Back to articles August 2019
You’d have to have been living under a rock to have avoided Marvel’s Avengers series and its host of heroes - particularly the hero who kicked off the entire cinematic saga back in 2008: Iron Man.
However, in a recent IP case, it was questioned whether one business had drawn influence from the metal outfit belonging to fictional character Tony Stark. A recently granted UK patent for a body-controlled, jet engine powered suit from British aeronautical innovation company, Gravity Industries, drew attention for featuring the pop-culture reference during prosecution of the patent application.
Any publicly available document can be cited during prosecution of a patent application by an applicant, third party or patent office examiner if content disclosed in the document is considered to be material to patentability of the invention claimed in the application. It is rather unusual, however, for fictional literature such as a Blockbuster movie to find its way onto the cited documents list during examination of a patent application.
The patent, issued by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO), covers 'a wearable flight system with a number of propulsion assemblies including a left-hand propulsion assembly and a right-hand propulsion assembly worn on a user's hands and/or forearm'. Prior to grant, an examiner at the UKIPO cited the 2008 Iron Man film noting in particular Tony Stark's use of a wearable flight system which utilises propulsion units worn on the hands.
Unlike Tony Stark, however, who in the 2008 film assembled his jet suit prototype using scrap metal while being held captive in an Afghan cave, the masterminds behind this version - which they are calling ‘the next frontier in human flight’ - required the help of design tools such as the RS Components DesignSpark and the Sony SmartEyeglass system to bring their jet suit to life.
Gravity Industries claim their suit can fly as high as 12,000 feet at speeds of up to 32 miles per hour. But you may need the bank account of a billionaire playboy to afford it, as the suit currently retails at around $443,000.
Films, TV shows and the written word have provided inspiration for real-life inventions for time immemorial. This exchange goes in both directions. Sometimes, the technology appears first in science fiction then becomes reality and on other occasions the real technology comes first, and science fiction authors speculate about how it might be used. For example, space travel was described in science fiction even before the first rockets were launched into space.
By looking at what information is already out there, patent examiners can argue whether the proposed invention in a patent application may already have been anticipated, and amendments may then be made to the application in response to ensure fair protection for the applicant. In the UK it is not uncommon for it to take four to six years from filing of a patent application for a patent to be granted.
In this case, the patent for the Gravity Industries jet suit was granted within three years from the filing date of the initial application. Company founder Richard Browning said: “Since launching Gravity in 2017, we have not stopped challenging the status quo. Restlessly pioneering developments in STEM, today’s patent issuance is a giant milestone for Gravity, which will enable us to continue to innovate and hopefully inspire others."
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