Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Blue Origin’s Barge Landing Patent Canceled

The “autonomous spaceport drone ship” that SpaceX built to recover the Falcon 9 first stage. Credit: SpaceX

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has backed down under a legal challenge from rival Elon Musk’s SpaceX, over the validity of a prior Blue Origin patent the covered the process of landing a rocket on a raft. In a document made available this week, the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board accepted Blue Origin’s motion to drop 13 claims in what had been a protracted dispute between the two companies. Representatives of both companies declined to comment on the latest ruling.

At issue was whether Blue Origin’s 2014 patent on the concept of landing a spent booster on a raft at sea could prevent SpaceX, or anyone else, from doing so.

Blue Origin filed for the patent in 2010, but SpaceX challenged the patent soon after it was granted, arguing that the concept had earlier been developed by other scientists, and that it wasn’t Blue Origin’s to patent.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX has from the start planned for its Falcon 9 series of launch vehicles to be landed for re-use, as has Blue Origin, based in Kent.

That leaves SpaceX free to continue to try to land its rockets on an ocean barge, without risking violating anyone's patent.

SpaceX has attempted a raft landing several times with a Falcon 9 booster but has so far failed, with one attempt ending with a spectacular explosion.

Meanwhile, Blue Origin has filed for a "reissue application" for the patent, which would require the company to make new claims for novel procedures and equipment that are distinct from those challenged in the original application.

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