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Wednesday, 28 April 2004

NEW LUNAR MINERAL, SAME OLD IP PROBLEMS?


The BBC reports that a new lunar mineral has been discovered in a lunar meterorite that crashed into the Earth in 2000. The mineral has been named hapkeite after the scientist, Bruce Hapke, who predicted the existence of the iron and silicon compound on the Moon 30 years ago. It is claimed that hapkeite is probably made when tiny particles impact the Moon at very high speeds, say Mahesh Anand and his colleagues (their investigation of meteorite Dhofar 280 is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

The formation of rocky debris and soil on the surfaces of airless bodies in space involves processes that are virtually non-existent on Earth. This "space weathering", as scientists call it, includes the impact of micro-meteorites which crush and pulverise surface rocks on a minute scale. The micro-meteorites are about 0.1mm or less in diameter but, because of their velocities (they reputedly travel at about 100,000km/h), they carry a great deal of energy that is transferred to their tiny areas of impact. The impacted surface is "flash-melted", vapourising metals and causing chemical and structural changes.

The IPKat recalls that matter that is found in nature is incapable of being patented, since it has the status of a discovery rather than an invention. Since it fell to Earth only in 2000, hapkeite cannot be said to form part of the traditional knowledge base of Oman, where it was found. Will this lack of IP interest result in any lack of enthusiasm in exploiting the commercial possibilities that hapkeite might possess, he wonders.

Merchandising of moon rock here
Moon rock here, here and here

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