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.  At the end of the day 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 though is that 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, one can not patent a “mere scientific principle”.   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 trick results from the concentration of microwaves and can now start the applied research and engineering.  What happens if you change the curvature of the spheres, the separation, the material? What if the one varies the frequency or pulses the microwaves?  It is possible all of these parameters will be researched and optimized.

With knowledge of the possible applications mentioned by Dr. Slepkov  one can quickly see the relevance of IP in this area.  If this IP is generated at a fundamental level it has a higher chance of applying to multiple fields or applications.  There is also room to build levels of inventions on top of this 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.