Unveiling the World of Patents: 40 Intriguing Facts

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1Jim Kent

Jim Kent

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.

2. 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.

3. 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."

4. 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.

5. 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.

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6Special Diaper Patent

Special Diaper Patent

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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

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11Laminated Safety Glass

Laminated Safety Glass

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.

12. 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.

13. 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.”

14. 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.

15. 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.

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16Vader Respirator Patent

Vader Respirator Patent

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.”

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

18. 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.

19. The 1930s starlet Hedy Lamarr invented a technology to stop Nazis from jamming Navy torpedoes, but the idea was rejected until 1962 and only implemented during the Cold War. Her frequency hopping technology has now become the basis for modern Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth.

20. Rudolph Hass, the man who grew and patented the original Hass avocado tree, didn’t make very much money despite its success as most people bought one single tree and then grew vast orchards from cuttings. He only made $5000 from his patent and remained a postman his entire life.

21Ice Machine Patent

Ice Machine Patent

In 1851, when the refrigerated ice machine was patented, the large ice-importing industry ran a smear campaign against the technology, calling it immoral.

22. Only 10 Scouts have ever earned the invention merit badge, which required obtaining a patent for an invention. It was discontinued in 1915, and it is the rarest badge out there.

23. On the LEGO model of the Back to the Future time machine, the destination date is set to January 28, 1958, the patent date for the 1st LEGO brick.

24. Antonio Meucci was a poor inventor who created a working prototype of a telephone years before Alexander Graham Bell but lost his patent due to not being able to pay a $10 fee to keep the caveat.

25. Nat Sherman Tobacco Company introduced plastic-tipped cigars to the industry. While the government never granted them a desired patent on the idea, they bluffed away any competitors for 32 years by putting “Patent Pending” on the packaging.

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