An inventor who approached the U.S. Army with an idea for a "mysterious acoustic wave propagation machine" has been barred by the Army from even talking about the invention, much less filing a patent application on it. And that inventor, Bruce Horton, has now filed a lawsuit against the Army in a California federal court - accusing the Army of having his patent application "illegally frozen and not reviewed nor allowed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office."
The Department of Defense has the ability to declare a patent application a matter of national security and prevent the inventor from ever practicing the patented technology. But that's a rare occurrence, and usually happens with inventions related to weapons systems that the U.S. government wants to keep secret from other countries.
This case is different because the inventor approached the Army in 2004, before he'd actually filed a patent application on the invention. Horton, thinking that the "acoustic wave propagation machine" would have value to the military, contacted the Army - which flew him from his home in Redwood City, California to the Army's research lab in Maryland.
The Army officials he met with called the invention "brilliant and ahead of its time" and offered to help develop it as long as Horton would keep mum about it. Horton then met with U.S. Army Research Laboratory patent attorney Stephen Bloor, who agreed to prepare and prosecute the patent application. Horton's patent application is “Acoustic Propagation Method,” serial number 10/526609.
But things went south when Bloor declared the patent application "top secret," advised the USPTO to never review the application, and denied Horton's administrative claim last year for compensation for the loss of the invention. That claim was denied because the patent application was not allowed - but Horton alleges it was "the Government's illegal actions which caused the lack of allowance" in the first place.
As the case stands, it is currently illegal for Horton to discuss his invention with anyone. Quite a turn of events after such a promising start!
And according to Horton's lawsuit filing, Bloor "did not inform Horton of the numerous and serious conflicts of interest the Army Attorney had in purporting to represent Horton." Thus Horton signed an Engagement Agreement with Bloor without having those conflicts of interest explained (possibly not even mentioned).
Horton has demanded a jury trial and is seeking $5 million from the government under 35 U.S. Code 183, which makes it possible for inventors to request compensation from the government for damages caused by orders of secrecy on patents.
A copy of Horton's Complaint can be viewed here.