50 Fascinating Facts Concerning Patents

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1Insulin Patent

When Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1923, he refused to put his name on the patent. He felt it was unethical for a doctor to profit from a discovery that would save lives. Banting’s co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for $3, which then gave pharmaceuticals the rights to manufacture Insulin without royalties and to improve the formula in order to make the drug better and accessible to as many diabetics as possible at the lowest cost possible.


2. In 1990, Dr. Mary-Claire King discovered the human gene BRCA1 which is linked to breast cancer. Soon after, Myriad Genetics cloned and patented it. She was sent a cease-and-desist letter to stop researching it. Finally, in 2013, US Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented.


3. When a teenager named Peter Roberts invented a quick-release ratchet, he sold his patent to Sears for $10,000 who said that the invention was not worth very much. Sears then went on to make $44 million selling the ratchet. Peter Roberts later sued Sears for fraud and was awarded $1 million.


4. A retired American heart and lung surgeon has patented a scuba suit that would allow a human to breathe “liquid air”, like in the movie ‘The Abyss.’ He has simulated 1000 foot dives with mammals and has decompressed them in less than half a second with no decompression sickness.


5. Alexander Graham Bell offered to sell his telephone patent to Western Union for $100,000 in 1876. The committee appointed to investigate the offer concluded that the telephone was “hardly more than a toy” and “inherently of no use to us.”


6Coca Cola Patent

Coca-Cola never patented their “secret formula” because otherwise they would be required to disclose it to the public.


7. In 1963, Robert Kearns invented the intermittent windshield wiper, presented it to Ford Motor Company, for which he was hired. Ford fired him and took his technology. He sued Ford for patent infringement and after 12 years of litigation, at times without a lawyer, the court awarded Kearns $10.3 million.


8. UCSC grad student Jim Kent wrote a program to allow the Human Genome Project to assemble and publish the genome. The research was largely motivated by concerns that Celera Genomics, working on a parallel project, would patent the data. Kent’s results were released 3 days before Celera Genomics declared their results.


9. Artur Fischer was a German soldier who survived Stalingrad on the last plane out. After the war, he went on to invent many ubiquitous items such as the synchronized camera flash, the plastic wall anchor and held over 1100 patents before dying at the age of 96.


10. Volvo opened up the patent for three-point seatbelt cause "it had more value as a free life-saving tool than something to profit from."


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11Waterbed

The waterbed was invented in 1833 by a Scottish Physician. He intentionally did not patent it so that anyone could design their own variation of the waterbed and it could help as many people as it could who were suffering from bedsores.


12. Dr. Patricia Bath restored eyesight to millions of people suffering from cataracts thanks to her invention of the Laserphaco Probe. Among her multiple firsts, she was the first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology and the first African-American female doctor to receive a medical patent.


13. In 1987, actress Jamie Lee Curtis invented and patented a diaper modification, a moisture-proof pocket containing wipes for easy access. She refused to allow it to be marketed until companies started selling biodegradable diapers. Her patent expired in 2007 and is now in the public domain.


14. Aircraft inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont believed air travel would bring peace to the world so he filed no patents and offered his designs free yet burned all his designs when he was accused of being a German spy during World War 2 and committed suicide after seeing aircrafts being used in warfare in the 1930s.


15. The patent for toilet paper (filed in 1891) features an illustration that would imply that the correct way a roll should be placed would be so that the paper hangs over, and not under.


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16Microwave Oven

In 1945, a school dropout and self-taught electrical engineer named Percy Spencer was working at Ratheon. He stepped in front of a magnetron, a device that powers radars. He noticed a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. Later that year, he filed a patent for the first microwave oven.


17. Abraham Lincoln, prior to becoming President, was an avid boater and traveled on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers where his boat often got stuck on sandbars. In 1849 Lincoln invented a method for buoying vessels over shoals, making him the first and only U.S. president to receive a patent.


18. Laminated safety glass was invented by chemist Édouard Bénédictus after a lab accident in 1903. A glass flask coated with the plastic cellulose nitrate was dropped, shattering but not breaking into pieces. In 1909, he filed a patent after he heard of a car accident causing injury by glass debris.


19. When the leading emergency asthma medication Albuterol’s patent expired, the patent-holding pharmaceutical companies lobbied to have their own inhalers banned based on environmental issues, allowing them to file a new patent, and continue to monopolize the market.


20. Even though Benjamin Franklin is credited with many popular inventions, he never patented or copyrighted any of them. He believed that they should be given freely and that claiming ownership would only cause trouble and “sour one’s Temper and disturb one’s Quiet.”


21USB Patent

Ajay V. Bhatt, an Indian-born American computer architect who led the Intel team that invented the USB (Universal Serial Bus), regrets not making it reversible. It would have doubled the cost, which was a hard sell at the time, “[b]ut in hindsight, we blew it.” He holds 132 patents and counting.


22. In 1915, Independent filmmakers fled from New Jersey to California, both for the advantageous climate and to get away from Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patent Company, whose heavy-handed demands included the use of Mob thugs to demand payments on cameras, projectors, and the films themselves. Edison’s thugs often destroyed movie sets because he felt that he owned the rights to any and all film made since he filed the first patent for the motion picture camera.


23. The sound of Darth Vader mask’s respirator function is trademarked in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under Trademark #77419252 and is officially described in the documentation as “The sound of rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator.”


24. The Playboy Bunny outfit was the first service uniform registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


25. Harvard’s first black faculty member was a dentist. Dr. George Franklin Grant joined the Department of mechanical dentistry in 1871. Also an inventor, he patented the wooden golf tee. Previously, golfers carried around buckets of sand, placing their balls on little piles as they went.

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