Rumors, Conspiracies, etc.

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
patents



Inventor Claims He Got Patent 20 Years After Filing... But Details Missing

from the patent-what? dept

Samkash sends over an odd story out of the Houston Chronicle, concerning an 82-year-old physicist named Roy Weinstein, who supposedly received a patent 20 years and three days after he applied for it on a type of "super magnet." There's an awful lot about the story that doesn't seem to add up, however. At first, I thought that the patent couldn't even be valid, because patents today expire exactly twenty years after they're filed. So a patent granted 20 years and three days after filing would, amusingly, have expired three days before it was granted (figure that out!). Except... then I remember that this only applies to patents filed after 1995. If I remember correctly, patents filed before that are given 17 years from when they're granted. So, it's entirely possible, if improbable, that the patent was granted and is now valid.

So I went looking for the patent... and I can't find it (Updated below). Perhaps someone with better tools and experience can find it, but I've got nothing. According to the article, the patent was applied for in 1990 and then granted on February 23, 2010. But if you do a search for Roy Weinstein, you get three main results. One is a patent that was applied for in 1991 (5,289,150), but the inventor on that patent isn't Weinstein, but another guy named Mario Rabinowitz. It just cites the work that Weinstein has done in passing. Also, that patent was granted back in 1994. So that's not it. I've found three other patents that do list Weinstein as the inventor (6083885, 6525002 and 7026271), but those were filed for in 1998, 2000 and 2003, and all issued anywhere from one and a half to three and a half years after being filed.

I can't find any patent that Weinstein applied for in 1990 or that was granted in 2010 -- though, again, it is entirely possible that I am missing something. Thanks to Greg Fenton for pointing out the actual patent, 7,667,562. If you go into PAIR and search on that patent (tragically, and for no clear reason, the USPTO does not let you link directly to PAIR results) you can search on that patent and see the long, drawn out history of that patent. It shows just how many times patent examiners rejected the patent. Over and over and over again.

But the story continues to be bizarre. According to the article:
The patent lets Weinstein move forward with commercial development of his supermagnets that, when chilled to super-low temperatures, can produce a field with the strength of 2 tesla, billions of times stronger than the magnet on your refrigerator.

Weinstein's magnets are about the size of a stack of five dimes, weigh an ounce, and cost $300. Commercially available electromagnets that can produce a comparable magnetic field weigh two tons and cost $60,000 to $100,000, he says.
The implication here, of course, is that for the past 20 years, this technology could not have been commercialized without the patent -- but that's ridiculous. Of course you can commercialize without a patent, and if the cost savings are really so incredible, there would have been tons of ways to make money, even sans patent. On top of that, it sounds like his other patents may be in the same basic field, so if he was really worried about protection, why not use those patents as well? But the whole claim that he couldn't commercialize for all this time just doesn't add up. And, frankly, if it's true that he decided to not do anything with this supposedly amazing technology just because he couldn't get a patent on it, it would make him an incredibly spiteful man to purposely deny the world some useful technology.
Weinstein said he is developing a $7 million agreement with Round Rock-based TECO-Westinghouse Motor Co. to construct a 1 megawatt motor that will be a prototype for a 10 megawatt version. The company declined comment.
I've done plenty of business deals in my time, and I've never heard of anyone publicly announcing to the press the terms of a deal before the deal was signed -- especially a deal like a $7 million agreement with a single inventor. Perhaps such a deal is being worked on, but let's see what actually comes out of the negotiations first.

The story also claims that the patent only got approved when Roy's son started schmoozing the patent examiner in question, and apparently wore him down on the idea that the idea may have been obvious considering how many products already used similar technologies:
Instead of communicating by letters, Lee Weinstein called the patent examiner directly and struck up a relationship. He assuaged the examiner's concerns that a patent for the magnet would cover too many existing technologies and might restrict billions of dollars in trade.

"To be honest, this is an area of science that almost certainly a patent examiner wouldn't understand," Lee Weinstein said. "It's deep physics. I tried to help him understand that by granting a claim this wasn't reaching out and covering some technology it shouldn't cover."
This seems rather insulting to the patent examiner in question, but also highlights how if you talk a good game, apparently the USPTO is willing to grant you patents.

Anyway, it seems like there are lots of holes in this story. Hopefully someone can point us to the patent, and maybe we can look over its history in the USPTO's PAIR system -- but I'm still at a loss as to why the lack of a patent meant the technology couldn't be commercialized.

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  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:21am

    Ouch!

    Sometimes reading techdirt makes my head hurt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:34am

    So, wait... On top of everything else, a patent can be rejected and rejected and rejected, and then TWENTY YEARS LATER it can be awarded, despite that history? WTF?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PRMan, 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:39am

    There's this phrase just for this situation...

    There's this phrase just for this situation...

    PATENT PENDING

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Beta, 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:47am

    It... could... work...

    At first this looked like nonsense, but it might just work. I'll have to read it more carefully.

    As for why it hasn't been commercialized, I don't see much commercial application. The claim is that you can produce permanent magnets with intense, complex, precise magnetic fields, but it looks as if they're permanent only as long as they're kept cold. Yes, you could build a nifty motor, but you'd have to keep it in a bath of liquid nitrogen. The only application I can think of is in high-end particle accelerators, and that's a small market niche.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      John, 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:56am

      Re: It... could... work...

      How about tiny MRIs?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      :Lobo Santo (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:56am

      Re: It... could... work...

      Fabrication processes... many industries could make use of stronger magnets. And there are lots of factories out there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:57am

      Re: It... could... work...

      That sounds exactly like something I saw on PBS a few years ago. They were showing how a special type of metal could be cooled with liquid nitrogen and become a vary specialized magnet. The example they were using was a model train with a magnetic track and was to show a possible use in maglevs. It was kinda cool because once the magnet was set, it wouldn't go further from or closer to the tracks.

      This may be the same thing, but if he wasn't going to even try to commercialize it until the patent was approved, I doubt that he would have told PBS.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jessica, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:35am

      Re: It... could... work...

      What about unlicensed particle accelerators that you can strap to your back that unleash a proton stream of sorts? It might be usable in some sort of paranormal work for trapping or perhaps storage. Just sayin...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    VoicesInMyHead (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:48am

    Pass the Aspirin...

    Right there with ya, C.H.T.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tom Landry (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 10:54am

    "billions" of times stronger? Wouldn't something like that be pulling cars off the road onto your magnet or something?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hephaestus (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:04am

    Okay the geek in me comes out

    2 tesla in a chunk of material the size of 5 dimes ... Why does this sound wrong?

    In a ceramic superconductor "Although the magnets would have to be kept cool with liquid nitrogen," ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris Maresca (profile), 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:06am

    Nothing to see, just move along....

    "The patent lets Weinstein move forward with commercial development of his supermagnets that, when chilled to super-low temperatures, can produce a field with the strength of 2 tesla, billions of times stronger than the magnet on your refrigerator. "


    Basically, this guy has patented superconducting magnets. No wonder it took 20 years to award, probably took that long to find something slightly original that could be patented...

    It's been known for quite some time that supercooling magnets increases magnetism by 20-100%, depending on the material. There are a few companies, like Magnifye (http://fluxpump.co.uk/default.aspx) that make very high power (e.g. 17 Tesla) magnets out of exotic supercooled materials...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:13am

    One part of the story is wrong...

    Copied from the post:

    Instead of communicating by letters, Lee Weinstein called the patent examiner directly and struck up a relationship. He assuaged the examiner's concerns that a patent for the magnet would cover too many existing technologies and might restrict billions of dollars in trade.

    "To be honest, this is an area of science that almost certainly a patent examiner wouldn't understand," Lee Weinstein said. "It's deep physics. I tried to help him understand that by granting a claim this wasn't reaching out and covering some technology it shouldn't cover."

    This seems rather insulting to the patent examiner in question, but also highlights how if you talk a good game, apparently the USPTO is willing to grant you patents."

    I looked at the last document communicated in PAIR from the applicant, "Petition for review by the Technology Center SPRE." Not only did the applicant NOT have any sort of relationship with any of the examiners, he essentially called them, in so many words, incompetent and ignorant and demanded the examiners who had been involved in the prosecution be removed from examination of his patent application.

    So, a more appropriate statement might be, if you insult a bunch of patent examiners and accuse them of incompetence, and then ask to have them removed from examining your patent, apparently the USPTO is willing to grant you patents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michial Thompson, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:27am

    Lack of commercialization

    It could probably be argued that he could not get a large company to license the technology without a patent being issued...

    I can imagine a scenario where a company would refuse to consider an idea or an invention without the patent...

    Then the actual application pending would also be a deterrent against anyone actually trying to develop the technology for fear of the eventual law suits

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:30am

    "I can imagine a scenario where a company would refuse to consider an idea or an invention without the patent...

    Then the actual application pending would also be a deterrent against anyone actually trying to develop the technology for fear of the eventual law suits"

    Ahh yes promoting the avancement of science indeed

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:40am

      Re:

      Ummm...where in the statute does it say that patents are intended to promote the avancement [sic] of science? As has been pointed out many times before, patents are for implementations, science is the theory behind the devices and is not patentable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 1 Apr 2010 @ 9:57am

        Re: Re:

        It says that in the Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 (if I understand correctly): "The Congress shall have Power To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:31am

    without a patent anyone else could have copied his work and left him with no commercial benefit or at best a smaller part of the market.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 12:04pm

      Re:

      Glad you provided all that evidence for your silly claim.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 3:13pm

        Re: Re:

        is there a need to explain the obvious?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 3:16pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          When you have no evidence that it is obvious, yes, TAM.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 3:30pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            what is tam? why you need evidence for the obvious if something can be copied by others they will and make money from it and he makes less. basic stuff.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2010 @ 5:24am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The Anti-Mike (TAM) was a troll here a while ago.

              I agree with you, though, that fear of having the "invention" poached could have prevented him from putting it out there without Government protection. Not that I think that's a good way to have the system run...

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:39am

    "The story also claims that the patent only got approved when Roy's son started schmoozing the patent examiner in question, and apparently wore him down on the idea that the idea may have been obvious considering how many products already used similar technologies"

    This is one reason why I don't think any single person should be allowed to approve a patent but instead you should have a group of six of so elected people who vote on the validity of a patent application and then require at least a 2/3 majority for the patent to be granted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 11:40am

      Re:

      err...

      a group of six or so elected people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Patent Lawyer, 31 Mar 2010 @ 7:52pm

      Actually, that's how it works

      Patent examiners aren't the first and last folks to make rejections. Patent examiners have to justify allowances to supervisors and supervisor's supervisors. And there is occasionally yet another QC-type level of review.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    staff, 31 Mar 2010 @ 12:36pm

    "The implication here, of course, is that for the past 20 years, this technology could not have been commercialized without the patent -- but that's ridiculous. Of course you can commercialize without a patent, and if the cost savings are really so incredible, there would have been tons of ways to make money, even sans patent."

    Often inventors need a patent to raise money to commercialize their invention. Do you have a few million laying around? Also, if he filed in 90 that was before GAAT so the patent will expire 17 years from date of issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 7:14pm

      Re:

      "Often inventors need a patent to raise money to commercialize their invention."

      Exactly how often does this occur and do you have statistics to support this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    arfnotz, 31 Mar 2010 @ 12:49pm

    patents and wackos

    I hold a few patents, and I read through most of the usbject patent. I also deal with VERY interesting inventors in the course of my work at a Large electroincs Company.

    Gettting multiple rejections on an applicatin id routine. I've never filed and gotten through on the first pass, but I've never recieved an ultimate rejection.(i.e. given up). so that's no big deal.

    Anyone who claims "the physicss to to deep/mystrious/or-if I explain it you'll steal my idea" is pretty much guarenteed to be full of baloney, or deluded about what they think they have found.

    His claim #1 reads to me as if he is attmepting to claim patent on High termperature superconductivity in and of it self, so that one is right out. The others may or may not have merit, I'd have to read all the otehrs to judge.

    Many companies hold inventions as trade secrets and never disclose them, so not having a patent is not really an impedement to development.

    To me, prsonally contacting a patent examiner to plead your case seems unethical. Some people are VERY persuasive in person, and that should not determine the course of an examination.

    Announcing a deal before its signed is unethical, and if I was TECO, I'd slap him down hard. For this sort of negotaintion to even begin would normaly require non-disclosure statements to signed on each side.

    I vote "wacko".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jake, 31 Mar 2010 @ 2:20pm

      Re: patents and wackos

      Good point. How much capital do you need to market a device with a manufacturing cost per unit of less than a thousand dollars? Weinstein could make these things by hand in his garage and auction them off to the highest bidder; he'd never have to do another day's work in his life after he'd sold a couple of dozen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    arfnotz, 31 Mar 2010 @ 12:50pm

    spelling

    ...but if he invented a spell checker for blog replies, I might cahnge my mind...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2010 @ 1:55pm

    The USPTO has a "Public PAIR" system that allows the file wrappers (aka, prosecution history) of issued patents to be viewed and copied as Acrobat files. In this particular case the file wrapper, spanning 20 years, was about 850 pages long and downloaded as an almost 100MB Acrobat file.

    After scanning the file wrapper it quickly became clear that the applicant was not the one engaged in stringing out the prosecution of the application. In fact, I am a bit surprised that his attorney "tolerated" what was happening for such a long period of time before exasperation set in and a new examining group was requested (a highly unusual and rare move).

    It appears as if the original examiners were dead set against allowing anything, and no arguments concerning the prior art cited against the original 151 claims were being entertained. Time and time again cogent arguments were presented as to why the examiners were mistaken in their understanding of the cited art, and each time they were seemingly dismissed with the wave of a hand. When this started to run into problems, the examiner then shifted position six years after the application was first considered and issued a requirement that the applicant "break up" the application into what would essentially have been 17 applications. This went on for a while until things eventually returned to a more conventional examination of claims. Once again, though, the examiner shifted to the "do not confuse me with facts" mode and rejected the claims.

    This does not appear to be a case where the inventor and his counsel tried to game the system. Quite the opposite.

    Merely as an aside, the inventor in this case is not your typical "I did it in my garage" type. He appears to be a well respected expert in this field of technology, and for the past 24 years has been associated in varying capacities (Dean, professor, etc.) in several scientific and engineering disciplines at the University of Houston.

    The fact this application was in a pending status for 20 years is nothing short of astounding. Had it gone through an otherwise normal prosecution before the USPTO it would likely have issued about 1993 and would expire sometime this year (17 years from the date of issue given its pre-1995 filing date).

    A rather unusual case indeed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alatar, 1 Apr 2010 @ 3:11am

    Patents are fantastic

    So here's another case in which, as their supporters say, patents "help and protect innovation", by holding it back for 20 years. Great!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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