Congratulations, Your Genius Patent Is Now a Military Secret

Jim Geer filed a patent application on April 7, 2000, that describes a novel technique for tracking stealth aircraft. It was an idea that Geer, who owns a 10-person software company and has a background in physics, had been toying with for years. He had no connection to the military or defense contractors, and there was no reason to believe he was in a position to develop the technology. He thinks of his tendency to apply for patents as a way to unwind in the evenings. “Some people like football,” Geer said. “I like to tinker.” It seemed likely that nothing practical would ever come of Geer’s patent application—one of over 315,000 filed that year—even if it were approved. But the U.S. Air Force preferred to take no chances and, using a little-known power, ordered Geer to refrain from speaking in public about his stealth-detection concept. The following August, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sent Geer a warning letter that declared his idea a national secret.

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