flaming grapes; the IP perspective

Q: what happens when you microwave grapes? A: they catch fire ... of course

The story of flaming grapes became social media fodder in March 2019.  While the majority of the attention of course faded after 24 hours much can still be extracted from the story.

A well written article from Liam Casey appeared in the March 11, 2019 Globe and Mail.  It is a very good read.  A student and a $100 microwave are central to the exploration of this decades old curiosity and party trick.  As described in the article a pair of grapes is required.  In fact the grapes could be water filled spheres that are dipped in salt, as it is really the geometry and chemistry that is important.  The spheres concentrate the microwave energy, creating an intense electric field.  The sodium and potassium, of the grape or salt, begin to ionize and “ … all hell breaks loose”.  The key; the pair of grapes or water filled spheres concentrate the radiation.

Dr. Slepkov, who oversaw the research, speculated “… one potential application is antenna design for cell phones or wireless routers.” “We’re hypothesizing maybe you can change antenna design because the grapes are acting as a concentrator for wireless radiation or cell phone radiation …”.

the IP lesson

To start, a mere scientific principle is not patentable.  Such subject matter is considered part of nature and not an invention.  That is fine.  They key is what is developed with the knowledge.  Remember, before Dr. Slepkov and his student worked on the problem it was a party trick.  Now, we know the science behind the trick.

From here, further research and engineering lies ahead.  What happens when you change the curvature of the spheres, the separation or the material?  What if the frequency of the radiation is changed?  What if it is pulsed? It is possible, and probable, that all of these and more parameters will be researched and optimized.

With knowledge of the possible applications mentioned by Dr. Slepkov,  the relevance of IP in this area is quickly seen.  If this IP is generated at a fundamental level i.e close to the mere scientific principle, it has a higher chance of applying to multiple fields or applications.  There is plenty of room to build levels of inventions on top of the basic understanding.

Plenty of R&D surely lies ahead, but the closer one gets to the mere scientific principle the higher chance of broad, valuable IP.