It has nothing to do with the patent and everything to do with collecting insurance.
Your analogy makes no sense, the failed launch has nothing to do with the patent, the patent just stopped an attempt at saving the satellite. So more like the factory caught on fire and no firetrucks could come because a competing factory had patented the route from the firehouse.
Steve laid down his MacPad Pro next to the water cooler and hailed Tom over.
"Guess what, I took the A9 this morning, I don't know why I don't do it more often, no traffic, no headaches, pure bliss."
Tom eyed him with a frown, waiting a couple of seconds before replying.
"The A9? You have a family Steve, aren't you worried about them?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't you know that entire route is patented? What happens if your plates' RFID tag comes up in a random check and they find out you haven't licensed it? The lawsuit would drag you under for sure."
However, you could probably patent a system that uses real time satellite imagery to discover the location and magnitude of ocean currents, predict what they will be for the next week, and then calculate the the ideal routes for a fleet of cargo ships in real time. But, the patent is only going to last 20 years and shipping companies would probably just wait you out. Then again, I expect that patent probably exists and expired a long time ago.
If somebody else used the same equations I've used, but made the calculation on his abakus, and steered his ship by himself, he wouldn't infringe my patent, I think.
Indeed, which is why it's not what happened. Repeat after me: you cannot patent an idea, only a mechanism for implementing an idea.
The patent in question is for the idea of "moving a satellite" using the mechanism of a certain class of trajectories.
So how is this not what happened?
To draw an analogy, imagine your car runs out of gas near the top of a mountain. You put on the e-brake, and assess your situation. The nearest gas station is 20 miles away, and it's snowing, so there is no way you can walk it, and there is no other traffic on the road to offer you some help. Sucks to be you, but you should have planned better. You could let go of the e-brake, and roll down the mountain in reverse, but there is just a deserted valley at the bottom - it would not improve your situation. But, a ha! You realize that you are only 20' from the top of the hill. the gas station is still 20 miles away, but it's all down hill. If you can push your car to the top of the hill, you can then roll all the way to the gas station using gravity to power your car.
But, alas, a lawyer pops out of the woods, and hands you a document stating that you are not allowed to push your car up the hill and then use gravitational potential energy to get to the gas station, because Acme, Inc has been issued a patent on that process, and you are not allowed to use it without their consent. Coincidentally, you have an ongoing lawsuit against Acme, Inc, for a completely unrelated reason. They tell you "Drop this lawsuit, and we'll let you use our push-up-the-hill process to save your car".
That is pretty much what happened in this circumstance.
Yes, the engine failed to operate properly. No one is blaming the patents for that. The satellite got stuck in an unusable orbit due to the engine failure, but was otherwise still functional. Since launching things into orbit is very expensive, and the things being launched are very expensive, the company that owns the satellite will try pretty much anything within reason to recoup their costs. One option, popularized by Belbruno and Ridenoure from an similar incident in the past, involves using only a small amount of fuel, to send the satellite around the moon and back, which would make it possible to put the satellite into the correct orbit around the earth. THIS is what was denied them due to the patent on the low energy orbital transfer that Boeing apparently has. So, it is not the fault of the patent system that the rocket initially failed, but it is the fault of the patent system that the company was not legally allowed to recover it's still-functional property.
edit: I should add that, yes, SES Americom may have committed insurance fraud if they didn't disclose to their insurance company that the satellite was recoverable for $50M(the cost of dropping the lawsuit against Boeing). However, that doesn't change the fact that they were prevented from essentially running their engine at particular times due to patents.
I'm pretty sure that insurance companies can't consider the estimated cost of a civil suit as a fungible asset like that. They could no more insist that SES comply if Boeing had asked them to kill Boeing's mother in exchange for a trajectory license. After all, it costs less than $50M to kill someone.
35 U.S.C. 105 Inventions in outer space.
(a) Any invention made, used, or sold in outer space on a space object or component thereof under the jurisdiction or control of the United States shall be considered to be made, used or sold within the United States for the purposes of this title, except with respect to any space object or component thereof that is specifically identified and otherwise provided for by an international agreement to which the United States is a party, or with respect to any space object or component thereof that is carried on the registry of a foreign state in accordance with the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.
(b) Any invention made, used, or sold in outer space on a space object or component thereof that is carried on the registry of a foreign state in accordance with the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, shall be considered to be made, used, or sold within the United States for the purposes of this title if specifically so agreed in an international agreement between the United States and the state of registry.
As more and more Americans realize that there is a life after the USA, I have a feeling that we're going to see more and more jurisdictional straw-grasping by the US government.
Maybe I'm searching for a pattern where there isn't one, but this comes on the heels of them requiring tax payments of people who've expatriated, as well as seizing .com domains registered by foreign nationals at foreign registrars...
It does align with my natural bias however, so gotta be careful about confirmation bias.
I don't mean that sarcastically. The patent is not on the existence of a particular trajectory, nor on a basic law of physics. It's a patent on a process to move a spacecraft from one orbit to another by firing rockets at precise times.
I can't think of a reason why this would be more invalid than a "composition of matter" patent that is just a list of particular alloys of steel with special properties: after all, it's a law of physics that 18-8 steel has special properties, which was patented . The patent was issued just on listing a mix of iron, 18% chromium, and 8% nickel. Many other special steel blends have been patented , even though their specialness is a function of natural properties of materials.
I'm not saying it's a good thing that this is patentable, but it's very far from "obvious" that it's not.
 At random: http://www.google.com/patents?id=L0YhAAAAEBAJ&printsec=a...
What else would you suggest?
Again, I'm not saying it's a good thing that this is patentable, but it's not "obvious" that it's not patentable if it's possible to patent (several times over) various ways of sending wireless signals from cell phones, or particular blends of nickel, chromium and iron.
A method is provided for using a lunar flyby
maneuver to transfer a satellite from a
quasi-geosynchronous transfer orbit having a
high inclination to a final geosynchronous orbit
having a low inclination. The invention may be
used to take the inclination of a final geosynchronous
orbit of a satellite to zero, resulting in a
geostationary orbit, provided that the satellite
is launched in March or September.
Note that this patent is about a technique involving a lunar flyby for setting up an orbit around Earth. The period of the Moon doesn't fit evenly into the year, and so things that depend on the position of the Moon relative to the Earth tend to occur at intervals that cause them to drift through the calendar year.
What would be happening here that is tied to the year?
Edit: I realized this might sound sarcastic. It isn't meant to be.
"The present invention is directly applicable to a quasi-GTO having any given inclination but is especially advantageous to a satellite launched in either March or September into a highly inclined quasi-GTO because the lunar flyby is capable of removing all of the inclination"
Not very helpful. From another patent ( http://www.patents.com/us-6149103.html ):
"If the satellite 10 had been launched in March or September (around the time of an equinox), the lunar flyby could be timed to occur when the node of the moon is close to the node of the quasi-geosynchronous transfer orbit, so that the earth return orbit has an inclination near zero and the inclination of the orbit of the satellite about the earth could be completely removed by the lunar flyby. Launching March or September is advantageous for satellites or spacecraft because of the sun being normal to the required attitude of the satellite."
It's the angle of the earth relative to the orbit of the moon. It's a geosynchronous orbit, so it must match the equator, including the angle.
Presumably in other months the angle of the moon's orbit (relative to the equator) is wrong for using this maneuver.
During the equinox the equator of the Earth lines up with the Sun-Earth axis. I can see that being significant in all sorts of ways. At other times of year, in a complicated maneuver, the Sun is going to pull the satellite off of that plane of orbit.
What this really sounds like is a case of somebody taking their lawyers much, much too seriously. Courts have the right to tell you what to do or not do. Lawyers, however (unless they are judges) do not have that right; people unfortunately overlook that point all the time.
Am I reading this wrong, or is it saying they would have killed the satellite anyway, even if there was no patents?
They probably wouldn't have killed if it was in the correct orbit all along, but they probably considered "risk of fixing" vs insurance payout
And if the satelite was remote controlled from Earth by a living pilot - would the patent apply then?
If not, I'll patent my trajectory to work and make a few bucks on the side.
It's the application that is patented not the idea. The trajectory alone is not patentable as it fails to meet the machine-transformation test.
Why couldn't the grandparent poster file for a patent on a particular sequence of turns and braking/acceleration maneuvers needed to drive from one place to another in the least amount of time? Under your reasoning, all he has to do is add "with an automobile" to the abstract series of instructions, in order to be granted ownership of those instructions with respect to their execution with an automobile.
How in the world can anyone think this is OK?
So it's not that you can apply an idea to a machine, it's that you can implement the idea as a machine using a general purpose computer and some software. Now, you can certainly fight against this ... but can you afford to do so?
I don't think it's right. I think the systems needs overhaulin'
Likely the reason that boeing was granted a patent is because going to the moon to place an object in geosynchronous orbit is non-obvious, according to the patent office.
Reasons I could see the series of turns being rejected for use in an automobile is probably because of obviousness and prior art. If you invented something that allowed you to drive to china faster via a trasnit of the moon then you probably could get a patent for it.
I didn't say any of the things you said, I said that an idea alone can't be patented because of machine-transformation test, if you'd like to argue about whether it makes sense take it up with the SCOTUS. Also, patents don't grant ownership they grant monopoly on use of the patented claims for a period of 17 years.
People think this is OK because the inventor discloses his invention to the public for anyone to use after the monopoly has ended. Note that no one gets to use SpaceX's inventions in rocketry because they don't file patents, conversely if you come up with the invention yourself you're free to use it because they don't have a monopoly on the invention.
If you invented a warp drive that could get you from New York to London in 3 minutes you could probably file a patent for folding space in a manner that gets you from New York to London in three minutes with out smushing the earth into bits.