Review of Cold Fusion patents

The following is the first in a series of articles by David French, a patent attorney with 35 years experience, which will review patents of interest touching on the field of Cold Fusion.

August 18, 2011 –This first review will address two patent applications filed based on inventions by Francesco PIANTELLI of Italy.  Ivy Matt on August 16, 2011 in two posting on Cold Fusion addressed the recent initiatives of Piantelli, making extensive reference to Piantelli’s most recent published patent application filed in 2008, as well as further unpublished applications of April 26 and July 14, 2011 (link here – transfer to homepage may be needed to make links work). This present posting will go to the beginning, comparing Piantelli’s earlier work with his more recent patent initiatives.

Piantelli was one of the earlier researchers who, in 1995, pioneered combining hydrogen with nickel to produce anomalous excess energy. The two published patent references identifying him as an inventor are as follows:

1) Title: ENERGY GENERATION AND GENERATOR BY MEANS OF ANHARMONIC STIMULATED FUSION filed initially 27.01.1994 in Italy (link here)

World applicant (except US): UNIVERSITA’ DEGLI STUDI DI SIENA, Italy

2) Title: METHOD FOR PRODUCING ENERGY AND APPARATUS THEREFOR, filed initially 24.11.2008 in Italy

World Applicants (except US): Silvia and Francesco PIANTELLI, Luigi BERGOMI, and Tiziano GHIDINI, all of Italy (link here)

Both of these applications are PCT filings. That is they are world filings made under the Patent Cooperation Treaty and do not represent patents. Rather, they are applications that have been filed through a central patent application processing mechanism, the PCT.

These applications started with an initial filing in each case in Italy. Within 12 months corresponding upgraded applications were filed within the PCT system. Both applications were published as of 18 months from their Italian filing dates. As of 30 months from the original filing date, it’s required to exit the PCT and make national entry filings in individual countries. Today some 130+ countries can be accessed in this manner. Once a patent application has been prepared (which can cost $5000-$25,000 plus) an application can be filed in the PCT for around $10,000. One benefit of a PCT application is that it will delay the deadline for making national filings until the 30th month from the earliest world filing date.

The first Piantelli filing

The first of the above applications eventually did produce national filings in Canada, Czechoslovakia, the European Patent Office, Finland, Mexico, New Zealand, Romania and Sweden. Patents were actually granted in New Zealand and by the European Patent Office but the corresponding application was refused in Czechoslovakia. In other countries the applications may have been granted, refused or may have been abandoned during their pendency. The disclosures in all of these filings were identical to the PCT published disclosure.

This list of countries is certainly different from what you would normally expect. Significantly absent is a filing in the United States. The Canadian filing was abandoned in 2003.

Significance of filing and/or grant of a patent

Not a lot of credit should be given to the fact that a patent application is filed or that a patent has been granted in terms of the legitimacy of the disclosure. Patent offices evaluate patent applications on whether they claim something which is new. Normally, they do not evaluate whether the inventions are good or even whether they work. The only exception is when the inventor proposes to patent something that a national patent office suspects will not function at all, e.g. a perpetual motion machine. Presently, the US Patent Office requires proof that Cold Fusion has actually been obtained if a patent application states that it has achieved Cold Fusion. If the requisite evidence is filed, then this objection to patenting can be overcome.

The first Piantelli filing, continued

The first application was filed in the name of an Italian university. Presumably, the sole inventor, Francisco Piantelli was a faculty member at the University at the time. Accordingly, he had probably agreed to transfer his rights to the University.  The decision to file is likely to have been made by the University. Similarly, the decision to abandon filings or applications was also likely made by the University.

This first filing is not relevant today for what it claimed as being a new invention in 1994.  But it is relevant for what it discloses. Anything disclosed in an application once it has been published can no longer be patented by anybody, anywhere in the world. That is a fundamental requirement for the granting of patents everywhere: that they be focused on a feature which is new in the sense that the claimed feature has never previously been made “available to the public”.

This standard bars patenting for anything to which the public has already had access, whether it was available in writing, posted in an electronic database, or accessible through public use or sales. This is called the “prior art”. A patent applicant is also barred from claiming any obvious variants on the prior art.

To limit the length of this posting, we will review the second Piantelli filing in the next posting. Meanwhile, readers will find it interesting to examine both patent documents by clicking on the links provided above. Explore the screens that these links will take you to. The PCT authority provides links to the description of the patent document and to the status of the application as it proceeds through the system. Of particular interest are the “claims” which the applicant wishes to eventually have approved for inclusion as part of a final patent.  Claims define the scope of the exclusive rights granted under the patent.

The claims as sought on filing rarely correspond to the claims as finally granted. An examiner in each national patent office will do a search and criticize the application, requiring corrections and changes. No changes can be made to the “story”. But the claims can be re-worded so that they are in proper form. To be in proper form, a claim must not describe anything that was previously available to the public.

Patents often appear overwhelmingly complex to someone who is examining a patent for the first time. But once you get used to the experience, there is a vast world of valuable information available for those who are not intimidated.

To help people understand the “story” in these Piantelli patents, reference can also be made to the second August 16, 2011 Cold Fusion Now posting of Ivy Matt concerning Roy Virgilio (link here).

The next posting will address the second patent application and the further unpublished filings made by Piantelli in April and July of this year.

New (?) Piantelli group patent

The title of a patent application recently filed by the Piantelli group has been revealed on the Italian Patent and Trademark Office website:

metodo e apparato per generare energia mediante reazioni nucleari di idrogeno adsorbito per cattura orbitale da una nanostruttura cristallina di un metallo

That is, “Method and Apparatus for Generating Energy through Nuclear Reactions of Hydrogen Adsorbed by Orbital Capture to a Metal Crystalline Nanostructure*”. If you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu, it’s because the Piantelli group filed a patent application on April 26 of this year with the exact same title. This newer patent application was filed on July 14. Presumably it covers a different aspect of the Piantelli group’s work than the April patent. Or perhaps it’s an amendment to the April patent. Because the contents of either patent are unknown, it’s difficult to say. The April patent will be published on October 27, 2012. The newer patent will be published on January 15, 2013. In most countries patent applications must be published 18 months after they are filed.

Also, as mentioned in an update to my last post, Peter Gluck is reporting that Francesco Piantelli and Roy Virgilio are collaborating on a book titled Galileo e il metodo scientifico attraverso i secoli, or Galileo and the scientific method during the ages.

*My translation, made for this post. After taking the time to read through the hypothesis proposed in Piantelli’s 2008 patent application, however, I feel that the phrase “hydrogen adsorbed by orbital capture” is incorrect, because the adsorption is a process that happens before the orbital capture. Any corrections by those who speak Italian are welcome.

Related posts:

Viareggio Cold Fusion conference: science, politics, and an Italian competitor — Ivy Matt July 23, 2011

Roy Virgilio releases more details on Piantelli’s research — Ivy Matt July 25, 2011

Roy Virgilio on Piantelli, plus the 2008 Piantelli hypothesis — Ivy Matt August 16, 2011

Senate debates now on Patent Reform Act of 2011

If you are concerned about the United States Patent and Trademark Office USPTO practices, the window is closing to contact your senator, as well as those on the the Judiciary Committee, in regards to the Patent Reform Act of 2011.

They have opened the debate on the Patent Reform Act of 2011 to the full senate. Full text of the bill is available here.

Members of the Judiciary are listed here.

Contact your Senator here.

A list of supporters of this bill is located here.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office has been criticized for failing to issue patents related to cold fusion technologies, thereby suppressing the free-flow of information on new energy research and hampering the development of clean energy devices. For some cogent thoughts on this issue, see the recent post “Robert Duncan Interview on Cash-flow: ‘Public Investment means public ownership.’ “

The following is from Senator Patrick Leahy’s Press Release:

Leahy Opens U.S. Senate Debate On Patent Reform Legislation
Legislation Is Result Of Six Years Of Debate, Consideration In Congress

WASHINGTON (Monday, Feb. 28, 2011) – The Senate Monday afternoon began debate on long-pending legislation to make the first comprehensive reforms to the nation’s patent system in nearly six decades. The legislation is authored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy first introduced bipartisan patent reform legislation in 2006, and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has pressed the Senate to take up the legislation.

“The Patent Reform Act is a key part of any jobs agenda,” said Leahy. “We can help unleash innovation and promote American invention, all without adding a penny to the deficit. This is commonsense, bipartisan legislation.”

Patent reform legislation has been introduced in the Senate and in the House in each of the last four Congresses. Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported the Patent Reform Act to the full Senate for consideration for the third consecutive Congress. The Committee voted 15-0 to send the legislation to the full Senate.

“This country’s first patent was issued to a Vermonter. Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, examined the application, and President George Washington signed it,” Leahy said. “A balanced and efficient intellectual property system that rewards invention and promotes innovation through high quality patents is crucial to our nation’s economic prosperity and job growth.”

The Patent Reform Act will improve and harmonize operations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; it will improve the quality of patents that are issued; and it will provide more certainty in litigation. In particular, the legislation will move this nation’s patent system to a first-inventor-to-file system, make important quality enhancement mechanisms, and provide the PTO with the resources it needs to work through its backlog by providing it with fee setting authority, subject to oversight.

The Patent Reform Act is supported by cross-sector manufacturers, innovators, small businesses and inventors, high-tech, universities, pharmaceuticals and biotech, labor, bar associations, financial planners, and others.

The legislation is cosponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The Senate will debate the Patent Reform Act this week.

Download full text of the bill is here.

A Brief History of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Patents here.

Robert Duncan interview on Cash-Flow: “Public investment means public ownership.”

He was supposed to be the keynote speaker at the 16th Annual International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science in Chennai, India which brings low-energy nuclear reaction scientists from the International Society of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science together from around the world, but the massive snowstorms in the U.S. prevented Dr. Robert Duncan from attending.

James Martinez took that as an opportunity to interview Dr. Duncan, the University of Missouri Vice Chancellor for Research, on his Cash-Flow show. The hour-long interview revealed a thoughtful and deliberative researcher who is exploring a science that could potentially solve all of the world’s energy problems. The development of a table-top nuclear-sized power generated from a small piece of metal, like palladium or nickel, infused with hydrogen, found in water, could power the entire planet for tens of millions of years.

Dr. Duncan had not been involved in any related research until he was asked by the 60 Minutes television program in 2009 to investigate Energetics Technologies’ cold fusion claims. Energetics Technologies is a young energy company that had at that time made some outstanding claims of excess heat using a modified Fleischmann/Pons cold fusion cell. Dr. Duncan was chosen by CBS to investigate, having made a career on “making extremely accurate measurements of heat output in open thermodynamic systems”.

Dr. Duncan, initially skeptical, reviewed the data and realized “there was something going on here”. His first review of the literature, and talks with some of the researchers involved, documented at least 200 instances of the excess-heat effect, and this is what prompted him to accept CBS’s offer to examine Energetics’ lab. Today, Dr. Robert Duncan is a strong and active researcher in the field of cold fusion, technically called low-energy nuclear reactions.

Describing his first impressions of the announcement of Drs. Fleischmann and Pons back in 1989, he noted that the claims were not accepted by the physics community because of the initial problems in reproducing the experiment, even though it was not the first time this had occurred.

The first report of a possible nuclear reaction using a deuterium-palladium system occurred on September 17, 1926 in Berlin, Germany when the very well respected scientists Friedrich Paneth and Kurt Peters saw something anomalous. When they could not reproduce the effect, they had to retract their findings.

Dr. Duncan continued with analogy when he described the first silicon transistors and superconductors. In both cases, technology was being developed before understanding of the underlying processes of material science was understood.

In the 1950s when silicon transistors were discovered, materials science was just beginning. During those first years, batches of transistors were made and tested, and the ones that worked were kept, while the ones that didn’t work were thrown away. As much as 80% of the batches had to be thrown away because they didn’t know what was causing them to work or not.

Today the process control in fabricating silicon transistors is well-known. The certainty in quality comes from the purity of silicon and added dopants, but this knowledge is the result of decades of research and hundreds of billions of dollars. A similar situation occurred with superconductors.

Duncan says this may be the same thing happening again with cold fusion research. If this is some kind of fusion process, the scale in which the reaction takes place is very tiny, distances of 1/10,000 the size of a hydrogen atom and time scales on the order of an attosecond, a duration of 10e-18 seconds. Given these extremely small scales involved, the coarseness of control makes the materials environment difficult to determine. This may be why using nanoparticles of palladium, super-small particles sized on the order of a billionth of a meter, and heavy hydrogen (deuterium) appear to now give a 100% reproducibility rate of excess heat, as they seem to load-up automatically.

But Dr. Duncan also cited the recent announcement from Andrea A. Rossi‘s group in Bologna, Italy on January 14 that used a different system of light hydrogen (regular hydrogen) and nickel.

Differences and similarities between the palladium-deuterium and hydrogen-nickel systems are not fully understood.  The elements palladium, nickel, as well as platinum, another metal important to low-energy nuclear reactions, are in the same column of the periodic table, and thus should behave similarly.

He has not closely examined the Italians’ system, and since they are withholding information about their device, citing trade secrets, he cannot yet determine the validity of their claims.  The patent process has been a problem for scientists developing these clean energy technologies to protect their intellectual property, he said.

In the interview, Dr. Duncan responded to the fundamental question of how this technology will be developed. Will a few elite own this new energy technology, withholding it from the world through, as James described “red-tape and bureaucracy”, or will the entire planet benefit with a “free flow of information” from an ultra-clean power source that uses a fuel of water?

Responding, Dr. Duncan said he “has a basic commitment to the open exchange of information”, but this is why the patent and trademark office was established. “You need to have an openness for exchange of information, but at the same time you had to protect substantial private equity investments and efforts as well.”

He said a company building a better mousetrap may have spent hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars to do so, and it’s important that those who sacrificed to help create a new invention get their investment back.

The main point is the United States Patent and Trademark Office was established with that understanding. Because when you prepare a patent, you are actually making a publication, and you are required to disclose openly all aspects that are necessary to repeat your invention. By doing so, you do exactly what we are discussing, you’re keeping in the public domain for public scrutiny and improvement, the major advance that you’ve obtained. And that’s the whole concept of being able to patent; it couples respect for private equity with an opportunity for open exchange which, certainly I know as a scientist, is critical for the advancement of any discipline.

Doing research in a modern lab today is an expensive undertaking, and “money is never in academia, or never in scientific pursuits, an end in itself, but it’s always an important means to that end, it’s a way of moving forward.”

Promoting openness while respecting private investment is critical for the development of science. Dr. Duncan thinks “it’s unfortunate that the Patent Office in the United States rejects without review any cold fusion patent applications because, again, that makes it so people [scientists, inventors]…, many of them feel they have nothing but secrecy to fall back on. Whereas if they were able to make an open patent disclosure and be assured market protection for their private equity investors, then they’d feel much more confident about just putting everything out there and letting it be scrutinized by the open scientific method.”

It really all comes down to the scientific method. The ability to describe very clearly what you’ve done, to have like-minded scientists scrutinize it and try to understand it and make improvements upon it.

That openness, that open exchange of information and ideas, inviting full scrutiny, criticism, skepticism, repetition of experiments as we’re starting to see in some cases today with the nanoparticle work, especially, and better repetition with some of the other methods of realizing this excess heat effect in cold fusion. As we start to see that occur, we must have that sort of open scientific exchange and I’d say that It’s really thriving fairly well today, because of the dedicated effort of the many scientists you’ve just mentioned.

Since there’s been so much angst developed, and this has become kind of like a pariah science unfortunately, I think that it’s unlikely we’re going to see much public investment in this in the United States, and let me say I’d love to be proven wrong. I think it would be a very good idea to see more funding of this.

It’s interesting that when this was reviewed in 2004 by the National Academy of Sciences, the NAS came back and recommended that well-controlled experiments in cold fusion be funded by public money just to avoid the the problem you’re mentioning and what surprises me is not only did that never happen, when you go and look at Wikipedia and other sources they’ll say that when this was reviewed by the government in 2004, they came to essentially the same conclusions as 1989. Well that’s not true. In 1989, there was alot more angst and people were ready to pronounce it completely a debunked area of research.

But in 2004, that committee came back and said where well-controlled experiments can be defined, they should be funded. But none have, to my knowledge, on public money. And that’s unfortunate, because just as you say, if the public invests in it, then the public owns it, whereas if its privately invested in, then you have to find some means like a patent to respect the private equity of those that have put either their money or other people’s money on the line.

And it’s not just some greedy person investing in science and trying to keep it secret. Alot of these major investments that made the silicon industry for transistors take off were securities that got bundled in very successful retirement accounts over many many years.

But with the patent office not being willing to review these applications even from the start, then that opportunity to respect private equity an get a similar open transparent discussion going where people can learn on and approve from inventions that others have made, will be very hard to achieve.

Now my prediction would be that, unfortunately, this will probably be done again with people resorting to trade secrecy, and again, …. I know alot of scientists who have been involved in this, naturally want to be open and transparent, but without patent protection, they’re left with nothing but trade secrecy to fall back on, and to protect, again, the private equity of their investors, and given that that’s the case, then I imagine what will happen, is this will remain a kind of opaque, kind of not transparent science, for that reason until, someone, possibly Rossi, or someone whose claiming such an outstanding result really proves it, and shows a black box that really does put out 20 times more energy than it consumes.

When somebody does that, then nobody really cares about the science, just the total energy output demonstration will be enough to kind of convince the world to jump in, but unfortunately, I wish we could get more of a public funding investment in this area of research, given how interesting and intriguing it is and I wish the patent office would review and scrutinize and potentially approve cold fusion patents.

Now, granted we still don’t know fundamentally what’s going on in detail, but that’s again not too surprising because science is always in its own right, empirical, meaning its based on repeatability of experiments, rather than on whether you have confirmation in a theoretical model.

Dr. Duncan says that scientists are always trying to rule out their hypotheses. He believes that if an idea can withstand repeated attempts to disprove it, then there must be something there.

While he declined to make a “magic prediction”, he did say it was quite likely that this [science] will someday lead to something of “technical significance”.

And he guaranteed one thing:

If given these really tantalizing, empirical observations, that now hundreds of scientists have made all over the world, if we just say ‘wow that’s kind of interesting but we’re going to stick out heads in the sand and not explore it’, then I think we’d be remiss socially. I think we’d be failing our responsibility as scientists to tease out and understand these empirical results that we don’t understand because again, they often lead to things beyond our wildest imagination…

To listen to the full Dr. Robert Duncan interview, go to our Audio page or download the .mp3 here.