Patents of note 2: Fusion Edition
Patents of Note is a regular series of articles touching on patents that are of interest to the general public.
An interesting thing about patent specifications, and one which many people tend to forget, is that they don’t need to be scientifically accurate in order to be filed and published. Instead, a patent must, amongst other things, demonstrate so-called sufficiency of disclosure (also called “enablement”) to make it to grant. The concept of enablement, however, is not a requirement for a would-be inventor to show why his or her invention works, nor even how it should work. All he or she need do is prove to the Examiner’s satisfaction that it does work, and describe how to do so well enough so that a person skilled in the art can recreate the technical effect being claimed.
Many patent applications, of course, fail to clear this bar entirely and so languish without being granted. One example is a recent application from Japan (Japanese patent application number 2019-41563) which rejoices in the title “Spacecraft that floats and travels with principle of ufo, and travels with hover (haver) engine and fusion plasma”. It is more or less what you’d expect, being rather incoherently claimed and poorly described even when the usual mangling provided by machine translation from Japanese to English is taken into account. It currently exists only as a Japanese patent application, and has no granted Japanese patent or corresponding patent applications in other jurisdictions. Most likely, it never will.
More promising is a patent application filed by one Jerome Drexler from the United States (PCT patent application number WO2018231310), entitled “Interplanetary spacecraft using fusion-powered constant-acceleration thrust”. Drexler is something of a serial inventor in this field, and has a number of patent applications in the field of space travel, including a granted US patent (patent number: 10,322,826) for a similar fusion-powered spacecraft issued earlier this year. Further; the claimed concept of initiating fusion by use of ambient cosmic rays, although very unlikely given their relatively low flux, is at least a known phenomenon. As such, there is a reasonable chance that this patent application may go to grant by dint of its patentable merits.
Finally, we turn to a wildly successful (at least, in terms of the number of patents granted) inventor by the name of Salvatore Pias. This rather enigmatic man, working at the secretive Naval Air Warfare Centre Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) in the United States, is listed as an inventor in a number of patents in the field of cosmonautic vehicles and semiconductor devices. These include patents for laser-augmented jet engines (US patent number 7,080,504), gravitational wave generators (US patent number 10,322,827) and, more recently, an application for a form of room temperature superconductor (US patent application number 2019/0058105).
The most eye-catching of these already fantastical-sounding inventions, however, has to be US patent number 10,144,532, entitled “Craft using an inertial mass reduction device”. This patent claims a craft using an inertial mass reduction device, which includes a set of microwave emitters which work to create a “local polarized vacuum”. This supposedly allows the craft to move through the vacuum of space by a repulsive gravity effect.
The patent application had a tumultuous history; receiving a non-final rejection by a presumably-confused patent examiner which cited the lack of enablement in terms of the requirements of US law. From there the full panoply of patent prosecution shenanigans then ensued; including interviews, multiple responses to the examiner, amendments to the specification, and an affidavit by the Chief Technology Officer of NAWCAD. It seems that these measures eventually did the trick, and a patent was duly granted for the invention in December 2018. The result is another notch on the belt of one of the more ambitious inventors we’ve yet come across, and another patent to add to NAWCAD’s rather science fiction-esque portfolio.