Re-inventing the wheel: Why not? Many do.

Despite the warning “Don’t re-invent the wheel”, people continue to reinvent the wheel. Some of those people file patent applications. Patent offices even approve some of those applications.

I discovered today that the Australian patent office has — quietly — revoked the patent it granted, in the year 2001, for the wheel. The patent office had awarded Innovation Patent #2001100012 to John Keogh of Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia. Keogh’s application called his invention a “circular transportation facilitation device.” I became aquainted with Mr. Keogh when we awarded him — and the Australian Patent Office — an Ig Nobel Prize, in 2001. Here’s a technical drawing from his patent:


Keogh, unlike most of the other inventors of the wheel, was doing it solely to make a point. He felt that the Australian patent office had loosened its regulations in a way that made patents too easy to obtain. For the Australian government, this was an unexpected side effect of reforming the patent system. (The United States Patent and Trademark Office, in and out of concert with the US Supreme Court, is now having its own adventures in patent reform. Lately these have featured patent trolls and software, rather than hub-and-spoke devices.)

You can see Keogh in the video above (at 1 hour, 30 minutes), accepting the Ig Nobel Prize and briefly telling his story.

Here are four of the many other 21st century re-inventions of the wheel.

German patent application DE20122871, filed July 3, 2001 by Manfred Wanner and Harald Bartol of Eberdingen, Germany for a “wheel for vehicles, especially two-wheeled vehicles of the high performance type, comprising a provided with a rotational axis of hub, spokes and a rim, which is designed to receive a tire, the wheel having an apparatus for aerodynamic optimization…”. This is what it looks like:


World patent application WO 2014012648, filed June 12, 2013 by Roberto Pisacane of Salerno, Italy. Mr. Pisacante invented “a vehicle wheel that has at least one airfoil mounted thereon, the airfoil being arranged on the wheel body between the wheel rim and the central portion of the wheel…. When airfoil is oriented at a suitable angle, the downforce exerts a torque about the central rotation axis of the wheel can be converted directly into driving force.”

US patent 7980335, granted July 19, 2011 to Stephen D. Potter of Bedford, Massachusetts and assigned to Foster-Miller, Inc., a company that subsequently re-invented its name and now calls itself QinetiQ North America. Mr. Potter invented an “omni-directional wheel includes a hub rotatable about a wheel axis and a first row of angled rollers about the hub each rotatably supported by the hub.” Voila:


These omni-wheels, the patent suggests, can be used to make forklifts and other vehicles more versatile, as this drawing demonstrates:


US patent D690249, granted on September 24, 2013 to Mark Finnie of La Palma, California, for a “Motorcycle wheel with seven bifurcated spokes”.

There are many other newly invented wheels, in many countries.

BONUS (only somewhat related): The beetle that, also, invented the wheel.

BONUS (only somewhat related): “Method for transferring chocolates from conveyor to wheel fitted with grippers comprises second wheel with parallel axle which picks up sweets from belt and presents them top end outwards to grippers”, German patent application DE10155599, filed November 13, 2001.

UPDATE (July 9, 2014, about the frequent need to re-invent the wheel):How Wheel Damage Affects Mars Rover Curiosity’s Mission

Marc Abrahams is the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research magazine and organizer of the Ig Nobel Prizes.
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