The E-Meter Patents

If you’ve spent much time in New York City, you have run into the Church of Scientology offering their “free stress tests.” It’s worth doing, if you have a few minutes, to see what they’re all about. They use it as a recruitment tool–no matter what you do, they will declare that you are stressed and recommend that you come by their main location.

This post is about the tool they use to administer the “stress test,” which is known as an E-Meter. The quick version is that you hold two metal tubes, and it measures changes in the electrical resistance of your skin. For example, if you think of something stressful and it makes your palms sweat, it would register that.

USP 8,121,676, FIG. 1
It’s an E-Meter. It metes your Es.

Of course, it will also register tiny changes in how hard you’re squeezing, how much of your skin contacts the terminals, and really pretty much anything else. When they asked me to think of something stressful, I hadn’t even gotten a chance to get started before they started shouting, “There! What was that? Was that something stressful??”

Lady, the only stressful thing happening here is you.

Anyway, the Church of Scientology has patented the E-Meter a whole lot. There might be more of them, but this list should give you a taste of how very seriously they take this stuff:

Now, the thing is, the E-Meter does do what it says. It’s basically a galvanometer, which is a device that measures electrical current. As the resistance of your skin changes, the measured current changes. Its stated purpose, of giving insight into a person’s mental and emotional state, isn’t even that controversial. A similar technique is used in polygraphs.

But, as we know from polygraphs, skin resistance is not a reliable way to measure stress. That’s why I have this post tagged as both “possible” and “impossible,” as the device works, but can’t do what they say it can do. The doctrine of Scientology is pretty convoluted, but ultimately they believe that this tool will help you “audit” yourself and achieve the state of “clear,” which I guess means you win at being a human? Their claims are dubious overall if you come to them from the perspective of psychology and medical science.

In fact, the FDA seized a bunch of Scientology property in 1963 on the grounds that they were making unsubstantiated claims of health benefits. In the end, the U.S. Courts found that Scientology was a religion, and that as long as the E-Meter was used only for “bona fide religious counseling,” the FDA couldn’t stop them from using it.

So Scientology still uses E-Meters, but now they come with some variation of this disclaimer:

The Hubbard Electrometer is a religious artifact. By itself, this meter does nothing. It is for religious use by students and Ministers of the church in Confessionals and pastoral counseling only.

Dianetics: Self-improvement Home Study Course, Bridge Publications (2003)

Now, if I were a patent examiner and I were feeling saucy, I’d say that this was an issue under 35 U.S.C. 101, which requires that a patented invention be useful. By their own admission, the device does nothing. If it’s just a tool for a religious ceremony, it seems you wouldn’t need a patent to protect it.

But hey, they’ve been making these since the 1950s, and most of those patents are expired. That means there’s ample room for you to make one for yourself, if you are so inclined. Just don’t call it an “E-Meter.” The “Religious Technology Center,” which is the IP enforcement branch of the Church of Scientology, has a trademark on the name and they are notoriously litigious.

If you have more questions about the E-Meter, or Scientology in general, here are some links:
Operation Clambake

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