As I explained, the Raising the Bar reforms made it possible, for the first time, for Australian patent examiners to object to the grant of a patent on the basis that the claimed invention is not useful. At that stage, however, I was unable to identify any case of a ‘perpetual motion’ application to which such an objection had been raised.
On 31 August 2015, however, an examination report was issued in relation to Australian patent application no. 2011201103, which is entitled ‘Perpetual Productive Motion Device’. Among other matters raised in the report, the examiner has objected that ‘the claimed invention does not achieve the use promised by the patentee in the specification, and have a credible use.’ This may be the first time that this type of objection has been raised in Australia against a ‘perpetual motion’ or ‘free energy’ apparatus.
Buoyancy/GravityThe apparatus disclosed and claimed in application no. 2011201103 is an example of a class of perpetual motion devices that I would call ‘buoyancy/gravity’ generators.
The basic idea is attractive enough. Imagine you have a sealed shell containing air, or a vacuum, so that it will fall under its own weight due to gravity, but be buoyant in a liquid, such as water.
If you could then construct a side-by-side arrangement of an empty tube, and a liquid-filled tube, it might be possible to implement transfer mechanisms for passing the shell from the empty tube to the liquid-filled tube at the bottom, and in the other direction at the top. If so, then the shell would continuously circulate in the tubes, falling down the empty tube and rising up the liquid-filled tube in perpetuity.
All you would then need to do is harness this motion, e.g. mechanically or magnetically, to generate power. And there you have it, free energy!
Of course this does not work. There is no way to perform the transfers from air (or vacuum) to liquid and back again that does not consume more energy than can be generated by the motion of the shell, especially once frictional losses are taken into account.
Prior (Useless) ArtThe impossibility of energy generation by the buoyancy/gravity method has not prevented many from trying. I can only assume that all of the would-be inventors of such apparatus are convinced that it is just a matter of minimising friction, and finding a previously undiscovered, incredibly efficient, transfer mechanism.
In the case of application no. 2011201103, therefore, the examiner was able to find examples of prior art and to raise objects of lack of novelty and inventive step based upon US patent application publication no. 20090235659 and international application publication no. WO2009036601, both of which describe (alleged) ‘buoyancy/gravity’ generators.
I should note that these are not the only examples of patents or applications for this type of perpetual motion machine. A list of Patents for Unworkable Devices, created by Dr Donald E Simanek of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, includes a number of examples, including granted US patent no. 5,944,480 (‘Buoyancy and Gravitation Motor’), and British patent no. 6510, dating back to 1833, which also appears from Dr Simanek’s description to relate to such a device.
However, what interests me in the examination report is not the novelty and obviousness objections. I suspect, in any case, that if this was the only problem, the applicant would be able to overcome it by claiming some aspect of the particular mechanism used to harness the ‘free energy’. I am interested in the more fundamental issue of usefulness.
Objections Based on Usefulness/UtilitySubsection 18(1) of the Australian Patents Act 1990 requires that an invention, in order to be patentable, is a ‘manner of manufacture’ (i.e. suitable subject matter), is new, involves an inventive step, and is useful.
Prior to the commencement of the Raising the Bar reforms on 15 April 2013, Australian patent examiners were not permitted to raise lack of utility (i.e. not useful) as a ground of objection.
The reforms introduced two relevant changes to the Patents Act:
- section 45 was amended such that the Commissioner (or, in practice, an examiner to whom the task is delegated) must now report on whether the claimed invention not only satisfies the criteria of manner of manufacture, novelty and inventive step, but also utility; and
- section 7A was added, providing a statutory definition of ‘useful’ which supplements the established legal meaning by providing that ‘an invention is taken not to be useful unless a specific, substantial and credible use for the invention (so far as claimed) is disclosed in the complete specification’.
The claimed invention does not achieve the use promised by the patentee in the specification, and have a credible use. The claimed invention is not useful for energy generation but merely wastes energy. For the cycle to run continuously, firstly by taking into account the energy needed for the pump (14), solenoid arms of the lift mechanism (16), shutters (27) and barrier door (32) to operate as stated in the specification the device will require more energy to run the cycle in the device than the energy extracted by the shaft (29) and gear system (19) through the generator (18) of the device. There also exists friction losses in the star wheels and the gear system and also viscous drag when the buoyant member is moving in the fluid filled first passage. Hence for the given system Win > Wout (W is work). Therefore I fail to see how this device will produce excess useful work to be used as energy for the reasons given above. It is also noted that the device contradicts known physical laws (i.e. Second Law of Thermodynamics).
Conclusion – The End of the Story?I am glad to see Australian patent examiners exercising this relatively new power to reject unworkable inventions for lack of utility. As I noted in my earlier article, it benefits nobody to have a patent examination system that is unable to filter out clearly worthless and invalid claims, and it has the potential to bring the patent system into disrepute – as if it is not already facing enough challenges!
I hope the applicant in this case responds to the objections. I would be most interested to see how the examiner handles a challenge to the above arguments! If there are any further developments, I will let Patentology readers know.