The Corporate Law Group

10,000,000 Patents

The USPTO just issued patent number 10,000,000 (patent numbering was reset in 1836) to Raytheon for, “Coherent Ladar Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection.” In 1991 patent no. 5,000,000 issued. 8 years later, in 1999, patent no, 6,000,000 issued. 7 years after that, in 2006 number 7,000,000 issued. No. 8,000,000 issued 5 years later in 2011, 9,000,000 issued 4 years later in 2015 and now 10,000,000 issued 3 years later in 2018. It took 155 years for 5,000,000 to issue. And another 5,000,000 have issued in the last 27 years.

Patents are more like bridges than fences. Having a portfolio means that you have something with which to horse trade when someone else claims you infringed something. Sure, you can spend millions of dollars (tens of millions? hundreds?) pursuing an infringer, but as we pointed out just a few months ago, an unacceptably large number of those cases get tossed on appeal in response to a claim that your patent was improper when issued or that you committed fraud on the patent office by failing to identify prior art.

Does that mean you should not build a portfolio? No. Find those of your “inventions” that are not well protected by trade secret, find a good lawyer, and file patents. We know. It’s hugely expensive. But, licensors, acquirers, investors, and competitors will each take a look at the right time and they may help your journey. Sure, a patent without sales people and a distribution channel isn’t really worth much. But who knows, maybe a potential infringer pivots when faced by your patent.

Here are a few more interesting patent facts:

1. 228 years ago, on July 31, 1790, George Washington signed the grant for the first patent (for a process for making pot ash and pearl ash), held by Samuel Hopkins.

2. In 1794 Eli Whitney received patent number X72 for a “Cotton Gin.”

3. During the War of 1812 William Thornton, then commission, convinced the British to spare the patent office during the burning of Washington (the patent office burned anyhow in 1836 and 1877).

4. In 1821 Thomas Jennings received U.S. patent no. 3,306x for “Dry Scouring,” a precursor to dry cleaning. He is believed to be the first African-American to receive a patent.

5. In 1840 Samuel Morse received patent no. 1,647 for the telegraph. The related alphabetical code becomes known as Morse code.

6. In 1849 Abraham Lincoln received patent no. 6,469 for a “Manner of Buoying Vessels.” He remains the only U.S. president to ever hold a patent.

7. In 1872 Elijah J. McCoy, whose parents were slaves and escaped Kentucky for Canada, received patent no. 129,843 for an automatic lubricating device that enabled steam locomotives to run without stopping for lubrication. Legend holds that his invention worked so well that machine operators wary of cheap substitutes often requested “the real McCoy,” a phrase still in use today.

8. In 1873 Louis Pasteur received patent no. 135,245 for an “Improvement in Brewing Beer and Ale” that lays the basis for modern beer brewing methods.

9. In 1879 Parisian sculptor Auguste Bartholdi received design patent no. 11,023 for a monumental sculpture depicting “Liberty enlightening the world,” in the form of a lady holding a torch.

10. In 1880 Thomas Edison received patent no. 223,898 for an “Electric Lamp.” It is the first commercially viable lightbulb. Edison is the inventor or co-inventor on over 1,000 U.S. patents.

11. In 1888 Nikola Tesla received patent no. 381,968 for an “Electro-Magnetic Motor,” the basis for modern electric induction motors.

12. In 1891 Seth Wheeler received patent no. 459,516 for a toilet paper roll.

13. In 1899 patent commissioner Charles Duell supposedly said that, “Everything that can be invented has been invested,” but the quote may be traceable to a joke in an 1899 edition of humor magazine Punch.

14. In 1904 Guglielmo Marconi received patent no. 757,559 for a “Wireless-Telegraph System” (radio).

15. In 1906 the Wright Brothers received patent no. 821,393 for a “Flying-Machine.”

16. In 1915 Alexander Samuelson received design patent no. 48,160 for a “Bottle or Similar Article” helping identify Coca-Cola.

17. In 1932 Otto F. Rohwedder received patent no. 1,867,377 for a “Machine for slicing an entire loaf of bread at a single operation.” He also receives patent no. 1,816,399 for packaging sliced bread, and his inventions are still the best thing since they were invented.