Perpetual Discussion, 0720 COBJ, Vol. 49, No. 7 Pg. 14

PositionVol. 49, 7 [Page 14]

49 Colo.Law. 14

Perpetual Discussion

Vol. 49, No. 7 [Page 14]

Colorado Lawyer

July, 2020



As a patent attorney, I'm occasionally approached by a client with an idea for an apparatus and/or method to achieve perpetual motion. Perpetual motion devices are intended to generate persistent motion with no energy source. They're expected to run forever. For example, I've seen a proposed system for operating an electric car indefinitely without a battery charge, a symbiotic electric motor/generator system that will never run down, and a nuclear generator that the inventor believed would last as long as its electrically conductive wires could be maintained at absolute zero, with zero resistance. This, of course, is a violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy cannot be created, but may only be converted from one form to another. True, Einstein modified the First Law by proving that energy can be converted from mass, but as far as physicists know, neither mass nor energy can be created ab initio.

When clients who seem normal in every other respect describe their perpetual motion machines, with a view toward obtaining a patent, they invariably grow animated, defensive, and of course, possessive. Curiously, this by itself is not an unusual occurrence in a patent attorney's office. A certain degree of paranoia is actually healthy for an inventor, since an inventor cannot obtain a patent if the inventive idea was disclosed more than one year before filing the patent application. I often say my clients come in one of two flavors: paranoid and very paranoid. But the inventor who flouts the fundamental laws of physics may have bigger concerns than idea theft.

Sutliff's Motor

Although the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is obligated to reject patent applications that violate laws of nature, occasionally patent examiners make mistakes. In the 18th and 19th centuries, inventors tried to work with simple machines—levers, weights, counterweights, wheels, pendulums, magnets, and liquids—to do more work than could normally be performed with the energy provided to the system.

Consider U.S. Patent No. 257,103, issued on April 25,1882, to John Sutliff Sr. for "Motor." (See Illustration 1.) A water tank, B, has a pivoting tubular lever, A. The long, hollow arm of the lever, A, terminates in a bulb or hollow vessel, C. The other, shorter arm of...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT