Do oil companies buy up patents to prevent new technology from easing our pain?

Do oil companies buy up patents to prevent new technology from easing our pain?

You bet they do. A bit of amateur sleuthing on my part last weekend (OK, some call it ‘listening in to someone else’s conversation) was an interesting insight to how Big Oil jumps on a patent with no intention of ever capitalising it – just to make sure that the general public don’t get the benefit of its efficiencies. I’m going to tell the story as it was told by the person who now has the rights to the technology in NZ, so I can’t verify every fact. The technology in question was based on wind power to generate electricity. Nope, not those enormous turbines, but something small and efficient enough to run on your roof and power most of your house. It was developed by a guy at NASA working for their ‘alternative energy’ department. When NASA restructured and closed down that department he kept an eye on the patent. When it came up for renewal he grabbed it, then onsold it for several million to a large oil company, fully expecting his baby to be commercialised. Ten years later, the patent lapsed again, with nothing having been done. So he snatched it again, only this time he’s not selling out. He reckons its worth half a billion dollars because essentially each unit can take a house mostly off the grid (as long as you live in a moderately windy place. In Wellington, you’d generate enough power to sell back to the grid: NASA technology developed over 20 years ago that has been hidden from the public until now. We hear of other stories involving super-efficient engines that don’t run on petrol, or other forms of propulsion involving water or magnets, yet what happens to these technologies and the people that invent them? Well, most of them are shams. But, this one isolated incident captured in a conversation in a small NZ town could be an indication of a much wider technology hoard by the large oil companies that prevents us from benefiting from cars that could be much more fuel efficient. The world’s automakers now have a very compelling reason to develop cars that are as efficient as possible: they will sell. And you can be sure they have armies of white-coated scientists developing ways to get a competitive edge in their engines. So, despite (if it’s true) Big Oil’s attempts to restrict our access to beneficial technology, the market will drive solutions from other angles.

You bet they do. A bit of amateur sleuthing on my part last weekend (OK, some call it ‘listening in to someone else’s conversation) was an interesting insight to how Big Oil jumps on a patent with no intention of ever capitalising it – just to make sure that the general public don’t get the benefit of its efficiencies. I’m going to tell the story as it was told by the person who now has the rights to the technology in NZ, so I can’t verify every fact. The technology in question was based on wind power to generate electricity. Nope, not those enormous turbines, but something small and efficient enough to run on your roof and power most of your house. It was developed by a guy at NASA working for their ‘alternative energy’ department. When NASA restructured and closed down that department he kept an eye on the patent. When it came up for renewal he grabbed it, then onsold it for several million to a large oil company, fully expecting his baby to be commercialised. Ten years later, the patent lapsed again, with nothing having been done. So he snatched it again, only this time he’s not selling out. He reckons its worth half a billion dollars because essentially each unit can take a house mostly off the grid (as long as you live in a moderately windy place. In Wellington, you’d generate enough power to sell back to the grid: NASA technology developed over 20 years ago that has been hidden from the public until now. We hear of other stories involving super-efficient engines that don’t run on petrol, or other forms of propulsion involving water or magnets, yet what happens to these technologies and the people that invent them? Well, most of them are shams. But, this one isolated incident captured in a conversation in a small NZ town could be an indication of a much wider technology hoard by the large oil companies that prevents us from benefiting from cars that could be much more fuel efficient. The world’s automakers now have a very compelling reason to develop cars that are as efficient as possible: they will sell. And you can be sure they have armies of white-coated scientists developing ways to get a competitive edge in their engines. So, despite (if it’s true) Big Oil’s attempts to restrict our access to beneficial technology, the market will drive solutions from other angles.

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