22 Dec 2017

De-Classified Patent of the Month – The truly- silenced pistol!

In the first in a series examining de-classified patents, Nick Wallin, partner and patent attorney at intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, looks at the pistol silencer. Nick specialises in advising clients in the electronics, communications and defence sectors.

Some might say that the 1970s was the golden age of the Bond movie. The decade started with the tail end of the Connery era, and ended with Roger Moore firmly in the driving seat with classics like The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker. No Bond film would be complete without some form of silenced weapon for taking out the bad guys – usually characterised by an oversized silencer can screwed onto the end of a pistol that makes a satisfying “phut!” noise when it is fired. But if you are really sneaking into the bad guy’s subsea lair or shuttle launchpad, even that breezy “phut” may be a few decibels too much – wouldn’t it be better if you had a truly-silenced weapon?

Luckily for 007, although it may not have been Walther who came up with it, their competitors didn’t either. It took a German firearms manufacturer, Heckler & Koch, to come up with the world’s first truly-silenced pistol.

The operation is marvellously simple. Bullet (37) is mounted in a guide body (36), which also has a propellant charge (40) that is ignited electrically. The muzzle of the pistol is wide enough to permit the projectile to pass through, but is too narrow for the guide. The flange (105) on the muzzle stops the guide body passing through. On firing, the propellant is ignited, pushing the projectile and guide body down the barrel. The flange prevents the guide body from exiting the barrel, although the projectile disengages from the guide body and proceeds through the muzzle. The guide body then effectively blocks the muzzle, and prevents the escape, and subsequent noisy expansion, of propellant gases. Voila! A truly silent pistol.

The downside to the arrangement is immediately apparent. The barrel is then subsequently blocked and cannot be fired again. But the clever chaps at H&K foresaw that perhaps Mr Bond might need to fire more than once, and hence came up with a multi-barrel arrangement – a sort of handheld Gatling gun. That would at least give Her Majesty’s favourite assassin five or six chances to silence the arch villain/Soviet General/metal-toothed giant* before returning back to Miss Moneypenny and a vodka martini!

*delete as appropriate

From an intellectual property perspective, the patent obtained by the gun’s inventor provided a period of exclusivity in which to profit from its investment in innovation and bolster Germany’s defence armoury at the same time. Recently de-classified, the technology is available to all firearms makers.

Editor’s Notes: Patents for defence and security-related inventions can be classified by the UK and foreign NATO governments for any length of time, but are published when the security classifications are removed. This series aims to provide a light-hearted look at recently declassified patents, which can often be several decades old.

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