Curious Drone Patents Issued in 2017

By Scott D. Watkins

The rapid growth of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or “drone” market has been accompanied by an explosion in issued patents for underlying technologies, with the number of issued patents in the field roughly tripling from 2010 to 2016. The gambit of patent coverage includes new UAS designs, control methodologies, materials and production methods.

Every once in a while a patent issues that leaves you wondering - what was the Patent Office thinking?: U.S. Patent 6,080,436 directed to a method for refreshing bread by putting it in an oven and U.S. Patent 8,609,158 directed to treating cancer by eating natural foods are popular examples. UAS patents are no exception. Here are some curious UAS patents issued in 2017 that are vying for the “what were they thinking” award:

“The Never Ending Flight”: US Patent 9,555,885 entitled “EcoCharge powered planes and drones,” for example, is directed to powering a drone by tapping the Earth’s magnetic field while in flight. The drone is equipped with magnetic generators that convert the magnetic field into electricity to power the drone, day or night. Lightweight and efficient, the patent states that magnetic generators weighing 64 lbs can replace power output from 3000 lbs of solar cells (and 24/7 to boot).

As such a magnetic generator would provide a limitless supply of clean energy for the entire planet, perhaps the Patent Office should have asked for proof that such an engine exists before issuing the patent. 

“Mother may I?”: US Patent 9,576,493 entitled “Unmanned aerial vehicle communication, monitoring, and traffic management” is directed to a ground station - UAV combination that recognize each other through exchanged identifiers. The UAV has a specifically defined airspace in which it can operate. If the UAV wants to leave its designated air space, it asks the communication station for permission, and the communication station provides the permission or declines the request. 

As electronic checkpoints to allow passage are notoriously well known, one has to wonder how providing such capability to a UAS warranted a patent.

It’s still early in 2017, and as the number of UAS patents continue to surge we look forward to more candidates to challenge for the “what were they thinking” title.