July 12, 2024

On July 12, 1933, the first Dymaxion car was completed. The car, like the name, was the brainchild of R. Buckminster Fuller. The completion marked the inventor’s 38th birthday. The car was nineteen feet in length, weighed about 2,700 pounds, and cost $8,000.  Fuller applied for a patent on October 18, 1933, and it issued as U.S. Patent No. 2,191,057 on December 7, 1937

The Dymaxion was unveiled on July 21 at the Locomobile plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to three thousand observers. Fuller himself was filmed behind the wheel of the car, which he accelerated to seventy miles per hour at Seaside Park. The mayor of Bridgeport spoke at the event, after which Fuller drove him back to city hall.

Alford F. Williams Jr., the head of the aviation products division of Gulf Refining Company, bought the prototype as a promotional vehicle for air shows. A short while later, the car was involved in a serious accident while being driven around Chicago by a Gulf employee. The prototype was severely damaged, and the driver died. Gulf repaired the vehicle, and used it at promotional events as intended. It was later sold it to an engineer who had tested it at the National Bureau of Standards. After changing hands again, it was used to advertise soft drinks, but was destroyed in 1943 when it caught fire after being refueled.

Today, only the second of three prototypes Fuller built survives, at the National Automobile Museum, in Reno, Nevada. This prototype, a small number of replicas, and photographs and newsreels are all that remain of Fuller’s vision for cars of the future.

July 10, 2024

On July 10, 1962, U.S. Patent No. 3,043,625 issued to Nils Bohlin an engineer for Volvo on the three-point safety belt:

Lap belts and even chest belts were known in the prior art. Bohlin’s invention was securing all the three points of anchoring to the vehicle itself and not to the seat. This safety belt was incorporated in Volvo cars since 1959, the year the application was filed. and Volvo made the invention freely available to other automobile manufacturers.

The idea for an air bag actually predates the three-point safety belt, the first vehicle air bag being patented by Hetrick (U.S. Patent No. 2,649,311) in 1953:

However, the first airbags were not ready for prime time. and it was not until the 1970 that airbags started to be incorporated into cars, and not until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when they were widely available. It was not until September 1, 1998, that the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 finally made air bags mandatory on cars and light trucks.

July 9, 2024

On July 9, 1877, the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club began its first law tennis tournament at Wimbledon. Among the winners of the Wimbledon tournament during its storied history is a least one inventor — an entrepreneur and master marketer, knowns as the Crocodile. Rene Lacoste, who won the tournament in 1925 and 1928, was the inventor on several patents, including U.S. Patent No. 3,086,777 on a Racket for Lawn-Tennis and Similar Games (one of the early steel tennis rackets):

U.S. Patent No. 3,078,098, on Tennis Rackets and the Like (which old timers may recognize as the T-2000 wielded by Jimmy Connors):

U.S. Patent No. 3,502,331 on Rackets for Tennis or Similar Games:

U.S. Patent No. 1,777,976 on a Ball Throwing Device:

U.S. Patent No. 2,927,326 on Shirts with Attached Collars:

Jean Rene Lacoste died October 12, 1996, at the age of 92, but his name lives on in the sportswear company that bears his name. The Crocodile, sportsman, entrepreneur, and inventor.

July 7, 2024

On July 7, 1936, U.S. Patent No. 2,046,343, 2,046,837, 2,046,838, 2,046,839, and 2,046,840 issued to Henry F. Phillips all relating to a “screw having a head, a tool receiving recess formed in the head of the screw, said recess comprising a plurality of radially disposed tool receiving grooves,” i.e., the Phillips head screwdriver.

However, Phillips was not the first to invent a screw with a cruciform recess — that honor belongs to J.P. Thompson, who obtained U.S. Patent No. 1,908,080 three years before Phillips:

So why is it a Phillips Head Screwdriver, not a Thompson Head Screwdriver?

Thompson approached many screw manufacturers, all of whom said his screw was impossible to manufacture because the punch needed to create the recess would destroy the screw head. Thompson concluded the whole idea was not manufacturable, confiding in an acquaintance named Henry Phillips who became intrigued with the idea and offered to buy the rights to the patent.

Phillips, an engineer, immediately formed the Phillips Screw Company revised the design and began revisiting many of the same manufacturers that had previously rejected Thompson. Finally, he met with success at American Screw, the nation’s largest screw manufacturer. Phillips convinced General Motors to use the screws on the 1937 Cadillacs. By 1940, 85% of the screw manufacturing companies had a license to produce the Phillips screw recess design.

This is another lesson in successful inventing: Not only do you have the envision the benefits of the invention, but you have to be able to get others to envision those benefits as well.

July 5, 2024

78 years ago today, on July 5, 1946, Louis Réard introduced his two-piece swimsuit design to the press and the public at the Piscine Molitor, a popular public pool in Paris. The swimsuit was modeled by Micheline Bernardini, an “exotic dancer” who worked at the Casino de Paris, because more reputable models refused to wear the suit, which consisted of just four triangles of fabric, totalling about 30 square inches.

There had been two-piece swimsuits before. Just a few months earlier, Ii May 1946, Jacques Heim produced a two-piece swimsuit that he named the “Atome.” Heim hired skywriters to fly above the Mediterranean coast advertising the Atome as “the world’s smallest bathing suit.” Réard’s swimsuit was more daring because it was smaller, and for the first time exposed the wearer’s navel.

Réard introduced his design four days after the first test of a nuclear weapon at the Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946. The newspapers were full of news about it and Réard wanted to capitalize on the publicity so he named is suit the “bikini.” Réard, with an obvious flair for marketing, hired his own skywriters to fly over the French Riviera advertising his design as “smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.”  In the 1950’s Réard advertised that it wasn’t a true bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.”

Less than two weeks from its introduction, Réard applied for French Design protection on his “Costume de bain 2 pièces.” The design was published as 31778 in Volume 374, pages 23-25, on December 17, 1946, and he received Reg. No. 35473-004.

It took a few years for society to catch up to Réard’s daring design, but by the 1960’s the bikini was mainstream. In August 1960, Brian Hyland famously sang about the “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikiini.”

Réard opened a bikini shop in Paris and sold swimsuits until he retired in 1980 and moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he died in 1984 at the age of 87.

An interesting side note is that Louis Réard was a mechanical engineer who took over his mother’s lingerie business in about 1940 and became a clothing designer.

July 4, 2024

Today marks the 248th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It seems we mark the day more than the underlying event. But in the past the Declaration was more widely celebrated, including in patents.

U.S. Patent No. 8,936, which issued February 1, 1875, on a Design for Fan, that is printed,
stained, embossed, or painted the coat of arms of the original thirteen Federal States,
upon the lower end of a shield upon which, and above the coat of arms, is the name of
one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from the State or Colony whose coat
of arms is shown upon the same shield:

U.S. Patent No. 7829 issued on November 3, 1874, on a medal that consists of “a representation on one side of said medal of Carpenter’s Hall, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania” and “representation on the other side of said medal of the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.”

U.S. Patent No. D8000, issued January 12, 1875, on a design for a medal with “an allegorical picture of America, showing the Declaration of Independence to Britannia, and
holding the American flag unfurled and about to be planted on American soil.”

U.S. Patent No. D8364 issued June 1, 1875, on a design for a Fan with “an elevation of the United States Centennial Exposition Buildling, printed or otherwise produced upon the obverse sidle of the fan,” and a reverse side containing “the names of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, with representations of foliage and of articles pertaining to industrial pursuits, and at the central upper part a medallion likeness of Washington, surrounded by the national flag and surmounted by the words “ E Pluribus Unum,” the centennial dates 1776—1876, the representation of an eagle, and of a galaxy of stars.

U.S. Patent 8581 issued August 24, 1875, on a Medal of a tree whose thirteen roots
represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States, the names of which are placed
upon the roots. The trunk has, at its base, the words “Declaration of Independence’
around the date 1776, and the word “Constitution” along its length upward. The eighteen
branches represent the eighteen administrations, which are indicated by the names of the
Presidents of the United States thereupon. Upon the foliage the names of the thirty-seven
States and twelve Territories now comprising the Union are written:

U.S. Patent No. 8593 issued August 31, 1875, on a Flag on design consists of a tree, whose
thirteen roots represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States, the names of
which are written upon the roots. The trunk has at its base the words, “Declaration of In
dependence’ around the date 1776, and the word “Constitution’ along its length upward.
The eighteen branches represent the eighteen administrations, which are indicated by the
names of the Presidents of the United States thereupon. Upon the foliage the names of
the thirty-seven States and twelve Territories now composing the Union are written. The words “The Century Plant” are written above the tree, and beneath them the date 1876. Below the tree is a monogram of the initials J. C. D., and the whole is surrounded by a border of one hundred linked circles, and the dates beginning with 1776 and ending with

U.S. Patent No. D8876 issued December 28, 1875, on Printing or Weaving of Silk or Other Fabrics, features the preamble and signatures from the Declaration of Independence:

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July, and make sure to remember the document and its authors who made our freedom to do so possible.

July 3, 2024

Ninety-five years ago today, E.A. Murphy and Eric Owen made the first foam rubber at the Dunlop Latex Development Laboratories in Birmingham, England, using an ordinary kitchen mixer.

Dunlop Rubber Company Limited had filed a Great Britain application on March 21, 1929, and filed a corresponding application in the U.S. on March 20, 1930, which eventually issued on April 5, 1932, as U.S. Patent No. 1,852,447:

The patent explained that “the froth or lather may be formed by beating or stirring the material with paddles of the wire mesh type or with stirrers of the type used in cake mixing
or egg beating machines or it may be formed by blowing air or other suitable gas into the
dispersions or emulsions either alone or in conjunction with beating or whipping devices. The froth or rubber dispersion thus obtained may be formed to any desired shape as for example by pouring it into open molds and permitting it to set.”

While the original foamed latex has been replaced with foamed urethanes, think how much harder (literally and figuratively) life would be without foam rubber.

July 1, 2024

45 years ago today, the Sony introduced the Walkman. Sony never pursued patent protection on the Walkman, believing it to be an innovation, not an invention. However, al little more than two years earlier, in March 1977 Andreas Pavel filed a patent application for his “Stereobelt” in Italy, followed by applications in Germany, United States, United Kingdom, and Japan.

Negotiations between Pavel and Sony began in 1980 and ended in 1986 with Sony agreed to pay Pavel limited royalties for the sales of certain Walkman models sold in Germany. The second round between Pavel and Sony began in 1990 in England and Wales, ending in 1993 with the court holding Pavel patent invalid for being “obvious and not significantly inventive,” leaving Pavel with a seven-figure attorney fee award to pay. On appeal Pavel tried to show non-obviousness through the commercial success of the Walkman, but the court rejected this, instead attributing the success to Walkman’s form factor, minimal operating power, and ability to reproduce high-quality sound at reasonable cost as key reasons for its appeal and popularity. The third and final round began in 2004, with Pavel threatening to file infringement proceedings in the remaining countries where he held patent, and Sony reportedly agreeing to a cash payment in the “low eight figures” and ongoing royalties of the sale of certain Walkman models.

Pavel told The New York times that he approached several electronics manufacturers but said he was met with rejection and ridicule. “They all said they didn’t think people would be so crazy as to run around with headphones, that this is just a gadget, a useless gadget of a crazy nut.” 45 years later, it’s hard to find someone running around without headphones. So it is with inventors — they see what the rest of us miss.