Knowing When You Have Too Much Time on Your Hands

Last week the Obama Administration responded to a petition requesting the United States government secure funding and resources, and to begin construction of a Death Star by 2016. The petition explained by “focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation…”

The petition was answered by Paul Shawcross, who is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget. The response titled This Isn’t the Petition Response You are Looking For, identified three primary reasons why the idea was rejected after consideration. The first reason given was rather practical: “The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000.” Thus, no Death Star while the government is attempting to work on reducing the deficit. Second, “[t]he Administration does not support blowing up planets,” which I suppose is good to know. Finally, “[w]hy would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

As fun as it may have been for Shawcross to write the response, what an utter waste of time and energy! Because someone was being “clever” and managed to convince 34,434 other people to sign the petition, the White House had to devote resources to responding to this obviously idiotic, nonsensical, ridiculous petition. Welcome to the age of “open government,” whatever that means.

In any event, the first thing that popped into my head upon hearing about the Death Star petition was that some rather juvenile person must have had too much time on their hands and couldn’t think of anything productive to do. I then asked my assistant in jest, “how do you know when you have too much time on your hands?” The ideas started flying, many if not most related to patents, so I knew what I had to do.

With proper homage to Jeff Foxworthy and You Might be a Redneck, in addition to petitioning President Obama to build a Death Star, you might have too much time on your hands if —


You file a patent application on a method of walking through walls like a ghost

Believe it or not, on July 14, 2004, John Quincy St. Clair filed U.S. Patent Application No. 20060014125, simply titled: Walking through walls training system. The Brief Summary of the Invention explains the invention thusly:

This invention is a training system that enables a human being to acquire sufficient hyperspace energy in order to pull the body out of dimension so that the person can walk through solid objects such as wooden doors.

The gist of the application seems to be that if you walk at the right pace and with the appropriate concentration you can walk right through the wall.  Apparently crossing your arms over each other and walking forward will “creates a rotational energy channel around [the] body.”  Yeah, I’m not buying it either!

Fortunately, neither did the patent examiner buy this ridiculous cry for public attention. Among other things, the First Office Action issued by the examiner explained:

Applicant’s specification asserts that the claimed methods are for teaching a user to walk through walls. However, the principle of walking through walls is generally considered within the scientific community to be unattainable or speculative at best. Their is a lack of substantial evidence that a human is capable of breaking the well accepted laws of nature to shirt their energy out of phase with their environment and thus move through seemingly solid objects. Though there may be substantial speculation regarding the currently accepted laws of nature, such speculation remains only as theory, not accepted practice. As the practice of walking through walls is not and would not be considered a credible act by one of ordinary skill in the art, the practice of teaching a person to do such would likewise not be considered credible.

Nevertheless, as I read this patent application several thoughts jump to mind. I can’t help but mumble to myself: “Be the wall Danny,” in my own juvenile (and likely not funny) attempt to conjure up Chevy Chase from Caddyshack as he tells his Caddy, Danny, to relax before he strikes the ball.

Next, I think that if you want to really get to the other side of the wall perhaps you should just get a running start and throw yourself into the wall as fast and as hard as possible. “So I’m going to hurl myself against the wall ‘Cause I’d rather feel bad than not feel anything at all.. Gonna get a good running start and throw myself at the wall as hard as I can man…” See Ain’t That Pretty At All. No, I’m not really going to try that, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to throw out a non-gratuitous Warren Zevon reference, could I? At least I didn’t get excitable and go lawyers, guns and money!


You set out to invent a perpetual motion machine.
You actually believe you have successfully invented a perpetual motion machine

Sadly, there is a line of cases that deal with perpetual energy. Yes, there is patent law associated with perpetual motion machines. The fact that perpetual motion is a scientific impossibility doesn’t deter generation after generation of inventors from pursuing the dream of abundant free energy. Thus, the pursuit and belief that the pursuit has been realized beg to be addressed together, so they will be.

There is only one instance identified in the Manual of Patent Examining Procedures where you must provide a working prototype of your invention. Ordinarily constructive reduction to practice is sufficient, which means you simply need to be able to describe in the patent application how one of ordinary skill in the art would make and use the invention without requiring undue experimentation. In the case of a perpetual motion machine, however, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will absolutely require a working prototype before proceeding with the review of any patent application. The prototype will be tested by a government laboratory. If and only if the prototype produces more energy than it consumes will examination of the patent application commence. Yes, the Patent Office has grown tired of all the craziness and false claims associated with perpetual motion machines.

Simply stated, based on the laws of physics as we currently know them a perpetual motion machine is impossible. Let me repeat: Perpetual motion machines are impossible! If you believe otherwise you would do well to not identify yourself and keep your views to yourself, at least until such time as you have a working prototype. And, by the way, if you do think you have a working prototype in your garage, you really don’t. You are forgetting to account for the energy in or some other fundamental mistake.

It will no doubt be shocking to some that there is anyone pursuing perpetual energy. I can say with great authority that there are far more inventors working on perpetual motion and perpetual energy creating devices than you would ever want to believe. Over the years I have been contacted by quite a number of inventors who believe that they have solved the riddle of perpetual motion. Invariably there is a mistake in their calculations or they don’t take into account the energy that is input. One even told me “why would you count the energy in if the machine will run forever who cares how much energy you have to put in.” Sadly, the machine won’t run for ever and not counting the energy input makes it impossible to say you wind up with more energy than consumed.

Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or take pity on those who pursue perpetual motion, and those who are completely convinced they have achieved it. Will there be perpetual motion at some point? I’m not going to say it won’t ever happen. Just over the last few years we have realized cloaking devices, one of which was even patented in the U.S., and NASA has acknowledged that “small numbers of atoms and photons have been teleported,” al la Star Trek. But the laws of physics and of nature as we know them today say it is impossible. No one has ever produced a working machine, the first law of thermodynamics would have to be proven wrong for perpetual motion to be a reality, ignoring friction doesn’t mean it isn’t a force you need to consider, energy out needs to exceed energy in and insurmountable hurdles lie between where we are now and any kind of conceptual realization.


The Rest of the List

The rest of the ones I came up weren’t very interesting. Angel did come up with a few, but which didn’t have much to do with intellectual property. With thanks to Angel (@ipwatchdog3 on Twitter), the best of the rest are:

You may have too much time on your hands if—

  • When writing e-mails you use a different color for each line of text.
  • You tweet a picture of you and your cat for the 100th time.
  • If you find yourself watching Honey Boo Boo.

To this I would observe, just knowing who Honey Boo Boo is likely means you have too much time on your hands, and tweeting pictures of your dog are a wholly different thing for several reasons. First, dogs are man’s best friend. Second, if the dog you are tweeting about is a watchdog, particularly an IPWatchdog, then over tweeting is simply an impossibility!

Finally, one could argue that writing an article about determining when one has too much time on one’s hands is by definition having too much time on one’s hands. That observation was made by Angel after I told her I was going to write the article. I laughed, she is still employed so it all worked out in the end!

Incidentally, you can follow me on Twitter @IPWatchdog.


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Join the Discussion

8 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    January 16, 2013 02:25 pm

    Pretty fun stuff Mark, but somehow I don’t think President Kennedy would have gone for a Death Star, even in the midst of the Cold War!


    BTW- I can’t seem to get the comment box to do anything at all for some reason, so I can’t edit my messages. Create mail, correct it and paste in the box I guess.

  • [Avatar for Mark Summerfield]
    Mark Summerfield
    January 16, 2013 12:00 am


    Someone who really does have too much time on their hands might have written something like this:

    It’s a fun story, and a good time of year for it (particulalr down-under, where summer holidays are in full swing). They do not call it the ‘silly season’ for nothing!

    But, actually, I thought the White House response was pretty clever. It has gone viral, and generated a lot of attention and publicity, and they worked in an important serious point, i.e. that future technical innovation and economic prosperity depends upon people pursuing careers in math, science and engineering. And that such careers can be exciting and fun.

    As for responding to ‘silly’ petitions being a waste of resources, well nobody ever said democracy was an efficient form of government. Your Administration should be applauded for the ‘We the People’ initiative. We do not have anything like it in Australia.

    Congratulations on the convincing win in the ABA Blawg 100, by the way!


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 15, 2013 05:27 pm


    This was just brought to my attention — from the Star Wars blog. The title is: “Planet Earth Abandons Death Star Project In Face Of Superior Galactic Imperial Power.”

    Believe me it is worth a read. Short but hilarious!



  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    January 15, 2013 04:50 pm


    Yep, that is correct. Usually about 120 million or so per year for about a decade, but supposedly they have promised not to divert any more funds, but I remain a bit skeptical.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 15, 2013 01:57 pm


    Don’t take offense, but no tax (general – there is innovation tax paid solely by inventors) that is paid through to any examiner.

    Quite the reverse, in fact for the last decade or so with last I heard well over a Billion dollars siphoned off from the USPTO to the general ledgers.

  • [Avatar for Renee C Quinn]
    Renee C Quinn
    January 15, 2013 12:53 pm

    Great Article Indeed! I think it is ridiculous that people waste the time and money of the government when in reality they are wasting time and money for the American people (who pay taxes that is). Like we don’t have enough frivolous spending in our budget!?!?!?! Wedge, I think the more acceptable comment would be “Thank goodness IPWatchdog can indulge in a little zany nonsensical humor from time to time.” Dontcha think? The sad part is the patent examiner that had to respond to this nonsensical patent application had to respond seriously. The government had nothing to do with it, as they are usually the ones adding the crazy, irresponsible and irrational spending to the budget in the first place.

    I agree Gene, Tweeting pics of your IPWatchdog NEVER gets old!


    PS Don’t forget to Visit and “Like” the IPWatchdog Facebook Page at

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    January 15, 2013 12:20 pm

    Funny stuff Gene-

    I found numerous “over unity” device videos on You-Tube while researching wind turbines, and it was truly amazing how many viewers actually Believed it is possible?! A sucker born every minute I suppose….


  • [Avatar for Wedge Antilles]
    Wedge Antilles
    January 14, 2013 09:04 pm

    Thank goodness our government can indulge in a little zany nonsensical humor from time to time. That is one of the most underestimated values of any open society –it’s part of what makes us human. There has never been a free society whose officials couldn’t manage a good laugh, and there has never been an oppressive regime that could tolerate a joke.

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