Simply Patents: An Idea Can Be Both Simple and Patentable.

Written by: mag mag

By Joshua Krank, Attorney, SW&L Attorneys

Everyday life is filled with inventions that have become so deeply ingrained in our routines that we often take them for granted. What many people may not realize is that behind these seemingly ordinary objects lie remarkable stories of innovation and the protection of intellectual property. In this article, we delve into the world of everyday simple inventions that are or formerly were protected by patents, unveiling the hidden tales and exploring the significance of patent protection in fostering innovation. From the zipper that secures our clothing to the simple bottle cap that keeps our drinks carbonated, the extraordinary patents behind these seemingly ordinary objects show that one need not invent the 3-D printer, or the light bulb to have a great patentable idea.

The Zipper: Unlocking Convenience

Name a single person you know, who doesn’t own a piece of clothing with a zipper on it, you probably can’t. That is because the zipper has become a critical fastening device in our clothing and accessories. It’s a product of pure inventive genius. The story of the zipper begins in the late 19th century when Elias Howe (who also invented the sewing machine, but who’s counting) designed the predecessor to the modern zipper. While Howe received a patent for his invention in 1851, it failed to gain traction in the market due to manufacturing challenges and lack of public interest. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the zipper, as we know it today, began to take shape. Gideon Sundback, a Swedish-American engineer, dedicated his efforts to improving upon Howe’s initial concept..

Sundback’s breakthrough came in the form of adding interlocking metal teeth, which improved the design dramatically. This modern zipper was patented with the name “Separable fastener,” US Patent 1,219,881 on March 20, 1917. Sundback’s design revolutionized the way we close and open garments, containers, coolers, and much more, providing a convenient and efficient alternative to buttons, strings, and latches.

A popular and well known American company called B.F. Goodrich were the first to license and use Sundback’s design. They actually used them on boots before anything else. They were also the ones who coined the term “zipper” that has now become the common label for this invention. As one might imagine, the name is based on the noise a zipper makes when used.

The Idea That Stuck

Post-it Notes, those colorful and versatile sticky notes that cover our desks and bulletin boards, have become indispensable tools for communication and organization. The invention of the Post-it Note comes from Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry, whose patent from 1974, named Repositional Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive Sheet Material, U.S. Patent No. 5,194,299, protected the unique adhesive properties that allowed the notes to be easily attached, removed, and repositioned. These two guys came together, each with their own problem to solve. Their invention did in fact solve both of their problems. Spencer Silver was a 3M scientist tasked with researching strong adhesives, but inadvertently discovered an easily removable light sticking one. The problem was Silver didnt know what to do with it. That is where Arthur Fry comes in. Fry was another 3M scientist. His problem was that, while singing in his church choir, he would constantly lose the small bits of paper used to bookmark the hymns they were going to sing. Fry later attended a lecture given by Silver on the adhesive and they ended up coming together to create the modern Post-it Note. Funny enough, the yellow look was an accident, it was the only color paper they had nearby at the time

The Ball Point Pen: Mightier Than The Sword

The ballpoint pen, a writing instrument found in the pockets of millions worldwide, owes its existence to a man named Laszlo Biro. Before that though, a man named John J. Loud obtained what is technically the first patent for a ballpoint pen, US Patent Number 392,046, on 30th October 1888. Loud, being a guy who worked on leather, found his invention useful for marking thick leather, but, unfortunately, it was too rough and messy on paper. Loud’s patent eventually lapsed, which opened the door for better iterations of the pen. T

hat is where Biro came to the rescue. He was fed up with the writing tools of his time and needed to find a way to write in a cleaner, more consistent way. The first hurdle that stemmed from Loud’s version of the pen was the ink. Pens of the time used an ink/water mixture that would not work for what Biro was looking to accomplish. During summer, the ink would overflow. In winter, the ink didn’t flow at all and froze. If you changed elevation, ink would seep out of the pen due to the change in air pressure.

As a result Biro created an ink/paste mixture that would make the ink thicker, and subsequently better for his pen design. The ink/paste mixture did not leak, did not bleed through paper paper, and dried almost on contact. The design of the pen was modified only slightly to be less abrasive on paper. Thus, the modern ballpoint pen was born.

Thanks to a man named Marcel Bich, Biro’s pen was sold in the US. While Biro himself never really achieved mass market success with the pen, Marcel Bich licensed the designs of the ballpoint pens by Biro for two million dollars. After obtaining the licenses to make, use, and sell Biro’s patented pens, he formed the Bic Company in 1953.

Paper Clips: The Reusable Staple

The humble paper clip, a staple in offices and households worldwide, has its own history of patent protection. The history of the paper clip patent dates back to the late 19th century when the need for a reliable and efficient means of securing paper documents became increasingly apparent. Although the exact origins of the paper clip are somewhat disputed, it was during this time that several inventors were striving to develop a practical solution.

In 1867, Samuel B. Fay, an American inventor, was the first to receive a patent for a bent wire clip, which was originally intended primarily for attaching tickets to fabric. His invention featured a single piece of bent wire with two parallel loops at the ends, allowing for easy insertion and removal of papers. However, Fay’s patent did not gain significant attention or commercial success.

The most common type of wire paper clip still in use is known as the Gem paper clip. This is the one we all recognize as the paper clip. Funny enough, this design was never patented, but it was most likely already in production in Britain as early as the 1870s thanks to “The Gem Manufacturing Company”.

By 1899, Definite proof that the modern type of paper clip was well known. This is because of a patent granted to William Middlebrook for a “Machine for making wire paper clips.” Middlebrook’s design aimed to enhance the manufacturing process, allowing for more efficient and cost-effective production of paper clips. He made the machine for the Gem Manufacturing Company.

Then came Johan Vaaler, who had at one point in time been erroneously labeled as the inventor of the paper clip. He was granted a patent in 1901 for a paper clip of similar design to the gem paper clip. However, Vaaler’s design was less functional and practical, because it only used a once turned wire, which would pierce paper and didn’t hold papers together as well. His version was never manufactured and never marketed because the gem paper clip was already available.

Bottle Caps: Bottled Up Successs

The history of the bottle cap patent is closely tied to the rise of the bottled beverage industry and the need for an effective sealing mechanism to preserve the freshness and carbonation of drinks. In the late 19th century, the bottling industry faced a significant challenge in finding a reliable closure system for their products. Traditional methods such as corks and stoppers were inadequate for preserving the carbonation in carbonated beverages.

In 1892, an inventor named William Painter revolutionized the bottling industry with his invention, the crown cork. Painter’s design featured a metal cap with corrugated edges and a rubber lining. The cap could be securely sealed onto a bottle using a capping machine, creating an airtight seal and effectively preserving the carbonation inside. They were designed to be inexpensive, one-time use devices. They also proved to be completely leakproof, which worked perfectly for sealing carbonated beverages. Painter received U.S. patent no. 468,258 for the invention in 1892. Painter also patented the first bottle cap lifter, which is commonly known as the “bottle opener.”

Everyday inventions protected by patents are far more than meets the eye. From the zipper to the bottle cap, these inventions have permeated the way most live their lives and become integral to modern society. They embody the power of human ingenuity, problem-solving, and creativity. Delving into the stories behind these seemingly ordinary objects reveals a deeper appreciation for the simplicity of ingenuity. These inventors didn’t require advanced degrees or other specialized knowledge to create their inventions. They only required problems that needed to be fixed, or something to improve upon. As we embrace the convenience and reliability of everyday inventions, we should remember that behind each lies a patent, an inventor, and an idea.

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