An antigravity patent that accidentally got through

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ZapperZ
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I don't normally copy off a journal verbatim, but this news is quite relevant especially with the FLOOD of people posting about this due to the news report in the UK. This is from the Nov. 10, 2005 issue of Nature:

Antigravity craft slips past patent officers

Philip Ball : 'Impossible' device gets seal of approval.

The US patent office has granted a patent on a design for an antigravity device — breaking its own resolution to reject inventions that clearly defy the laws of physics.

This is not the first such patent to be granted, but it shows that patent examiners are being duped by false science, says physicist Robert Park, watchdog of junk science at the American Physical Society in Washington DC. Park tracks US patents on impossible inventions. "The patent office is in deep trouble," he says.

"If something doesn't work, it is rejected," insists Alan Cohan, an adviser at the patent office's Inventors Assistance Center in Alexandria, Virginia. And when something does slip through, he says, the consequences are not significant: "It doesn't cause any problems because the patent is useless."

But Park argues that patenting devices that so blatantly go against scientific understanding could give them undeserved respectability, and undermine the patent office's reputation. "When a patent is awarded for an idea that doesn't work, the door is opened for sham."

Patent 6,960,975 was granted on 1 November to Boris Volfson of Huntington, Indiana. It describes a space vehicle propelled by a superconducting shield, which alters the curvature of space-time outside the craft in a way that counteracts gravity. The device builds on a claim by the Russian physicist Eugene Podkletnov that superconductors can shield the effects of gravity. NASA was at one stage investigating the idea, but it has become almost as notorious as cold fusion as an example of fringe science.

One of the main theoretical arguments against antigravity is that it implies the availability of unlimited energy. "If you design an antigravity machine, you've got a perpetual-motion machine," says Park. Shield half of a wheel from gravity and it will keep turning for ever.

The US patent office has long fought to prevent applications for patents on perpetual-motion machines. In 1911, after a constant stream of applications, one commissioner ruled that they would not be considered until a working model had been running for a year. More recently, inventor Joe Newman sued the office after it rejected his application for such a device. The court finally ruled against Newman in 1990, a decision that the patent office cites in its rules about which inventions are patentable.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell what the implications of a patent are. One previous patent for a device using putative "hydrinos" — shrunken hydrogen atoms — to produce huge amounts of energy was granted. It is currently being reviewed after several scientists complained that hydrinos are impossible according to the laws of physics.

Park says he sympathizes with the difficulties that patent examiners face. "Their burden has gone up enormously," he says. "It's not surprising they get in a jam."

Zz.
 

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  • #2
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This, in my opinion, is the worst aspect of the error:

But Park argues that patenting devices that so blatantly go against scientific understanding could give them undeserved respectability...

When an apparent authority endorses nonsense the repercussions can last indefinititely.
 
  • #3
loseyourname
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People shouldn't view the patent office as 'endorsing' anything. Their primary purpose is just to ensure that something is original. Whether or not it works - although one of their criteria - really shouldn't matter.
 
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I enjoyed the read, thanks. I'm getting into physics, and i've been studying some "anti-gravity"(which has become known more scientifically correct as gravity-modification, anyhow) one of my goals is to start trying to build such a craft. My beliefs... sorry if i offend anyone... is that E.T. is visiting us, or watching over us, and they have to be getting here someway. I've seen a UFO myself... and it just doesn't make sense. It's worth a try, and it won't hurt anything, life is to short, crowded and boring to stay here on Earth..
 
  • #5
Ivan Seeking
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That is a complete waste of time you know. Also, to even suggest "getting into physics" at such a level takes at least eight to twelve years of education, for starters.
 
  • #6
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loseyourname said:
People shouldn't view the patent office as 'endorsing' anything. Their primary purpose is just to ensure that something is original. Whether or not it works - although one of their criteria - really shouldn't matter.
Well, because it's one of their criteria: "... its own resolution to reject inventions that clearly defy the laws of physics...." any of these whacky inventors could use the fact something has been patented as "proof" it is workable, when it isn't, to sucker in investors. Patents are percieved as respectable. Joseph Newman, mentioned in the article quoted by Zz, got alot of mileage for his "Energy Machine" based on the fact he had patented a few other things.
 
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dgoodpasture2005 said:
I enjoyed the read, thanks. I'm getting into physics, and i've been studying some "anti-gravity"(which has become known more scientifically correct as gravity-modification, anyhow) one of my goals is to start trying to build such a craft. My beliefs... sorry if i offend anyone... is that E.T. is visiting us, or watching over us, and they have to be getting here someway. I've seen a UFO myself... and it just doesn't make sense. It's worth a try, and it won't hurt anything, life is to short, crowded and boring to stay here on Earth..

Let's just say that if you posted this in the Physics section of PF, it would not last till daylight. There are PLENTY of other puzzling, important, and worthwhile issues in Physics. I'm sorry you had to waste your effort "getting into" something that is not a part of physics.

Zz.
 
  • #8
ZapperZ said:
Let's just say that if you posted this in the Physics section of PF, it would not last till daylight. There are PLENTY of other puzzling, important, and worthwhile issues in Physics. I'm sorry you had to waste your effort "getting into" something that is not a part of physics.
Zz.

Good thing i apologized before hand....
 
  • #9
loseyourname
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zoobyshoe said:
Well, because it's one of their criteria: "... its own resolution to reject inventions that clearly defy the laws of physics...." any of these whacky inventors could use the fact something has been patented as "proof" it is workable, when it isn't, to sucker in investors. Patents are percieved as respectable. Joseph Newman, mentioned in the article quoted by Zz, got alot of mileage for his "Energy Machine" based on the fact he had patented a few other things.

Yes, I know. I'm saying that I don't think it should be one of their criteria, because realistically, things like this are going to get through.
 
  • #10
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loseyourname said:
I'm saying that I don't think it should be one of their criteria, because realistically, things like this are going to get through.
It is not simply "their criteria", it is federal law...35 U.S.C. 101: "Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title." Notice that this is a pro se application (e.g., there is no attorney or agent of record, so the applicant had to prosecute the application on his own). A patent attorney or agent could be disbarred for filing patent claims that they know their client is not entitled to under the law, so it would be hard to find one who would take a case like this. Also notice that a "primary examiner" handled this case for the patent office. A primary examiner is a patent examiner's supervisor, so this doesn't seem to have simply fallen through the cracks.
 
  • #11
loseyourname
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Isn't the definition of 'falling through the cracks' fit by just about anything that gets through but wasn't supposed to get through? Anyway, I'm not trying to get into a legal argument here. Legal facts are just that: facts. I'm arguing about how we should view the status of a patented technology/process/gene/whatever else they grant patents to. It shouldn't be looked at as an authority regarding what does and does not fit within the accepted physical paradigm. Heck, from what I know, ionic air filters are scams (most of what you see on infomercials probably doesn't even work), yet they are still patented. As the man quoted in the OP says, a patent on something that doesn't work anyway isn't really hurting anything - the main purpose is simply to protect intellectual property, not to stamp a scientific seal of approval. It's in the area of advertising that these things should be hit if they are actually making false claims. It's fairly redundant to add this proviso into patent law.

Just so know where I'm coming from, I'm a governmental minimalist. I think that our laws should be as simple as possible and that government bureaucracy should be as small as possible. Federal approval and licensing processes should be as quick and minimal as possible. When inspecting the quality of beef or approving a cancer treatment, go ahead and be thorough as we currently have the technological means to be; I have no problem with that. But the only reason a patent grants a piece of technology any sort of scientific credibility at all is because of the fact that the patent office claims to consider scientific credibility when it is approving a given piece of technology. That does not have to be the case.
 
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  • #12
Aether
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loseyourname said:
Isn't the definition of 'falling through the cracks' fit by just about anything that gets through but wasn't supposed to get through?
Perhaps, but when a primary examiner puts his name on the dotted line it means that a second layer of scrutiny has been traversed.

loseyourname said:
Anyway, I'm not trying to get into a legal argument here. Legal facts are just that: facts..
Patents are legal facts, and they enjoy a presumption of validity in court.

loseyourname said:
I'm arguing about how we should view the status of a patented technology/process/gene/whatever else they grant patents to. It shouldn't be looked at as an authority regarding what does and does not fit within the accepted physical paradigm.
Why not? You can legally copyright any rap album you please without being asked to explain why it is useful. Most patent applications will be automatically published prior to examination unless the applicant requests otherwise in writing, so you can get just about any idea out into the public domain this way (and record a priority date for your idea). The examination process results in a legal decree, and a presumption that the invention is useful attaches. Nothing in life is perfect, and that's what courts are there for.

loseyourname said:
Heck, from what I know, ionic air filters are scams (most of what you see on infomercials probably doesn't even work), yet they are still patented.
I haven't seen the infomercials. Why do you think that an ionic air filter wouldn't work?

loseyourname said:
As the man quoted in the OP says, a patent on something that doesn't work anyway isn't really hurting anything - the main purpose is simply to protect intellectual property, not to stamp a scientific seal of approval. It's in the area of advertising that these things should be hit if they are actually making false claims. It's fairly redundant to add this proviso into patent law.
I recommend that you read this entire page to gain some appreciation for the professionalism that is expected from patent examiners, and from whence the "scientific seal of approval" flows:

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/documents/2100_2107.htm#sect2107

"An applicant need only provide one credible assertion of specific and substantial utility for each claimed invention to satisfy the utility requirement...office personnel are reminded that they must treat as true a statement of fact made by an applicant in relation to an asserted utility, unless countervailing evidence can be provided that shows that one of ordinary skill in the art would have a legitimate basis to doubt the credibility of such a statement. Similarly, Office personnel must accept an opinion from a qualified expert that is based upon relevant facts whose accuracy is not being questioned; it is improper to disregard the opinion solely because of a disagreement over the significance or meaning of the facts offered.".

loseyourname said:
Just so know where I'm coming from, I'm a governmental minimalist. I think that our laws should be as simple as possible and that government bureaucracy should be as small as possible. Federal approval and licensing processes should be as quick and minimal as possible. When inspecting the quality of beef or approving a cancer treatment, go ahead and be thorough as we currently have the technological means to be; I have no problem with that. But the only reason a patent grants a piece of technology any sort of scientific credibility at all is because of the fact that the patent office claims to consider scientific credibility when it is approving a given piece of technology. That does not have to be the case.
There are about 200 countries in the world that grant patents. Which of these countries has a system of patent law that you admire more than the U.S. system because of its lack of a "usefulness" requirement?
 
  • #13
Moonbear
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Now that I know people who are patent attorneys and hear some of the stories (at least the parts they can tell without violating confidentiality), it sounds like there's a new crop of examiners at the patent office who are absolute idiots. My friends' impression is that they just can't find qualified people to hire, and when they do, they last a few years, and then go to work for law firms where they can earn good money without having to pass the PTO bar exam (some number of years experience working as patent examiners gets them exempted). I'm not surprised something totally useless got through, it seems a lot does. The thing is, the claims in the patent itself can be narrow enough to claim usefulness, just not for the purpose the person is advertising it for. There's no requirement that an item be marketed for the same purpose cited in the patent. It could be patented as a toy, or for the design of the casing it's in being a protective covering, etc. I'd have to see the actual patent to decide if something really got through that didn't meet the requirements. Then again, my friend was involved in a case where he was reviewing a patent already issued and it became quickly apparent that the person only got it because he had harrassed the patent office so long and with so many appeals and wasted so much of their time that someone finally caved in and gave it to him just to get rid of him (I don't think it will hold up against litigation though).
 
  • #14
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There is a difference between something being "useless" and something that defies the laws of physics. Recall this: "... its own resolution to reject inventions that clearly defy the laws of physics...." .

Now, when a person wants to patent something that can't work as claimed, it must be because they're nutty, or because they want to bilk people out of money. I don't see a good reason to cater to either by granting them a patent.
 
  • #15
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Moonbear said:
Now that I know people who are patent attorneys and hear some of the stories (at least the parts they can tell without violating confidentiality), it sounds like there's a new crop of examiners at the patent office who are absolute idiots. My friends' impression is that they just can't find qualified people to hire, and when they do, they last a few years, and then go to work for law firms where they can earn good money without having to pass the PTO bar exam (some number of years experience working as patent examiners gets them exempted).
I passed the PTO bar exam over ten years ago, and don't recall hearing patent examiners referred to as idiots before. I personally have great respect for them as a group, and especially for the patenting process which has evolved over centuries of handling every sort of invention imaginable.

Moonbear said:
I'm not surprised something totally useless got through, it seems a lot does. The thing is, the claims in the patent itself can be narrow enough to claim usefulness, just not for the purpose the person is advertising it for. There's no requirement that an item be marketed for the same purpose cited in the patent. It could be patented as a toy, or for the design of the casing it's in being a protective covering, etc.
For example: I once saw a patent on a "hand gun anti-theft device"...it was a cinder-block chained to the hand-gun...I saw an I-V drip for the euthenasia of fish caught with a rod and reel (no such consideration for the bait though)...I saw an electric tooth brush with many gears and circular brushes so that you could bite down on it and have all of your teeth brushed at the same time...etc.

Moonbear said:
I'd have to see the actual patent to decide if something really got through that didn't meet the requirements.
You can read any patent here: http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/search-bool.html [Broken] (search for "6,960,975" to see the "Space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state" patent).

Moonbear said:
Then again, my friend was involved in a case where he was reviewing a patent already issued and it became quickly apparent that the person only got it because he had harrassed the patent office so long and with so many appeals and wasted so much of their time that someone finally caved in and gave it to him just to get rid of him (I don't think it will hold up against litigation though).
There are about 2,000 new U.S. patents issued each week, and mistakes can happen.

Here is a list of patents that have been withdrawn from issue: http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/withdrwn.htm

"(a) Applications may be withdrawn from issue for further action at the initiative of the Office...(b) Once the issue fee has been paid, the Office will not withdraw the application from issue at its own initiative for any reason except:

(1) A mistake on the part of the Office;

(2) A violation of § 1.56 or illegality in the application;

(3) Unpatentability of one or more claims; or

(4) For interference."

Let's see if patent #6,960,975 shows up on this list.
 
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  • #16
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What about the accelerating expansion of the (visible) universe? Isn't this powered by some sort of antigravity? If so, it should be possible for humans to capture this process.
 
  • #17
impossible... our 200 years of physics, and albert einstein never approved of it.
(Sarcasm)
 
  • #18
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We should waste precious time and resources researching ideas based on speculation with no basis on physics as we know it. How's that for sarcasm?
 
  • #19
Aether
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WarrenPlatts said:
What about the accelerating expansion of the (visible) universe? Isn't this powered by some sort of antigravity? If so, it should be possible for humans to capture this process.
Yes, the accelerating expansion of the universe may be evidence for an antigravity force in nature, but you couldn't propell a spaceship by any such force using U.S. Patent #6,960,975 as a guide.

To deserve a patent you must disclose within the patent application itself all of the details necessary for someone "skilled in the art" to be able to make the claimed invention actually work "without undue experimentation".

35 U.S.C. 112 Specification said:
The specification shall contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains, or with which it is most nearly connected, to make and use the same, and shall set forth the best mode contemplated by the inventor of carrying out his invention.

A patent is an agreement between the government and an inventor: the government's side of the bargain is to protect the inventor from free-market competition for 20 years; the inventor's side of the bargain is that they will disclose enough information about the invention so that anyone skilled in the art could build the invention from the information contained in the patent, and then after 20 years the invention goes into the public domain and is no longer the sole property of the inventor.
 
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  • #20
ZapperZ
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WarrenPlatts said:
What about the accelerating expansion of the (visible) universe? Isn't this powered by some sort of antigravity? If so, it should be possible for humans to capture this process.

You need to do a bit more reading on what exactly is "expanding". It isn't as simple as what you think.

Zz.
 
  • #21
inha said:
We should waste precious time and resources researching ideas based on speculation with no basis on physics as we know it. How's that for sarcasm?

sounds good... sounds like exactly the way everything else ever came about.
 
  • #22
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ZapperZ said:
You need to do a bit more reading on what exactly is "expanding". It isn't as simple as what you think.
OK, fair enough. But the fact remains that the most revolutionary empirical advance in science since Einstein is the fact that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. If this is not a form of "antigravity", then what do you call it?
 
  • #23
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dgoodpasture2005 said:
sounds good... sounds like exactly the way everything else ever came about.

Give me a list of everything. I haven't seen a single article that started like "By randomly doing stuff without a purpose we discovered...".
 
  • #24
Pengwuino
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inha said:
Give me a list of everything. I haven't seen a single article that started like "By randomly doing stuff without a purpose we discovered...".

There have been things that we have discovered by accident... I mean weren't we pretty sure we had it down to protons and neutrons and electrons until we started accidently discovering smaller things? (question, not rhetorical).

I suppose the speed of light was also a kinda accidental discovery
 
  • #25
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I know that. But those accidental discoveries weren't made in random but as a byproduct of actual physical research. It's not like someone slipped on a banana peel and discovered the electron as he hit his head on the floor.
 

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