Following on from their earlier unsuccessful attempts (see the IPKat’s earlier post here), US company Blacklight Power has now failed to persuade the UK Patent Office of the validity of the theory behind their patent applications (decision O/114/08).
right: Dr Mills hard at work in Blacklight Power labs on yet another of his incredible inventions.
Two GB applications (GB0521120.6 and GB0608130.1) were made in the name of Blacklight Power, the brainchild of Professor Branestawn-type scientist and inventor Dr Randell Mills and a commercial vehicle for applications of his theories. The first application related to a plasma reactor, the second to a laser. Both relied on the existence of a form of hydrogen known as ‘hydrino’ that directly contradicted existing physics. Dr Mills claims that hydrogen can be put into this new form by allowing electrons in the ground state to transition to a lower energy state (not allowed according to quantum mechanics, hence the term 'ground state'), thereby releasing energy.
In both applications the examiners objected that the new hydrogen species was unknown to science. The inventions were therefore contrary to generally accepted physical law and not capable of industrial application, contrary to section 1(1)(c). They also objected that, since the claimed inventions relied for their operation on a material that current science would deem impossible, the specifications did not comply with the requirement of section 14(3). These objections would normally be used when examiners reject applications for perpetual motion machines, which Dr Mills’ inventions seem (at least to the IPKat) to have a certain flavour of.
Both applications effectively relied on the hydrino theory being true, since each had independent claims referring to hydrino material: with the plasma reactor producing it and the laser using it in a laser cavity. The hearing officer therefore had to determine whether the theory could be ‘true’, and how far he would need to go to prove this to his satisfaction. The hearing officer came up with the following (emboldened in part by the IPKat):
“Such a question is difficult to address, to say the least, since the nature of the scientific method is such that scientific theories can never be shown to be 100% true. However, theories that are generally accepted as valid descriptions of nature it seems to me conform to certain criteria. The main criteria may be as follows:
It may be that other criteria can be identified, for example that a successful theory should also be intellectually satisfying and economical in its explanation, but I think that for any theory to be accepted as “true” it must satisfy at least a), b) and c) above. Where I refer to the “truth” or “validity” of a scientific theory in this decision it is in that sense.
- a) the explanation provided by the theory is consistent with existing generally accepted theories. If it is not, it should provide a better explanation of physical phenomena than do current theories, and should be consistent with any accepted theories that it does not displace;
- b) the theory should make testable predictions, and experimental evidence should show rival theories to be false and should match the predictions of the new theory;
- c) the theory should be accepted as a valid explanation of physical phenomena by the community of scientists who work in the relevant discipline.
I then need to ask what level of confidence should be demanded in the truth of this theory in order for patents to be granted on effects which depend on it. If, as in the present case, an applicant proposes a new theory and claims an invention dependent on it, it would be unfair to the applicant if the patent was refused but the theory turned out in due course to be true. If on the other hand patents were allowed to be granted on inventions depending on any theory, however speculative, then in the words of Paez’s Application (BL O/176/83) “it would be completely wrong and against public interest to bestow upon misleading applications the rights and privileges of a granted patent”. I consequently take the view that it is appropriate to demand a real but moderate level of confidence in the truth of the theory. I will therefore make the assessment on the basis that it should be more probable than not that the theory is true if I am to allow the applications to proceed.”
The hearing officer then proceeded to show that Dr Mills’ theory failed on each of the three tests. The theory failed to make any testable predictions that showed any existing theories to be false, and was in no way accepted by the physics community. The claimed inventions were consequently not capable of industrial application and, since they also relied fundamentally on the existence of a material not generally accepted to exist in nature, it would not be possible for the skilled person to perform them, contrary to section 14(3). The applications were therefore refused.
The IPKat is impressed at the clarity, thoroughness and patient restraint of this decision. The hearing officer's test in particular is obviously the correct way to view all scientific theories (and not just those that form the basis for patent applications). Patentees would be well-advised to avoid relying on any doubtful scientific theories in their claimed inventions, and instead stick to patenting inventions that can at least be reproduced and tested by others.
More perpetual motion machines here.
More bad science here.
More incredible adventures here.