Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Herman Hollerith was working at the US Census Bureau in 1884 when he filed his first patent entitled “Art of Compiling Statistics”, US 395,782.   It was a method is using punch cards to electronically tabulate the census data.  The census process, which generally took 8 years to complete, was finish in 1 year using Hollerith’s method.  He founded the Tabulating Machine Recording Co. to build these machines for the Census Bureau. In 1911 three other companies merged with him to form the Computing Tabulating Recording Co which in 1924 became the International Business Machine, or IBM. IBM is the assignee of more patents than any other US company.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Three Patents, Three Inventors

On November 23, 1897, there were three patents issued that improved transportation and enhanced our ability to communicate our ideas.

Pencils are a wonderful invention.  They are cheap, readily available, enabling - and almost worthless without a way to sharpen them.  By 1897, there had been many patents for pencil sharpeners - and all of them improved over using a jack-knife to whittle down the point.  But Mr. John Lee Love, a serial inventor from Fall River, Massachusetts had a better idea. He invented a very simple, portable pencil sharpener that many artists use to this day.  The pencil was put into the opening of the sharpener and rotated circumferentially by hand.  One advantage is that the shavings stayed inside the sharpener.  The invention had two gears and a blade to sharpen the Pencil as shown in the drawing.  Mr. Love was awarded U.S. Patent No. 594,114 for his invention.

In 1897, no one had yet figured out a safe, easy way to couple railroad cars together - and to decouple them when necessary - that is, until another serial inventor, Mr. Andrew Jackson Beard of Eastlake Alabama came along.  Mr. Beard invented the "Jenny Coupler," that allowed two railroad cars to hook together by simply bumping into each other.  In Mr. Beard's invention, a pair of "horizontal jaws engage each other to connect the cars," thus saving countless lives and limbs. Mr. Beard's invention is the very coupler used on railroad cars all over the world today. He was awarded U.S. Patent No. 594,059 for his invention but he never practiced it.  Instead, he sold the rights to his patent for $50,000, a tidy sum in those days.

If you want to build an electric trolley car, you might want to become familiar with U.S. Patent No. 594,286, awarded to Mr. Elbert R. Robinson, another serial inventor from Chicago IL.  Trolley cars are heavy.  So the electric motors that drive them draw a lot of electric current.  The problem was that the conventional wheels had too much electrical resistance.  Mr. Robinson solved the problem by casting a composite wheel from two different metals such as iron and brass wherein the brass was in a groove that made electrical contact with the track.  This invention permitted an entirely new way of constructing trolley wheels and enabled the wheels to draw current from an electrically charged track without heating up unnecessarily.  While Mr. Robinson's invention is no longer in use, it can be said that he made significant advances, not only to the art of building trolley cars but to materials science and metallurgy.

These three inventors were from different parts of the country and worked in different fields of endeavor but they had one thing in common.  All three were African Americans.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Laser in Mr. Gould's Notebook

On November 9, 1957, Mr. Gordon Gould, of New York, New York, started writing down a description of an optical device he called a “laser” in his notebook.  It was a Saturday night and he couldn’t sleep. The following Wednesday, he found a Notary Public at a local store near his apartment and had his idea witnessed and notarized. 

His description was entitled "Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.”  It was a complete description of his invention in which he combined the concept of optical pumping of atomic excited states with the use of a resonant optical cavity called a Fabry-PĂ©rot interferometer, a kind of fipple flute for light.  It was this combination that permitted emission of the intense, coherent, focused beam of light that would revolutionize communications, medicine, entertainment and almost every other aspect of our lives.

Here is the problem:  Mr. Gould did not file for a patent until 1959.  Meanwhile,  Bell Labs scientists, Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, did apply for a patent on their similar but independently conceived discovery of how to make a laser - made three months after Mr. Gould's notebook entry. When Gould eventually did file in 1959, it took until 1977 to establish priority and gain the highly profitable royalties to which he was entitled. 

The story has many twists and turns, including a federal security order preventing Mr. Gould from even working on his invention because of his supposed leftist political leanings.  Meanwhile, the well connected scientists, Townes and Schawlow, received a Nobel Prize for inventing the laser and a similar device for microwaves, called a “maser.”  What turned the case in Mr. Gould’s favor was that he had written a complete description of how to make his invention in his notebook on that sleepless Saturday night, whereas the documentation for the laser provided by Townes and Schawlow did not include enabling instructions for building a laser.

Eventually, Gould was awarded U.S. Patents 4,053,845 and 4,704,583 and 46 other patents for his inventions – because he kept a good notebook.

Patent questions?  We can help.  See our website at http://www.patent-practice.com for more information.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mr. Frost's Bug Zapper

On this day in history, November 8, 1910, Mr. William H. Frost of Spokane, Washington was issued U.S. Patent No. 974,785 for his invention of an "electric insect destroyer." As shown, the invention had a number of  parallel electrically energized wires of different polarity, set up so that a flying insect passing between the wires would cause a spark to  jump the wires and zap the insect. Shown at left are wires and tensioners to keep the parallel segments taut. Also shown on the interior of the array of wires is a light bulb to attract the insects.  The charge on the wires was supplied using an induction coil and a battery. The patent specification described a flat frame and a cylindrical arrangement.