After a few years of promotion, scientists have finally been invited to test and verify that the the Energy Catalyzer (E-Cat) produces more energy than it takes in. It has been found to be 10,000 times more energy dense than gasoline. This would be great news if it could actually be confirmed with full disclosure and examination.
The E-cat is a creation of Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi. Rossi has spent 15 years working on his E-cat device and has only recently offered it for sale. He has applied for patents on the device, but, according to Wikipedia, his 2008 patent application has received an unfavorable preliminary review due to the lack of a complete theory explaining the operation of the E-cat.
If the point of a patent is to disclose the invention so that others could build it, Rossi seems to have missed that point. What he seems to want is a patent on a trade secret.
Patents are intended to secure enough time and protection so that an inventor can capture a return on his invention to recoup his research and development expenses after he brings his invention to market. If the E-cat is as good as Rossi says, he should make plenty of money even if he makes a complete disclosure of the invention. Even if thousands of other people can build it and sell it, he's still going to make billions if he executes properly. He will have the first mover advantage.
Perhaps Rossi wants for himself all the profits for an invention that could conceivably save the human race from destroying itself in an insatiable quest for energy. It is also possible that he has not had a chance to read "The Mary Gloster" with the relevant part quoted below:
I knew - I knew what was coming, when we bid on the Byfleet's keel -
They piddled and piffled with iron, I'd given my orders for steel!
Steel and the first expansions. It paid, I tell you, it paid,
When we came with our nine-knot freighters and collared the long-run trade!
And they asked me how I did it; and I gave 'em the Scripture text,
"You keep your light so shining a little in front o' the next!"
They copied all they could follow, but they couldn't copy my mind,
And I left 'em sweating and stealing a year and a half behind.
An invention like the E-cat will make billions in consulting fees alone, in addition to sales profits. It will require time, expertise and effort to install, configure and maintain. Since it is new technology, anyone attempting to use this device to generate energy will be hard pressed to maintain it in working condition without full and complete documentation. The documentation I speak of is refined after years of use and thousands of man-hours by many users to find out what works best.
In other words, the early adopters are going to provide massive inputs for research and development before the E-cat becomes a standard item in every home and business. If Rossi is able to keep a key ingredient secret for long, that documentation is going to be much, much harder to generate. Even very well documented technology requires time, effort and record keeping to operate, understand and to maintain. Without knowledge of that secret ingredient, end users will not be able to easily find a mechanic to get their machines back online when they break.
Note that Rossi is not the only one. Thousands of patents are issued each day with incomplete specs, vague descriptions and nary a reduction to practice. These patents are often for an idea, a land grab, rather than to disclose an actual invention.
I applaud Rossi's effort to commercialize cold fusion, I hope it works. However, his patent application offers not quite enough to teach others how to build it. If he wants to keep a trade secret, he should withdraw the patent application and carry on. But if he wants to share the invention with the world, the patent should fully disclose the workings of the E-cat device.