Dumbest patent ever?

AMC-14 is (well, was intended to be, anyway) a geosynchronous communications satellite owned by SES Americom that was launched in March. The only problem is that the Proton rocket it was strapped to failed and didn’t quite deliver enough thrust to put the satellite in a proper Geostationary Transfer Orbit, so the satellite is effectively useless. The good news is that there’s a Lunar flyby trajectory that the satellite can use to correct its orbit to geosynchronous. The bad news is that the trajectory is patented by Boeing, and SES Americom isn’t going to use it for fear of a lawsuit.

Yeah, you read that correctly. Boeing applied for a patent on a specific orbital trajectory, which is pretty much the equivalent of trying to patent an equation used in physics. And because this preposterous patent was actually granted, a many million dollar communications satellite is going to waste and we leave another large piece of space debris in Earth orbit. Absolutely brilliant.

Anyone who doesn’t think the patent system has gone completely insane in these past few decades, try to defend this one.

5 Responses to “Dumbest patent ever?”

  1. Greg Maxwell Says:

    I wonder who paid for the work that initially caused Boeing to originally consider that orbital maneuver?

  2. drinian Says:

    I wonder who paid for the work that initially caused Boeing to originally consider that orbital maneuver?
    Just in case that wasn’t rhetorical, I imagine that it was the government…

    Is it illegal for Boeing to withhold use of a patent like that to try and strongarm SES into capitulating in an unassociated lawsuit?

    Regardless of whether the orbital trajectory was a non-obvious innovation on the part of a Boeing engineer, it seems particularly immoral to burn all that money away over some corporate pissing contest.

  3. Kelly Martin Says:

    It’s established case law that it is not extortion to demand payment in exchange for a promise to forgo or to terminate litigation (so long as the offeror reasonably believes that the litigation has a reasonable chance of success on the merits). Corporations play these games all the time.

    The notion that Boeing should have a patent on orbital mechanics is patently silly. Does anybody yet have a patent on the business process of taking out specious patents, then suing people for infringing on them?

  4. William Says:

    Kelly, where’s the nearest patent office to you?
    Race you.

  5. Arvind Says:

    Hitler said, “anyone who paints the sky green and the fields blue should be sterilized.” Shall we say that those who apply for and grant such patents should be shot? :-)