Author: Birute Dauderiene, Senior Patent Consultant and Patent Attorney at METIDA
Inventions often carry an element of mystique: all that which has never been seen or heard sometimes which seems weird or absurd. Others understand the word ‘patent’ as something you should beware of, as it might entail huge fines and expenses.
Translated from Latin, the word ‘patents’ [Lat. patens (gen. patentis)] means open, clear. In other words, if you create something, you have to present it to the public in a clear and thorough manner. The first methods to protect inventions are believed to appear in the Ancient Greece nearly 500 years B.C. and they had to do with instruments of war.
The first official patent for an invention was issued to architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi in Florence in 1421. Brunelleschi was applying for a barge patent and got a protection for three years. Later on, patents spread from Italy to Europe and other countries of the world.
Inventions are a separate world that was built by simply creative people, scientists who have been working on a single product to make it better for years, presidents, teenagers, and purely accidental inventors.
Abraham Lincoln is the only president to have obtained a US patent for “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals” in 1849, even before he became president.
While a seventeen-year-old from New York, worried about his grandfather’s health, has designed socks that help control movement of an Alzheimer’s patient. Later followed SafeWander, a tool that helps family keep an eye on what a sick family member is doing. Now this inventor is the founder of SensaRX, a company that produces integrated healthcare technologies.
There have been more teenagers who have come up with unbelievable inventions: a sixteen-year-old girl from the US has designed a novel and fast way to diagnose the Ebola virus; a fifteen-year-old from India has created a safe method to transport vaccines that does not involve the use of cooling and electricity.
Not all the inventors have to labour on their inventions trying to improve them, as sometimes ingenious ideas are born quite by accident. For instance, in 1945, while experimenting with magnetic fields and an electronic tube (magnetron), radar engineer P. Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. By 1946, he had already patented the microwave oven.
Interestingly, Velcro strips were invented by Swedish hunter G. Mestral after the way burdocks attach themselves to people’s clothes.
In 1953, a cook from New York accidently invented potato crisps when his angry boss sent soft and soggy French fries back to the kitchen. Chef George Crum then sliced the potatoes razor-thin, fried them and seasoned them with salt. That is how crisps were born. Ironically, the cook who wanted to ruin the dinner created potato crisps instead and the owner included them on the menu under the name of Saratoga Chips.
In 1856, an eighteen-year-old chemist who was working on a malaria drug, produced a muddy thick goo in his petri dish, in which he spotted a beautiful radiant colour. That is how the first artificial dye was made.
In 1895, while experimenting with cathode radiation, William Roentgen suddenly discovered mysterious rays able to penetrate through the human body and named them ‘X rays.’
Not every inventor would protect his or her invention with patent, albeit being well aware of its tremendous value. Famous US politician, scientist, and inventor Benjamin Franklin had invented many things but refused to patent them saying that ‘as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.’
In 1955, Jonas Salk created a vaccine for poliomyelitis. Straight away, Albert Sabin invented another strain of the same vaccine. Both inventors decided not patent their inventions so that they would benefit the humankind as soon as possible. As a result, according to an estimate, Jonas Salk has lost 7 billion US dollars in unearned profit.
Much the same thing happened with insulin. F. Banting, a Canadian physician, and his student C. H. Best discovered insulin in 1921. They obtained a US patent that they sold for 1 dollar to Toronto University, which in turn gratuitously permitted pharmaceutical companies to make and distribute insulin preparations.
They say that once you have tried inventing something, it is difficult to stop. Try it. It may take a lot of effort and time, but your discoveries, big or small, will become an object of joy and pride. Quite possibly, this could be your future work, your business, or a giant leap in the progress of the mankind. It could be that it will not require any effort; just take a good look around.
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