This must be patentable… oh Balls!

5th October 2019

Can you still recall random pieces of information buried deep in your memory that you learned from childhood? Well here’s one that has been stored in the neural networks for nearly forty years: in this week, 1982, King Henry VIII’s flag ship, the Mary Rose, was raised from the bed of the Solent where it had lain since it sank in 1545.

Most neuroscientists say the human brain can store between 10 and 100 terabytes of data

The exact reason for her sinking has never been discovered. Over the centuries, the French, the crew and even the shipwrights have been blamed for the catastrophe. But The King himself is now believed the most likely factor.

Henry wanted his flagship, named for his favourite sister, to be the baddest biscuit in the box. It was for this reason that he ordered the ship to be upgraded with the latest advancements in naval warfare.

With state of the art bronze cannons, she was more powerful and had longer range than other ships of the era. This increased the weight of the ordinance by an estimated 20 tonnes — a decision thought to have severely compromised the stability of the ship.

During the battle of the Solent in July 1545, the Mary Rose was the first ship to engage the French fleet. Following a bombardment from the new starboard armaments, she turned to fire from the port side, resulting in the ship tilting onto its side.

With the starboard gun ports open, a fatal nudge from the wind pushed the ship just enough below the waterline to flood the lower deck, bringing the ship, and all but 35 of the 500 strong crew, down within minutes.

Despite the tragedy, the Mary Rose was the only loss of the battle. The two fleets sat in a deadlock in the Solent; a situation that favoured the English, who only needed to hold the port and who had supplies and reinforcements. Four days later, the French retreated.

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Though many ships like the Mary Rose have been salvaged for a number of reasons; arguably, no ship needed salvaging more than the Al Kuwait after capsizing in the Kuwait harbour in 1964, which tragically killed the 5,000 sheep on board. As the bodies began decomposing under the water, the city of Kuwait’s drinking water supply was in danger of becoming contaminated so the ship had to be raised as quickly as possible. Bringing in cranes would have taken too long and with such methods, there is a significant risk that the ship will break. A novel solution was needed.

In stepped Danish inventor Karl Krøyer. He had the idea to pump plastic balls — with their buoyant properties — into the ship via a tube, to achieve sufficient upward lift to bring the it back up to the surface.

On New Years’ Eve 1964, 27 million balls made from 65 tons of expandable polystyrene foam were airlifted from Berlin to Kuwait to be pumped into the Al Kuwait. It worked; the ship was salvaged for $345,000, saving the insurance company most of the insured value of $2 million.

So what does any self respecting inventor do with such a great idea?

Seek patent protection of course, and that is exactly what Mr Krøyer did, applying for patents in Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and the UK (see GB1070600 as an example).

Unfortunately, even though the invention was a proven success, the patent application wasn’t. Would you believe us if we told you it was because of Donald Duck?

In the 1949 Carl Barks story The Sunken Yacht, Donald and the nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, raise a ship by filling it with ping pong balls shoved through a tube.

‘The Sunken Yacht’ — ©1949 Walt Disney Corporation.

As anyone who has played table tennis near the pool on holiday will tell you, ping pong balls float and, as a result, are considered buoyant bodies. In reviewing Krøyer’s patent filing, the patent examiners deemed the comic-book story novelty-destroying and the application was rejected.

Who would’ve imagined that such relevant prior-art would be lurking in a children’s book. Could that be the reason we haven’t seen any patents for lightsabers yet?

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