bridgeport. The city had GPS devices installed on new vehicles without informing the firefighters using them. When the city brought disciplinary action against Gerardi and Vitka, the two sued, claiming they violated the state statute.

 

In spite of not being notified of the monitoring, the case was dropped and it was decided the plaintiffs had no private cause of action, since the monitoring did not take place on the employer’s premises, and because there is no specific language in the statute that entitles employees who were not given initial notice to any specific relief or remedy.

 

It sounds like a thorny legal situation, and some lawyers agree. Chris Brigham, principal at the New Haven law office of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, says companies can avoid this kind of legal action by simply adhering to the statute and posting written notice to all employees. A printable poster is even available from the state for posting on bulletin boards.

 

“GPS is still not a traditional form of e-monitoring, but the trend is going in this direction, especially in companies that have employees on the road a lot,” Brigham says. “My sense is if you’ve going to do GPS monitoring by satellite, the cautious approach would be provide written notice.

 

“I don’t think the statute was drafted with GPS in mind, since there’s no specific point in there,” he adds. “I’m sure we’re going to see additional cases that push the limits on this, especially since there is a Big Brother element that no one likes.”

Adds Peter Dagostine, a lawyer for Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa, “Employers really help themselves by letting their employees know.”

 

All signs point to electronic monitoring only expanding. Technology market research firm ABI Research recently predicted that the market for personal GPS tracking devices and applications will grow by 40 percent and break $1 billion in 2017.

 

As the Gerardi v. Bridgeport case demonstrates, the fact that an employer violates the statute doesn’t necessarily translate to a win in court for the employee. Attorney Louis Federici of the Hamden office of Parrett, Porto, Parese & Colwell says establishing damages in an invasion-of-privacy case can be tough.

 

“If you’ve got a right to privacy and they violated it, you can bring a lawsuit in principle,” Federici says. “But in any litigation, establishing damages is always tricky. What’s the consequence of being monitored? How do you quantify it? You can say you had an extreme emotional reaction and needed medical treatment, but as a consequence you open your medical history up for the opposition to look at. It can be extremely difficult to make the claims stick.”

 

Federici says he has not tried many cases of this nature for exactly that reason. And while he says employers may want to track company vehicles to ensure workers are focusing on work and not wasting time or money, he also thinks a certain amount of common sense should be applied.

 

“Employees still are entitled to some privacy and to living their lives,” he says. “I hope monitoring would eliminate the creepy stuff, but maybe it wouldn’t keep an employee from having to make a doctor’s appointment for their kids.”

 

On the national stage, the case of United States v. Jones involved law enforcement obtaining a warrant to track a Washington, D.C. suspect’s vehicle, with the stipulation that the device had to be installed within ten days, and the installation performed within the District of Columbia. Police attached the device on the 11th day, in Maryland. As a result, the suspect, Antoine Jones, had his conviction of cocaine possession with intent to distribute and life prison sentence reversed due to warrantless use of GPS.

 

But privacy issues in the digital age primarily revolve around the Internet. There have been plenty of national news stories highlighting the pitfalls of social networking relationships between employers and employees (Google even recently announced it would include a do-not-track feature in its browser, which would prevent companies from using a person’s Web history to deliver custom advertising). Dagostine says it’s a growing trend.

 

“I’ve seen the disciplining or discharging of employees for social media or e-mail; people post on Facebook where they’re clearly identified with their employer, and making inappropriate comments about them, or customers,” he says. “A decision needs to be made on how that can be used on someone’s private time and computer. But the law is slow to catch up to these situations.”

Still, he says, ultimately if an employee is using an employer’s property for something other than work, that fact may trump privacy protections.

 

“If an employer provides the computer, the servers and the e-mail system, it’s their property, and they can tell you what you can or can’t use it to visit,” he says. “With personal smart phones and tablets, the employer might not be able to block content, but that can say that when you’re on work time, you can and can’t do this.”

 

Dagostine says in the case of personal devices with cameras, there’s little the business owner can do to prevent anyone from using a camera, but in cases of government buildings or industries where trade secrets are a factor, there could be rules restricting their use.

 

And what if you’re at work and find your business e-mail inundated with offensive spam? One could argue that that creates a hostile work environment, but it’s more a liability if the employer does nothing to remedy the problem.

 

“‘Hostile work environment’ sounds easy, and people use it frequently, but for that, it would have to be of such a nature to shock the consciousness — that’s the standard that courts are looking for,” Federici says. “I don’t think e-mail is going to make that standard. ‘Shocking the consciousness’ is more like coming into work and seeing a burning cross in your parking space.”

Federici says Connecticut has sensible monitoring laws; Dagostine agrees that the laws are appropriate, but applying the technology is become more difficult as it advances.

 

“It has to work itself out, too,” Dagostine says. “Employer liability laws are just going to be interpreted in light of new technology, so the issue is more employee privacy laws; they haven’t caught up to technology.”

It seems clear the issue is far from being resolved.

 

“We see this in all areas: the changing technology is changing the way we work and how we supervise employees,” Brigham says. “And there may be some additional cases down the line that challenge the scope and breadth of our statute.”

 

ROCKY HILL — Connecticut Innovations Inc. (CII) has launched several initiatives to help finance young businesses and spur entrepreneurship in the state.

 

The Connecticut Innovation Ecosystem initiative is designed to help scalable young companies grow.

 

The Innovation Ecosystem is one of several new initiatives launched by CII after its recent announcement of a plan to invest $250 million, half of which is coming from state coffers, over the next five years to spur the tech industry in Connecticut. The first year of the Innovation Ecosystem is supported by $4.8 million of state funding.

 

“We want Connecticut’s entrepreneurship support system to function like an ecosystem where young ventures can grow and succeed,” said Catherine Smith, chair of CII and commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD), which administers CII.

 

CII has issued two requests for qualifications (RFQ) for entities to assist with implementing the Ecosystem initiative. The RFQ for Statewide System-Focused Responses seeks business entities to undertake day-to-day management and coordination of the Ecosystem, and the RFQ for Innovation Hub-Focused Responses seeks entities to assume management and development of Connecticut’s “innovation hubs” of entrepreneurial activity.

 

More information on the Innovation Ecosystem can be found at ctinnovations.com/innovationecosystem.

The SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Acceleration and Commercialization Program is supported by $1.8 million in state funding and $2.2 million from CII. It will provide grants to entrepreneurs and small businesses participating in the federal SBIR program to help grow their technology companies.

 

Prospective entrepreneurs can learn about and enter the program at ctinnovations.com/sbirfunding.

NEW HAVEN — Medical device company EpiEP Inc. has received a follow-on investment of $1 million from Connecticut Innovations Inc.’s (CII) Eli Whitney Fund to continue research into the treatment of deadly cardiac arrhythmias.

 

The company received a previous $1 million investment from CII in 2010, the same year the company relocated to New Haven from Virginia. EpiEP’s initial product, the EpiAccess system, is now being tested in first-in-humans trials in Europe. It aims to provide minimally invasive access to the pericardium, or outer surface of the heart.

 

CII also made a $500,000 investment in Westport-based healthcare IT company MyCare Inc. through its Seed Investment Fund. The company is developing a search engine tool, Smart Access to Medical Information (SAMI) for health-care institutions to access medical record data.

NEW HAVEN — Pharmaceutical company Rib-X has received a $3 million milestone payment from French drug maker Sanofi.

 

Rib-X signed a research collaboration and option for license with Sanofi last year for novel classes of antibiotics, resulting from Rib-X’s RX-04 program for the treatment of drug-resistant Gram-negative and Gram-positive pathogens. The payment from Sanofi was for the achievement of research-based milestones.

 

The RX-04 agreement dictates that Sanofi has the right to license an unlimited number of products targeting a discrete binding site within a ribosome, while Rib-X will retain rights pertaining to its proprietary drug discovery platform.

 

Rib-X has received $22 million to date in milestone payments in this collaboration. For the achievement of research, development, and regulatory milestones, the company could per product; up to $100 million per product for achieving commercial milestones.

ORANGE — Software services company Tangoe continues on its business shopping spree, having acquired UK-based mobile communications management-services provider ttMobiles.

 

Tangoe president and CEO Al Subbloie said the acquisition will help expand the company into Europe to enhance its portfolio of global programs.

 

ttMobiles specializes in mobile sourcing, provider migration, localized charge auditing, personal call management, cost control, recorded call management, fleet administration and complete outsourced mobile management.

 

ttMobiles’ managing director and co-founder Aldo Rossi will become managing director of Tangoe’s European operations, while ttMobile executive directors will also assume roles in Tangoe’s operations overseas.

 

Tangoe expects ttMobiles to generate $500,000 in revenue in the first quarter of 2012, and $4.5 million in total revenue for the year. This would bring Tangoe’s total expected revenue to some $143.5 million.

 

Tangoe announced the acquisition of another firm, Montreal-based Anomalous Networks, in January.