Passover is nearly upon us. At the traditional Seder, the Jews commemorate the Exodus from Egypt and recount, inter alia, the plagues that the Bible records being visited upon the Egyptians – blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, livestock disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, killing of the firstborn.
Two years ago, in a bit of remarkable timing, swarms of locusts came from Egypt into Israel just in time for Passover.
Ok, they weren’t the sky-darkening, destroy-everything-in-their-path Biblical-type swarms, but considering we hadn’t had any in Israel for about 10 years, it was pretty impressive. And no, I didn’t snack on them, unlike some Yemenite Jews who through tradition know which locusts are kosher (see Leviticus chapter 11 for more info on that).
The experience got me to thinking at the time about patents on locust control. A search in the USPTO database for patents since 1976 containing the word “locust” in the claims shows 1556 hits (as of today). But there’s something call locust bean gum, which despite its name is plant-based and a common ingredient in foods and cosmetics, and something called the honey locust plant. When you eliminate claim sets having the word “locust”, “bean” “gum” and “honey”, the number of hits drop precipitously, to just 34.
Looking through the titles of those patents, it’s clear that many are there erroneously: the word “locus”, denoting a location, was obviously replaced accidentally with “locust”.
Hence we have claim 10 of US 8,461,437, which recites, “A seed of the hybrid corn variety CH939369 further comprising at least a first single locus conversion, … and wherein a hybrid plant grown from the seed exhibits the trait conferred by the single locust conversion….”. Or US 8,194,998 , which claims “A preceding vehicle detection apparatus …further comprising a traveling locust estimation unit and a vehicle condition sensor in communication with said traveling locustestimation unit”. Some of these also mean to refer to locust bean gum, but omitted the words “bean” and “gum”, like claim 13 of US 7,320,807: “A cheese snack as set forth in claim 11 wherein said hydrocolloid is selected from the group consisting of guar, locust, xanthan, agar and carrageenan.”, or claim 2 of US 5,651,550, “The target according to claim 1, wherein said ground legume plant is at least one legume selected from the group consisting of alfalfa, beans, clovers, peas, kudzu, lespedeza, locust, lupine, peanuts, and vetch, or a mixture thereof.” Even some patents that looked like they might be relevant, e.g. US 4,595,407, entitled “Triazinyl-amino-carbonyl-1,3-benzohetero- or -1,4-benzohetero-sulfonamides”, which might be a pesticide, were mistakes: claim 18 recites, “A method for controlling the growth of undesired vegetation which comprises applying to the locust to be protected an effective amount of a compound of claim 8.”
One patent that looked like it might have been relevant was US 8,705,017, “Photonic fence”. The Summary section refers to
“a system for tracking airborne organisms includes an imager (e.g., a camera or scanner), a backlight source (e.g., a retroreflector), and a processor. The processor is configured to analyze one or more images captured by the imager including at least a portion of the backlight source and to identify a biological property (e.g., genus, species, sex, mating status, gravidity, feeding status, age, or health status) of an organism (e.g., an insect, such as a mosquito, a bee, a locust, or a moth) in the field of view of the imager, using characteristic frequency, harmonic amplitude, shape, size, airspeed, ground speed, or location. The system may further include an illumination light source arranged to illuminate the field of view of the imager. The organism may have wings, in which case the processor may be configured to identify the biological property using a wingbeat frequency.”
Sadly, however, claim 1 recites
1. A system for tracking mosquitos, comprising: an imager having an image resolution and a field of view; a backlight source configured to be placed in the field of view of the imager; a detector configured to detect a signal indicative of a distance from the imager to an airborne organism; and a processor configured to analyze one or more images captured by the imager including at least a portion of the backlight source, the processor being configured to identify a biological property of the airborne organism in the field of view of the imager using at least one datum selected from the group consisting of characteristic frequency, harmonic amplitude, shape, size, airspeed, ground speed, and location, the processor being further configured to determine a probability that the mosquito is infected with malaria.
No mention of locusts, and limited to tracking mosquitoes. The claim was narrowed during prosecution. The only reason the patent came up in the search was because claims 10 and 11 were maintained in an earlier form:
10. The system of claim 1, wherein the organism is an insect.
11. The system of claim 10, wherein the organism is selected from the group consisting of a mosquito, a bee, a locust, and a moth.
Apparently neither the Examiner nor the applicant checked for antecedent basis for the recitations in the dependent claims.
One of the few cases in which the word “locust” appeared in the claims of a patent with reference to the insect and not a plant was for a toy to hold a bar of soap. See claim 8 of US 8,758,075: “The invention of claim 6, wherein the animal is chosen from the group consisting of an aardvark … locust… and zebra.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had more luck when I searched claims using scientific genus names for locusts, such as Schistocerca or Locustana: most of those patents were for pesticides or controlling pests.
Interestingly, the extent of crop damage inflicted by the locusts of 2013 was far from biblical in scope, in large measure due to good tracking of the swarms, which facilitated spraying of the locusts at opportune times to control their reproduction. Apparently that tracking method isn’t patented. At least not in the USA.