A Navy researcher has been awarded a patent for what he describes as "fiber optics without the fiber" to transmit secure data.

Matthew Sheehan, a research engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD), was given a first action allowance and patent award by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for one-way data transmission from an open network to a closed network, said a Navy announcement.

The invention is a Light Information Transmitting Optical System, or LITOS, Sheehan said. It transmits data using visible light communication via free space optics.

"In other words, it's like communicating over fiber optics without the fiber. This invention ensures the ability to get message traffic from point A to point B in a safe and reliable manner," he said. "More specifically, the system allows communicating from the low or unclassified side … to the high or classified side."

The technology preserves with the Navy calls an "air gap" isolating a network from other systems, while allowing communications. Because it is able to transmit data with light through the air, no actual connections are needed, Sheehan said.

"Think of a lighthouse as propagating light through the air," he said. "My invention is the same principle, utilizing free space optics or light to transmit data from one location to another."

Chris Monsey, an attorney who assisted Sheehan in the patent process, said the first action allowance shows " this patent is worthy of particular attention both for tech transfer but, more importantly, for the Navy as it shows that the capability this system can provide represents state-of-the-art for this cybersecurity capability."