Patents for perpetual motion machines

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Legal context: Perpetual motion will not go away, and it continues to fascinate inventors. It simultaneously appeals to the best and worst sides of human nature: the urge to transcend the limits of the possible, against the desire to get something for nothing. Perpetual motion machines are scientifically impossible, but that does not stop a steady stream of applications attempting to patent them.

Key points: Patents for perpetual motions machines are always refused, or are they? Objections are examined from the points of view of industrial applicability, sufficiency of description, and novelty. Three recent cases on appeal to the United Kingdom Patents Court are reviewed, as are three older ones from the Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office. It is concluded that the most appropriate legal objection varies from case to case, and may depend on the form of claim.

Practical significance: President Abraham Lincoln once said that the patent system ‘added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.’ Perpetual motion disdains fuel, and exalts a particularly madcap kind of genius. Its embodiments are invariably useless, but the reader may be surprised to see it argued that perpetual motion machines are always (in the patent sense) ‘new’, no matter how old they may be. Perpetual motion is impossible, but perpetual novelty is the inventor's consolation prize.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136–144
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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