I Ching patents

An underappreciated source of I Ching madness and wonder


I've been collecting I Ching patents using the wonderful Patent to PDF site, whereby you can obtain a PDF of the whole patent (US only) in its original form with all the drawings and diagrams, if you have the patent number. Google now has a Patent Search, but it too is only US patents. European patents can be searched for at eSpaceNet. And Patent Lens is probably the most extensive database, in that it includes Australia, yet I found hardly anything using it.

Many I Ching patents are to do with new devices for forming hexagrams. Basically, an invention that isn't needed, and so by definition useless, but nonetheless interesting from the point of view of exploration. Others are quite sophisticated ideas. And one below I have no clue about. I haven't included everything I came across, and I doubt my search is exhaustive, if anyone knows of other I Ching patents of interest drop us a line and we may add them. (Those inspired to have a search themselves shouldn't get too excited about various Chinese patents with English abstracts announcing wondrous 'Yijing pills' made from dubious rhizomes. This 'Yijing' consists of two completely different characters meaning 'increasing sperm'.)


US Patent 4953864 (1990) – ‘Method and apparatus for chance controlled formation of a symbol’

An intriguing method for forming hexagrams using bar magnets by Daniel Katz. When two bar magnets attract each other they form a representation of a solid line, and when they repel each other they form a representation of a broken line. The diagrams are wonderful, this looks like a good idea though not for consulting the I Ching. Clearly there is no way to obtain a changing line. Also amused by 'patent writing style':

To consult the I-Ching in accordance with the present embodiment, a consultant randomly selects one bar magnet from the supply of magnets which, in the present embodiment, may be a group of from two to twelve indistinguishable magnets. This first magnet is then placed in the lower-most groove 13a of the six horizontal grooves 13. A second bar magnet is then selected, also at random, and is placed in the same groove 13a as the first magnet, so that the two magnets are oriented end-to-end in the groove. As illustrated in FIG. 1, the two magnets will either be oriented with adjacent identical magnet poles, in which case the repulsive magnetic force will cause the magnets to be separated as indicated at 13a, or the magnets will be oriented such that opposite magnetic poles will attract the magnets to abut together as indicated at 13b. This process is repeated for each of the grooves until all twelve magnets have been placed in the grooves and a total of six lines has been formed. It is evident that depending upon whether two adjacent magnets attract or repel each other, each of the six individual lines formed by the bar magnets and displayed by the holder or block 11 will either represent a broken line 13a or a solid line 13b.


US Patent 5957452 (1999) – ‘Dice-like apparatus and method for consulting the I Ching’

By David L Patton. Who would have thought there was so much to say about a set of three dice of rounded tetrahedral construction with yarrow probabilities? 18 pages! He yacks on and on about it as if he's invented the light bulb (Edison's patent is just two pages, Orville Wright's patent for a flying machine is ten pages, and Richard E Cone's patent for a toy skunk is three pages). A 'dice-like apparatus', by the way, is dice. That appears to be wood grain he's illustrating on the drawing below. The patent contains a 'prior art' section offering a critique of some of the other patented I Ching applications I have mentioned on this page, particularly their probabilities, which is quite informative. This 'dice-like apparatus' appears to be the very same 'stick dice' that Steve Moore has already reviewed, where he took strong exception to something in the information sheet.


US Patent 3598414 (1971) – ‘Method and apparatus for determining and studying philosophical and oracle responses’

Something like a proper apparatus by Khigh Alx Dhiegh, who, it will be remembered, wrote the book 'The Eleventh Wing: An Exposition of the Dynamics of I Ching for Now' (1973), which contained photographs of various I Ching study aids constructed and patented by himself. Among these was a curious invention he called 'I Ching-Dex', of which the above is the original patent showing exactly how it is constructed. Mr Dhiegh was born Kenneth Dickerson in 1910 (d. 1991) in Spring Lake, New Jersey. He was an American actor of English, Egyptian, and Sudanese descent who was best known for playing 'oriental' villains, his most famous role being the Red Chinese agent Wo Fat in 'Hawaii Five-O' (shown above). He was also the brainwasher Dr Yen Lo in 'The Manchurian Candidate' (1962). Steve Moore knew him in an I Ching context, by all accounts a fine gentleman. Dhiegh also set up the Taoist Sanctuary in Los Angeles. This device he patented is a very intriguing thing, someone interested in construction projects should make one of these instead of an aeroplane next time:

I am indebted to Luis Andrade for scanning pp 242–248 from 'The Eleventh Wing', which contains photographs of a fully constructed I Ching-Dex, a name which does not appear in the patent itself. There is also a plain language description of it, which comes in handy because this patent is obscurely written to the point of satire. He mentions in the book that:

As a bonus offering there is secreted in the device a panel which holds a set of three finest quality reproductions of ancient Chinese coins.

I see from the patent that this is what the three circles top left in the above diagram, each numbered '36', is all about. I have also put up a large scan of the main plate from the book so you can see it in more detail. Only a few I Ching-Dex were ever made, by hand to special order. It never went into mass production, though Dhiegh hoped it might. This thing, as you can see from the photo, is so quaint it's unbelievable. It took me a while to really get to grips with what it was: it's basically a replacement for pen and paper for people who have a tendency to write their hexagrams down wrong. Gorgeous!

(I have uploaded further PDF extracts from 'The Eleventh Wing' that contain inventions by Dhiegh: pp 237–241 features the Universe-Cube and also describes the Eight Houses Study Cubes, photographs of which appear on p 243 in the I Ching-Dex PDF; pp 227–235 shows, starting on p 232, the kua-cube. I haven't been able to locate patents for these study aids.)


US Patent 4962930 (1990) – ‘Method and apparatus for casting an I Ching Hexagram’

By Adrian L Griffith. A set of six dice, each a different colour, corresponding to a line position in the hexagram. The faces represent the four different types of line, static yin and yang and moving yin and yang. The two unchanging lines are represented twice on each die, whereas the two changing lines only appear once. The dice are thrown and then arranged in a nifty colour-coded box.


US Patent 5651682 (1997) – ‘Sticks and method for consulting Chinese book of changes’

By Frits Johan Blok and Wilhelmus Jacobus Marinus Zonjee, both of the Netherlands. Six rectangular blocks, moving yin and unmoving yang on opposite longitudinal faces, moving yang and unmoving yin on the other two opposite faces. The method consists of 'tossing the six objects so as to randomly align in a consecutive order'. The hexagram is read from the top face, and a moving line can be turned over to the line it changes to on its bottom face. Apparently there is a need for this because the traditional methods are just too cumbersome and time-consuming. I'm particularly fond of the technical diagram for this one:

Everything should come with its own box. Lid too. The patent doesn't say, however, how you would tell which line was which should things not go according to plan and they don't 'randomly align in a consecutive order' but instead land like a heap of firewood. There is an obvious way round this, but it would make their device much too cumbersome. Throw the blocks one at a time. This patent may have become the product De I-Tjing Sticks, mentioned online by Francina Pijl of the Netherlands from 1998 onwards.


US Patent 4506893 (1985) – ‘Method of playing a game in which playing pieces are inverted’

By Mark E Perry. A game on an 8 × 8 board based on a grid of hexagrams (actually the 'finding chart' at the back of Wilhelm). On a cursory glance, it looks well worked out, but you'd need to play it really.


US Patent 5203564 (1993) – ‘Methodology board for selecting gaming numbers’

By Carl J Bruzas and Bryant V Rutherford. The apparatus on the right is a spinning pointer device (based on a ninja shuriken) and the apparatus on the left with the hexagrams in a circle is the thing you spin it on. They describe it as 'a novelty device for non-competitive relaxation', which means for picking lottery numbers or fortune-telling. Ka-bala it is not.


US Patent 3603593 (1969) – ‘I Ching fortune-telling game’

Agh, enough crap games. Another rather weak game here: US Patent 20050023753 (2005).


US Patent 6702583 (2004) – ‘Yang-yin emblem’

By Victor Christ-Janer, a famous architect in New Canaan who spent the later part of his career developing building materials resistant to natural calamities such as earthquakes, cyclones, and hurricanes, but still took time out of his busy day to patent a yin-yang emblem that's bent a bit:

Watch you don't accidentally sit on your fengshui mobile, you may be guilty of patent infringement.


US Patent 5856928 (1999) – ‘Gene and protein representation, characterization and interpretation process’

By Johnson F Yan, who wrote the 1991 book 'DNA and the I Ching'. Highly technical patent announcing inspiration from the I Ching on p 15. It was through a reference in this paper that I found Yan's earlier much more immediate paper below.


US Patent D313625 (1991) – ‘Display device for illustrating scientific codes, and corresponding hexagrams’

The analogy and sequential order of the 64 genetic codons and the 64 hexagrams demonstrated in a 4 × 4 × 4 cubic representation, by Johnson F Yan (see patent above) and Suzie C Yan.

Fig. 2 shows the side hidden in fig. 1. Photographs of the actual prototype of the 'I-Gene Cube' made by Johnson Yan's wife appear on the front and back covers of his book 'DNA and the I Ching'.


US Patent 6802662 (2004) – ‘Non-linear ergonomic keyboard’

By Cheng Tung Cheng and Hung Ying Shih. Apparently this hump-backed keyboard was inspired by the Hetu diagram.


US Patent D443317 (2001) – ‘I Ching top’

By Malford W Goldberg. This top saw life as a product sold by its inventor from www.ichingtop.com in 2001 and 2002. It was made in three flavours: Han ($40), Sung ($20), and Ch'ing ($20). I took a screenshot from the Internet Archive showing what it looked like and how it was advertised. Also the instructions, which aren't in the patent. The trigrams are just for decoration, you spin the top six times to determine a line. There are three unmoving yang lines, three unmoving yin, and one each of moving yin and yang. This means the odds are the same as for the three coin method.


UK Patent GB2445611 (2008) – ‘Linear slide rule for decoding symbolic data’

By John Clifford Compton, author of 'The I Ching Key: The Secret Computer of the Ancient Gods'. A sort of slide rule for trigrams. This invention comes directly out of the work in his book, which I have reviewed, so I will save discussion for there.


French Patent FR2738498 (A1) (1997) – ‘Reader for displaying an I Ching hexagram’

Patent in French by Alain Meynard. Six moveable concentric rings with a viewport where a hexagram can be seen. The layout of the rings is quite interesting, shown in the second diagram below. The changing lines are white, the stable lines black. So in the first drawing the viewport shows hexagram 52 changing in the third place. That means he is trying to force results. The I Ching speaks even in a patent diagram.


German Patent WO0155996 (A1) (2001) – ‘Device for interpreting an oracle according to I Ching’

In German, by Dominik F Rolle. The 'WO' prefix on this patent stands for the 'World Intellectual Property Organization'. If you're determined to consult the oracle with wooden blocks, then this is probably the cleverest way to do it, in that you cast both the hexagram and the hexagram it changes into with a single action. Although then you have the redundant situation of getting the same hexagram twice if you don't have any moving lines, detracting somewhat. You have six blocks with a square cross-section. Laid out as shown in the second diagram below, using all four longitudinal faces, on three of the blocks you have five yang lines and three yin lines; on the other three blocks you have three yang lines and five yin lines. On each block there is one dot in the middle on the single longitudinal face where there is a change in the type of line from one end of the block to the other. By free rotation about any of its axes each block can be placed down in any one of eight ways, with a choice of four possible results for each face.

(UPDATE: Hanna Moog in this YouTube video uses sticks made according to Rolle's patent. I get the impression that she and Carol Anthony have started manufacturing them for sale.)


Chinese Patent CN2358510 (Y) (2000) – ‘Yijing magnetic intelligent magic ball’

In Chinese, by Ma Hongyu. This study aid is a similar idea to the magnetic cube made by Zachary Jones, except you can't turn the sphere inside out. I haven't come across a patent by Mr Jones for his idea so I presume he hasn't bothered.


US Patent 7445009 (2008) – ‘Spatial field effect physical therapy device’

This invention by Jibing Zheng is quite perplexing. It is 'a new type of curative instrument developed by the Institute of Taiji Culture', which is at Beijing University. Scanning quickly through the paper to try to get a grasp of what the invention was the first thing my eye set down on was this sentence: 'Conclusions: the Yijing columns have the effects of enforcing hypoxic tolerance on mice.' The second sentence that sprung out at me was: 'Experiment for Promoting White Wine Aging by the Yijing Columns.' What is this thing? This is what the abstract says (I have not attempted to correct the English):

A spatial field effect physical therapy device including a base and 64 equidistant Yijing columns fitted on the base in the form of a square by 8 rows and 8 columns, each Yijing column is at a height of 2 to 18 unit length, in the rectangle consisted of arbitrary 4 Yijing columns, the sums of the heights of the Yijing columns at the ends of each diagonal of the rectangle is equal to each other. This spatial field effect physical therapy device needn't an incoming energy and is able to cure pains in human body effectively.

What is even less clear is how it works. But looks like this:

You know that feeling you get when you realise you're not talking to a learned professor but a nutter? I often felt like that when I was an editor at 'The Lancet', but I was assured the papers had been peer-reviewed. With patents, anyone can just walk in off the street. If you haven't found out how the invention works in two minutes of reading, let alone what it actually is, you begin to suspect the worst. I was just getting the idea that it worked by magic and cured everything, when I came across a highly technical section involving the Stefan–Boltzmann constant! (I was slightly relieved to see that it was mispelt). Conclusion: I have not the one faintest idea what this is, nor how it is supposed to work, but they clearly know how to blind by science bigtime. Even had clinical trials! What the hell would you use for a placebo? Perhaps another set of Yijing columns.