Nick and I continually bemoan the apparent ‘stagnovation’ in the domestic firearms market, where a gun can be sold as “Completely Redesigned For 2014!” simply because the upcoming version will have interchangeable backstraps. But there’s reason to hope it’s not just hype: a record 370 firearms patents were issued in just the last year. This is a 35-year high, and more than twice the average of 169 patents per year since 1977. Our firearms inventors are working away in their machine shops and keeping their patent lawyers’ time-shares paid up, but where’s the next Saint John The Browning? And where’s my caseless 4.73mm carbine? . . .

Some of these patents seem a bit silly, like No. 8.584.391 which envisions a telescoping-barrel shotgun:

A shotgun has a telescoping barrel made of concentric barrel sections slidably engaged together. These include at least an inner barrel section and an outer barrel section. A grip on the outer barrel section aids telescopic movement. A locking pin secures or releases the barrel sections. The barrel sections have protrusions that interfere with further outward movement once fully telescoped out. The grip may have a channel to permit a pistol grip to slide onto the grip. A second pistol grip may be connected to the trigger. The butt of the gun may slide out to make a shoulder rest. A butt plate is connected to a rod that slides into and out of the shotgun. The rod has teeth that engage a spring-loaded arm to secure the rod in an extended position. A compression or tension spring may bias the concentric barrel sections in an extended or shortened configuration.

Would this become an NFA-registered SBS when you collapse the barrel? I don’t know, but nobody’d better tell DiFi that this patent includes a shoulder thingy that goes up. Either way, I’m not sure how a cone-shaped barrel would make your shot patterns any tighter unless it’s got The Mother Of All Jug Chokes at the end of it. (Which is nowhere in the patent abstract, BTW.)

And I hate to second-guess the fine minds of the U.S. Patent Office, but some of these patents seem to have been done already, like the Ammunition Carrier For Firearm Stock described in Patent No. 8,584,389:

An ammunition carrier for attaching one or more cartridges to a firearm. The ammunition carrier may comprise a base member for securing the carrier to the stock of a firearm such as a long gun and a cartridge holder for releasably retaining one or more cartridges within a plurality of cartridge storage loops. A releasable connection between the base member and the cartridge holder allows for the cartridge holder and the cartridges held therein to be quickly and easily removed from the stock of the firearm such as when the firearm is to be placed in a case for storage or transport. A cover may also be associated with the ammunition carrier for covering at least a portion of the one or more cartridges and the cover is at least partially moveable to permit selective removal of the one or more cartridges.

It may be an awkward time to mention this, but I think I’ve already got one of these attached to my old Mossberg 500. And, just possibly, another one attached to the stock of my Remington 70 PSS. But what if I’m wrong, and somebody wants to cover our rifle buttstocks with Picatinny-rail ammunition carriers? The horror! The horror!

Some of these patents, however, sound like a damned good idea. U.S. Patent No. 8572878 protects Beretta’s concept for a cocker/decocker for striker-fired semiautomatic pistols.

A cocking/de-cocking mechanism for semi-automatic striker-fired pistols having a multi-function cocking lever for controlling, by rotational movement, the cocking or arming of the tiring pin, while effecting de-cocking by the lateral displacement of the cocking lever on its support pin.

This is fairly hard to visualize, and I’m not an inventor so this publicly-searchable patent illustration doesn’t help me much. Many of the other patents I searched through (magazine monopods, revolver cylinder shrouds, et cetera, ad nauseum) were solutions in search of a problem, but this Beretta patent actually seems to do something useful: it de-cocks a striker-fired pistol without having to dry-fire it. A lot of Glock owners could have avoided soiling their BVDs if their striker-fired pistols had a feature like this.

Even this good idea still smacks of only incremental, evolutionary change in firearms technology. If you’re waiting for something revolutionary like the Glock, you’ll have to keep waiting. Or maybe you can find it, if you want to spend a long time searching through the rest of the firearms patents at the U.S. Patent Office website.

Have a ball while you’re there. And if you see my caseless 4.73mm carbine, shoot me an email, would ya?

75 Responses to Firearm Patents Hit 35-Year High, But Where’s My Caseless 4.73mm Carbine?

  1. The striker fired pistol de-cocker is not a new concept. My Walther P99 has one and it’s probably the main reason why it’s my go to carry gun.

    • controlling, by rotational movement, the cocking or arming of the tiring pin

      …but the use of a tiring pin in a striker fired gun? That’s definitely innovative. Or is that a Caracal?

    • The M&P’s from S&W have one, sort of. You have to use the grip tool to hit a little lever. Every video I’ve seen its way easier just to pull the trigger though.

  2. I’m not gonna vouch for the quality of those patents, but you’re looking at the abstract, which is just a general description of what the patent is about. It has no bearing on what the invention actually is. For that, you need to look at the claims. That is what defines the invention.

  3. I’m holding out for some kind of phaser or blaster; anything that discharges energy from a distance to strike the target, as opposed to hurling a projectile at it.

    • Call me a nut but I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I’ve reached a conclusion; kinetic energy weapons will always have a place because of their ability to damage objects. Given ballistic armor, and armor that defeats energy weapons, the latter would have to be over the former, and susceptible to degradation by ballistic means. Picture a blaster mounted in tandem with a ballistic weapon and you have an idea of the ultimate weapon (or you could just stick with a ballistic weapon and aim for the exposed portions). The current equivalent of such armor is a ‘bubble’ coat over a ballistic vest. The former stops tasers and the latter stops guns. You have to be able to defeat both.

  4. I dunno, my Tavor seems pretty damn innovative. Also my Gen4 Glocks are very sweet too, and I am perfectly fine not having a decocker on my striker fired pistols.

  5. Slightly off topic, but a few days ago I had a rolling argument with my son over whether it makes sense for all those energy weapons in Star Wars to have a recoil impulse. (I noticed it in the animated Clone Wars series when the clone troopers fire their laser rifles; larger things, like the ion cannon in TESB, also exhibit recoil.)

    I say no, because energy has no mass and therefore doesn’t impart momentum. He says yes, because…reasons. He knows the Star Wars universe far better than I ever will, and although my grasp is rudimentary, I know physics better than he does (for now). So round and round we go.

    I want to see a patent for an energy gun that can settle that argument.

    • Actually… Yes. Photons have mass and as such still generate recoil. Newton’s Third still works even with a flashlight. (It’s why a photon drive is a thing.)

      • The numbers are lost on me (I’ll just trust you there), but the photon drive idea makes sense. I’ve seen the demos with the little windmill type thing under glass, where the photons bouncing off the white sides of the panels push the tiny apparatus around.

        So something like that ship-destroying ion cannon would definitely have a huge recoil pulse, but a handheld laser gun with terminal energy on par with the average military rifle would have hardly any.

        • “… that means that Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in space.”

          Mass Effect 2 FTW!

        • Also, I think I recall reading somewhere that the blue tinted blaster bolts used by the clone troopers were actually plasma-based to be more effective on their largely droid adversaries, and would therefore have mass and recoil.

        • Not rest mass, no. But they do have kinetic energy mass. Yes, relativistic physics is odd. (For purposes of this explanation, them having energy and momentum is sufficient.)

    • Incoming maths… also… SCIENCE!!!

      You’re basically working with conservation of momentum.

      A .45 round has ~800J of muzzle energy. That and ~4.5 kg*m/s of momentum.
      A single photon of red light has an energy of ~3.06e-19J and an approximate momentum of 1e-27 kg*m/s
      Since momentum is conserved, you would need to fire ~4e27 photons to get the same recoil as a .45ACP with a muzzle energy of ~1.32e9J (or approximately 500 lbs of TNT)

      Thus, a “blaster” with equivalent recoil would have almost a million times the muzzle energy.

      So basically, they would generate some recoil, but nothing you would notice unless you see gigantic explosions.

      • The problem, of course, is that storing energy in gunpowder in a cartridge is a much lighter and more compact proposition than storing enough energy to produce an instantaneous impact (rather than chemical change) equal to a .45ACP bullet.

        • Depends on just how good your superconductors and capacitors are. In theory, a good enough one can store rather stupid amounts of energy in a rather tiny package. The issue is generating the energy in the first place and directing it out without melting everything between your power pack and your barrel.

        • Yep. Huge capacitors can hold enough charge to power a very fast electro-magnetic pistol. But the laws stand in the way of an effective projectile. I have no doubt the DARPA guys are building this kind of toy, though. With suitable adjustments even compressed air, a paintball gun, can shoot a very effective projectile at adequate velocity, if the projectiles were legal. Chemically powered lasers can be miniturized, but…the law.

        • Let’s not forget the concept of storing plasma charges in polymer discs. The idea is that you have a precise nanotech-generated arrangement of reactive metal atoms in a vitrified matrix overlaid on a triggering charge, all of which is encapsulated in a polymer shell. When you trigger the charge, it causes the metallic-ion matrix to flash into plasma, which can then be focused into a beam.

          The problems of making the plasma stream coherent and producing barrels capable of confining it (likely requiring exotic alloys) are left as an exercise for the reader. Or David Drake, who used the concept extensively throughout his hover-tank book series. 🙂

          Personally, I rather like John Scalzi’s take on this: a multipurpose smart rifle which takes a block of combined nanobot/energy-substrate feedstock, which can then be used to create anything from self-stabilizing rifle rounds to grenades to incendiaries on the fly. Oh, and it links into your BrainPal implant, so you can literally switch munition types by thinking about it.

    • Just show me a man portable rail gun. I’m TOTALLY for my own, personal sabot launcher.
      Who needs an Abrahms tank when you got a rail gun?

      Unless its the railgun from metal gear Rex.

  6. Patents don’t necessarily relate to innovation; sometimes, they’re just the opposite, and may be known as “blocking patents.”

    Firearms are very mature products. There’s not a lot left to innovate. And if there was, we can expect the firearms related companies to fight innovation tooth and nail, lest they become just like Atari, Osborne and Kaypro. ‘Memba them?

    • Dad’s first “laptop” was an Osborne. Looked like a sewing machine hard case, the bottom unlatched from the top; it was the keyboard. It had a 4″ monitor and TWO 5.25″ floppy drives.

      • That, my young man, was not an Osborne, that was Osborne II. The Osborne 1 has a single floppy and an 8k processor. The OII, which completely obsoleted the OI and led to the collapse of the company, had two floppies and 16k memory. Both were designed to fit in a (rather bulky) suitcase, making the Osborne the first “portable” computer. I don’t recall now how much it weighed, but with a CRT, I suspect that it was portly.

        • Osbornes were like a full-size desktop case with a handle on top. They weighed around 25 lbs, but dayum you were cool if you walked in with one. I’ve still got my Zenith Z180 from a couple years later, which was far more ‘laptoppy’ with it’s screaming dual 720K floppies and 640K on the board…

        • I’ve still got my Spring of ’84 MacIntosh, which weighs 20 lbs. It changed my (writing) life.

    • It saddens me to reflect that many innovations in small arms are simply banned by law before they hit the drawing board. A super-light smoothbore using an electrically-driven high-speed piston to fire tiny-gauge saboted tungsten-carbide darts would make an excellent home defense weapon, and is doable. It is banned by so many statutes and regs that it doesn’t matter, except to the CIA. “Going green, eh, Mr. Bond?”

    • And we could expect the government to regulate them out of existence. “Too deadly, Too cheap. Too low-recoil. The very best medium-bore dangerous game bullets were quietly forced off the market due to their tungsten-carbide core, which was masterful at piercing skulls and bones of very large game. As if drug dealers were going to start carrying .416 Rigby’s.

  7. I’ll take a G11, how many did they make and how many still exist? I’m sure one gun would cost as much as a top end Porsche or Ferrari.

    • Selectable full auto, no semi version, so it would have to be a post-86 “dealer sample” only. They never ‘released’ much product anyway – it was in the final stages then the Wall came down, and the money that was to be used on it, got retasked with assimilation of East Germany. Almost killed H&K, they were way down the development trail, and were counting on the payoff from mil sales.

        • Sort of, the inherent problem of heat build up couldn’t be solved, it’s inherent in the design.

          With cased ammunition, much of the heat is in the case and is removed with the case, and exposure to the air (however brief) aids in cooling as well.

          With the G11 what they did is change the propellant to one that higher a higher ignition point.

  8. Patents don’t really mean much anymore. If you follow the tech-industry you’ll be familiar with “patent trolling”, where companies file frivolous patents for every little feature regardless of how many times it’s been done before (prior art).

    I would venture a guess that pretty much every industry is being flooded by useless patents that contain no real innovation.

  9. The fact that the number of patents is rising while true firearm innovation is essentially stagnant is more of a damnation of the patent system than it is indicative of truly new stuff being invented.

    • Yep, As Ralph pointed out above, there are more ‘utility’ patents than ‘design’ patents in the gun arena.

      I’m reminded of the fellow during the Bush-Kerry chad wars. He testified about his chad-poking voting machine patents, all of which were minor innovations or utility patents on an existing machine. And this rubbish made him a rich rancher. Don’t get me started on software patents, which amount to patenting arithmatic problems and their solutions.

      • Or the Amazon “One Click” method of doing business patent. That brilliant innovation involved a person buying something online by buying it.

        What an amazing invention!

  10. I wish my Taurus striker-fired (basically single action) had a decocker.

    I love how silly prototype guns like the G11 are invariably in every movie and video-game produced when they are in their ‘development’ as if they were commonplace.

    • Striker fired pistols are not basically single action, they are hybrid DA/SA actions that lack most of the safety of the former and most of the trigger response of the latter, sort of a compromise between the two that doesn’t quite reach the level of either.

      Compare any midgrade single action pistol on the market to even top end striker guns and you’ll find lighter, smoother triggers on the singles. The difference can be over come with training but what is more troublesome is that even the lightest, smoothest striker pistols come with no manual safety.

      After 30 years shooting regularly and 20 carrying a sidearm I was saved just today from a potential ND by the grip safety on my XDS9. Bravo the grip safety but still not as good as the positive safety on my 1911, which has a trigger so smooth and light that it makes the relatively good XDS feel like garbage. Thus the XDS (and most striker guns) are less safe while at the same time less shootable. Everything is a trade off, lets not forget that.

  11. Can anyone explain what caseless ammunition is? Iv read countless things about this and still have no clue what its suppose to entail. First I hear its without a shell casing, then I hear its a bullet without a jacket, then other things, I don’t know.

  12. Um, I think the glock Gen 4’s addition of an interchangable back strop was a better idea than berretas attempt to add as much complexicty as possible in the name of saftey but whatever.

  13. Screw caseless ammo. I want my man-portable linear accelerator! Target shoot without having to clean the barrel! Kill a deer, and the deer behind the deer, and that bear further up the trail!

    I kid…

    But wouldn’t a railgun be awesome?

  14. The problem is, anyone who tries something new or different in the firearms industry is bashed right away using classics such as:

    “That is just a solution looking for a problem”

    “Why should I buy that when I could just build an AR-15?”

    Etc Etc.

    IMO I wish firearms companies would quit trying to outclass each other technology (because face it, bullet based weapons are about tapped out of ideas) and focus on just putting out new and unique models that use current tech. So what if a new gun operates and handles exactly like a Glock? The point is it is an OPTION. Something different than the usual line up.

    • True, up to a point. There’s plenty of folks who cold not care less about M/AR platform guns that have been waiting for almost a decade for the US Tavor.

      There’s innovation, it’s just that in the field of projectile weapons we’re generally left to drilling down on the details. There’s not a lot radically “new” left to do.

  15. The idea of energy-based firearms is entertaining and perhaps possible but certainly not something that could be developed in a mass-produced, cost-effective, and practical manner within the next several lifetimes.

    In my humble opinion, changes will orient around the projectile. With available and planned projectile counter-measures, I suspect we’ll see an emphasis on weapons with a much higher capacity focused on smaller caliber/high velocity projectiles. Assuming researchers develop a mechanical/chemical/or other force neccessary to generate the needed velocities, you’ll see an focus on projectile ballistics, metallurgical research, and production innovations.

  16. It’s not just a stagnation in the firearms industry, but across the board in almost everything. As technology has gotten more and more complex we’ve moved from a single brilliant individual designing a product toward teams of individuals each handling a piece of a design.

    You can say John Browning designed THAT gun.

    Harley Earl designed THAT car.

    Leroy Grumman designed THAT plane.

    In our current design world it’s moe like “I designed that gear, that he put into that gearbox, that they included in that transmission…”

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