Musk Wins Round in Landing Barge Patent Battle

Score one for SpaceX in its battle with Blue Origin about landing a rocket stage on a floating ocean platform:

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.

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.

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  • Smokey_the_Bear

    meh. landing on a barge is dumb anyway. They should of just landed on land, they probably would have had a success under their belt if they just wouldn’t have gone a barge route.

  • jjimrussels

    Agreed. Musk’s “barge to nowhere” has put his whole company at risk.

  • waseem

    I can’t land & will not let other’s land! that’s kind of stupid allowing such patents.

  • redneck

    Except for minor concerns like getting landing permits, more insurance nearer populated areas, and the extra DeltaV to get back, you might be right about the barge being a distraction. Of course claiming the barge puts the whole company at risk requires a bit of justification.


    At this point SpaceX has demonstrated control of their booster getting to the barge. Will they have permission to attempt land recovery on next flight??
    Shotwell has been hitting in her speeches.

    Who decides? range??

  • Dennis

    Could you explain to me how exactly he has managed to ‘put his whole company at risk’ by operating a few barges? Your statement doesn’t really make much sense like this.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Yep, it’s ridiculous. How could the idea of landing on a barge/boat/platform be patentable?. The technologies required, that is to say, the specific inventions needed to accomplish such a landing, could be, but not the basic principle.

  • Aerospike

    In the software world, there have been 2 examples of ridiculous software patents tossed around for years to show how broken the patent system is and how bad software patents can be for the industry…

    1. online shopping cart
    2. progress bar

    So for me a patent on the idea of landing a rocket on a barge doesn’t even surprise me at all 😉

  • Hug Doug

    Range safety, yes, but also the administrators of the facilities there. NASA wouldn’t sign off on it if there was a high risk of other nearby facilities being damaged. From what I’ve heard in the past, the Air Force’s range safety people have been willing to let them try a land-landing, but the site administrators have been more conservative. I think SpaceX needs to stick a barge landing before they will let them try a land-landing.

    That said, there were hints that the Jason-3 launch might try a land-landing. I didn’t think the landing site at Vandenberg was going to be complete in time for that, but now that we’ve had a few months hold on launches, it just might be ready by the time it goes up. If not, the west coast barge should be ready to catch it.

  • windbourne

    I believe that FAA also has a say in it, esp if they leave the launch area.

  • therealdmt

    You can have a method invention, e.g., ‘A Method of Landing a Rocket Stage on a Barge’.

    At its extremes, this can lead to some seemingly ridiculous inventions, but in this case the point is moot as, as has been shown by SpaceX, the method was already publicly known at the time Blue Origin applied for the patent (so, the patent was improperly granted, as can happen — the USPTO examiner can’t be expected to find every method of landing a rocket or using a barge ever discussed in history and in general largely relies on the applicants themselves to present them with references to the state of the relevant art over which the applied for invention is claiming to advance).

  • Dennis

    It certainly should be, the barge is being prepped as we speak. These images are 2 weeks old by now, but still cool to watch 🙂

  • Hug Doug

    Awesome images of the work being done on the 303, thanks!! I wanted to link to it, but I was having trouble finding that NSF thread. I see the landing pad is still gravel!


    Doesn’t take long to pour a structural slab

  • Hug Doug

    True, but it does take a long time to prepare the subsurface for a large slab. That gravel has been there for a couple months now, settling and compacting the dirt underneath it. That area had been leveled back in March.

  • patb2009

    the issue is two fold 1) Can a Falcon 9R reliably hit a circular error probability target of 100 Meters around the landing site at say 99% and 95% confidence? 2) Can a Falcon 9R reliably land in good enough shape to be reusable. Question 1 is for the site administrators, question 2 is for SpaceX. Say SpaceX is targeting for the cape shuttle runway. They could bollix the landing all day long and frankly aside from a little burnt kerosene, the facility can be fixed up with a couple of broom trucks. The site admins should be worried about a country miss hitting a major piece of cape infrastructure, but given the experience and data, i think they can figure out what the CEP is.

  • Hug Doug

    One. We already know the answer to that, it is yes. The falcon first stages that has hit the barges impacted within 20 meters of where they were supposed to. And that was in spite of mechanical failures both times. So I think we can reasonably say yes for number one.

    Two. Is far more uncertain, of course, because SpaceX has yet to recover and test a recovered first stage.

  • patb2009

    One is a bit uncertain. To prove it with sampling you need about 400 flights. But can you prove it analytically, based upon demonstrated performance and margin? Probably.

    However, within a couple of flights they should be able to satisfy the site administration.

  • Hug Doug

    400 flights? Where did you pull that number from?