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NEWS | June 14, 2023

NUWC Division Newport scientist holds 40 patents, encourages innovation

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

Dr. Thomas Gieseke has a different way of looking at things. His curiosity and unconventional approach to problems has made him the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport’s leading patent holder among current employees, with 40 patents issued during his 29-year career.

“Tom has an inquisitive mind and positive attitude,” Chief Technology Officer Dr. Jason Gomez said about his accomplishment. “He sees solutions where others see problems or roadblocks.”

Gieseke, a resident of Dighton, Massachusetts, also takes the lead among current employees, a record held for many years by Dr. Anthony Ruffa, who had 79 patents before retiring in December 2022.

Gieseke, who manages advanced technology development projects in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, has worked as a first- and second-line supervisor and as a lead scientist, covering a wide range of technical subjects, such as hydrodynamics, ballistics, control systems, and sonar.

“Areas where there are difficult unsolved problems are good places to germinate ideas for invention,” Gieseke said.

Gieseke was hired by Division Newport in 1994 to study transient flows and develop, or advise in the development of new launcher systems. At the time, there was considerable effort to develop a high efficiency inlet for a torpedo system. Essentially, designers wanted to use the energy of a moving submarine to force water through the torpedo launch system to give the launch pump a helping hand.

“We looked at a bunch of designs to scoop moving water from the ocean and direct it to the back end of a torpedo waiting in the launch tube,” Gieseke said. “Many of the ideas we looked at were very conventional. It occurred to me that we were solving a problem that didn’t need to be solved, and moreover, the entire design concept was not ideal. The Inlet Free Torpedo Launch System was conceived to eliminate the need for inlets all together.”

Not only did Gieseke’s idea save a lot of money by eliminating the need to build giant hydraulic doorways, it also could launch weapons more efficiently and quietly.

However, not everyone was excited about Gieseke’s unconventional solution.

“I had been working at NUWC for only a few years, so I had no influence and had no credibility,” Gieseke said. “There really was no place in the culture for radical ideas, especially from young, inexperienced engineers. However, there was an avenue to document my idea, which was the patent process. I wrote up the idea and published it, making it easily accessible at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office if a question ever came up or if someone wanted to do research on torpedo launch systems.”

The patent Gieseke is most proud of is a high velocity underwater jet weapon, awarded in 2005.

“I developed a concept to produce a transient impulse jet that works more effectively than a steady jet for underwater water-jet cutting applications,” Gieseke explained. “It was based on an observation made while working on a hydro-ballistics project, but enabled a new line of concept development.”

Like Gieseke’s torpedo launch system, the underwater jet weapon concept wasn’t immediately embraced by his peers.

“It was met with considerable skepticism by scientists in the field and most thought the idea wouldn’t work,” Gieseke said. “In time, it was demonstrated in an experiment and the underlying physics were proven to be sound. There is satisfaction in coming up with an idea that not only was a new innovation, but was based on a vision that others could not see without having it shown to them.”

Fortunately, Gieseke is not easily deterred or discouraged by others’ skepticism.

“If you remain open to solutions that don’t align with conventional wisdom and you are willing to shed the shackles of practical application, unusual ideas can evolve and in unexpected ways,” Gieseke said.

One of Gieseke’s inventions countered his own father’s conventional wisdom.

“When I was starting my career in engineering, my father, who was also an engineer, told me one of the universal truths was that ‘you can’t push a rope,’” Gieseke said. “I designed the Elastomeric Surface Actuation System to do just that. Sorry dad.”

Embedded in the design are tubes that when pressurized, elongate. They become ropes that push and when distributed properly, can be used to control the shape of a surface.

“I am not sure if the idea is used anywhere else, but I found another use for it when a large Rhode Island-based toy company came to us fishing for ideas,” Gieseke said. “In response, I applied the ideas to a toy fish Oscillating Appendage For Fin Propulsion.”

When Gieseke comes up with a new idea, he never knows if it will end up being implemented in the future, but regardless of the end result, he views the patent process as important and well worth the time and effort.

“I’m not sure if any of the ideas I pumped through the patenting process will amount to anything, but maybe the next patent will be ‘the one,’” said Gieseke. “The only way to find out is to write it up and see what happens. The surest way for an idea to die is for no one else to see it.”

Jim Kasischke, supervisory patent counsel in Division Newport’s Office of Counsel, said that it’s wise for employees to try to patent their ideas because 90 percent of their ideas can be patented. 

To start the process, inventors should gather enough information to submit an invention disclosure.

The invention disclosure should include a description of the invention by stating the problem that needs solving, what the Division is currently doing, and how the invention proposes to solve the problem in a new way. The description also highlights the advantages of the invention, has a photo, or preferably a drawing, and states how the invention is enabled to solve the problem. 

“The more the invention disclosure is developed, the easier it is to prepare a patent application,” Kasischke said.

The invention disclosure requires the signature of two people with associated technical knowledge and the signature of the department security official.

After receipt, Office of Counsel staff assesses the completeness of the disclosure. Once accepted, the disclosure is forwarded to the NUWC Invention Evaluation Board (IEB) for an evaluation of the novelty of the invention and value to the Division and the U.S. Navy. If approved by the IEB, a patent application is written internally or with the assistance of a contract patent attorney. The inventor is encouraged to provide input during the writing process and will have a final review of a draft patent application. 

Once an internal public release review is complete, staff will file the official patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A patent examiner evaluates the draft application for novelty and conformance with U.S. law. Typically, the Division Newport patent attorney will have to prosecute the application and negotiate with the patent examiner to allow a patent to issue on the invention. This is not a sure thing but the patent attorneys have an almost perfect prosecution record. 

The process from submission of an invention disclosure to possible issuance of a patent from the USPTO can take two to three years.

Michael Stanley, patent counsel in Division Newport’s Office of Counsel, added that continuing to patent ideas after the first patent can be beneficial to Division Newport, as well as to the inventors. Stanley, who has processed many of Gieseke’s patents, said that a family of patents (especially in the same technology) can be solicited to industry to enhance the value of a license package.  

Patent licensing provides royalties to Division Newport, as well as to the inventor of the patented technology. Recently retired Division Newport inventors Ruffa and Paul Cavallaro, as well as Gieseke, have patents that continue to be solicited for licensing by the Division Newport Technology Partnership Office.

Gieseke encourages other scientists who have new ideas to an existing problem to pursue the patent process.

“Patenting is a great way to document the process and mark the path along the way,” Gieseke said. “To get a patent, you don’t have to convince anyone that the idea is the right solution for the particular problem at hand. It just needs to be novel and sufficiently developed to show that it could work.”

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.