for National Geographic News
A perpetual-motion machine may defy the laws of physics, but an Indiana inventor recently succeeded in having one patented.
On November 1 Boris Volfson of Huntington, Indiana, received U.S. Patent 6,960,975 for his design of an antigravity space vehicle.
Volfson's craft is theoretically powered by a superconductor shield that changes the space-time continuum in such a way that it defies gravity. The design effectively creates a perpetual-motion machine, which physicists consider an impossible device.
Journalist Philip Ball reported on the newly patented craft in the current issue of the science journal Nature.
Robert Park, a consultant with the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C., warns that such dubious patents aren't limited to the antigravity concept.
"I might hear a complaint about a particular patent, and then I look into it," he explained. "More often than not it's a screwball patent. It's an old problem, but it has gotten worse in the last few years. The workload of the patent office has gone up enormously."
Some people might consider patents on unworkable products to be relatively harmless. Park, a physics professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, disagrees.
"The problem, of course, is that this deceives a lot of investors," he said. "You can't go out and find investors for a new invention until you can come up with a patent to show that if you put all this money into a concept, somebody else can't steal the idea.
"[Approving these kind of patents can] make it easier for scam artists to con people if they can get patents for screwball ideas."
Perpetual-motion machines have long held special appeal for inventorsparticularly during the concept's heyday around the turn of the 20th century.
Patent applications on such devices became so numerous that by 1911 the patent office instituted a rule that perpetual-motion machine concepts had to be accompanied by a model that could run in the office for a period of one year.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES