The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week issued a patent for a perpetual motion machine.
Since 1903, the Patent Office has had a policy of requiring claims of perpetual motion to be demonstrated with a working model, a policy that does not seem to be applied in this case. The new patent (8,112,992), entitled "Jay Gravi-Buoyant Balls," proposes that electricity can be generated by the endless motion of a closed loop of floating balls, which move clockwise in the illustration.
The balls are intended to fall through the air down the right side of the apparatus and then float up through water (shaded) on the left side. A trap door (12) somehow lets the balls fall down while keeping water from flooding the right side. According to the inventor, since the balls float, getting them back to the top requires no energy.
What is significant in this system is that the lift needed for an object of any weight and size to reach any height level and then drop from that height to produce the desired amount of electricity requires no energy.
The inventor has actually posted a proof-of-concept demonstration on YouTube. (Take note: his camera is sideways, so you have to rotate your screen to the right, or your head to the left.)
The problem is that for a ball to float upward, it needs to displace water downward. That displaced water will need either to be pumped back up (which takes energy) or else replaced from the top (which turns the whole device into a Rube Goldberg hydroelectric generator). Without a source of water or energy, the device will come to a halt.
There may seem to be little harm in issuing a patent on a perpetual motion or "free energy" machine. After all, if it's impossible to build the machine, then it's impossible to infringe the patent. But inventors can wield the apparent legitimacy of a patent to collect money from credulous investors. And patent attorneys, assured that patents can be granted even for impossible inventions, can continue to collect fees from the inventors.