Satellite Abandoned Thanks To Patent On Lunar Flybys
from the promoting-the-progress dept
A ton of folks are all submitting different versions of this story this morning (from a variety of sources), but the original appears to be at Space Daily, where it discusses how satellite company SES Americom has to abandon a satellite that had a botched launch due to a ridiculous patent on the concept of a lunar flyby. Basically, what happened is that SES had a problem with a satellite launch, such that the satellite did not reach the proper orbit (it was intended to be a geostationary satellite used by Echostar). SES then figured out that it could get the satellite into a proper orbit by making use of a lunar flyby. That part is just basic physics. But, at that point, SES discovered that Boeing happens to own a patent on doing this sort of lunar flyby, despite the fact that you can’t patent physics. As someone notes in the article, Boeing merely used some jargon to make basic physics appear as a “process.” If that sounds familiar, you’ll note that it’s the same thing that many patent holders are doing to turn math into patents using software patents.
So, rather than just doing it and having to deal with patent infringement lawsuit, SES tried to play by the rules (no matter how ridiculous) and asked Boeing to license the patent. Unfortunately, the two companies are engaged in a separate legal matter that has SES suing Boeing for $50 million. Boeing took the opportunity to tell SES it would license the patent only if SES dropped the lawsuit. Apparently, SES figured that the $50 million was worth more than saving the satellite, and will instead try to collect the insurance for the botched launch, abandoning the satellite. This may get more interesting, as apparently a third party is interested in buying the satellite and potentially taking on Boeing (or maybe just licensing the very questionable patent). Also, the insurance company apparently was not aware of these alternatives and may push SES to take one of them. Either way, thanks to a patent on physics (which, last I checked, is not something “made by man”) SES has felt the need to abandon a perfectly viable satellite. I’m sure that was exactly how the Founding Fathers expected the patent system to be used. Update: The patent in question is available here.