Cracked Pokes Fun At Simultaneous Invention

from the patently-funny dept

It’s no real secret that one of the many problems with the way patents work in the United States is what happens when two or more people produce the same invention independent of one another. Unfortunately, with the USPTO’s seeming inability to judge what is obvious to those skilled in the arts and what isn’t, the result is typically the guy who got the patent first wins. We’ve discussed before how inventions that are likely inevitable shouldn't be patented, as there's little progress to reward if the progress was simple eventuality. Still, recognition is sorely lacking for how common this kind of thing is.

So, when a popular (and hysterical) site like Cracked.com decides to dedicate one of their famous lists to 5 odd cases of simultaneous invention, including well-known inventions, we hope that injecting that into the common bloodstream gets people thinking. In the process, they get in a few digs at the patent process as well.

That’s not necessarily how invention works. Aside from the fact that these scientists and inventors often work in teams, even those teams aren’t working in a vacuum. They read the scientific literature, and attend conferences, and exchange correspondence with their peers, and in general absorb the thoughts and ideas of their day, thoughts and ideas accessible to everyone else. Indeed, it turns out that many of the biggest inventions and discoveries of all time haven’t been made by a single person, but by many people, working more or less independently, in some cases barely finishing their research before they make comical sprints to the patent office, trousers hanging around their ankles.

Indeed. More over, it’s not as though these are obscure, trivial inventions that you’ve never heard of. We’re talking about things like the Polio Vaccine, the theory of relativity, and calculus. My personal favorite on the list is an invention hallmark, the telephone. It turns out that Alexander Graham Bell walked into the patent office not only on the same day as a guy named Elisha Gray, but with the intention of patenting a nearly identical invention.

What happens next is complicated. It involves lawyers, and shadowy visits to the patent office, and bribed patent clerks, and probably some great 19th century insults. The end result of it all being a huge controversy about whether Bell read Gray’s preliminary patent paperwork and copied parts of his invention. Understand that this was all before either of the men got their damned inventions to work. Indeed, Bell’s famous first words on the telephone occurred while he was testing a device that looked an awful lot like Gray’s patent application.

The point isn’t that Graham didn’t contribute. It’s that when two or more people invent the same thing simultaneously and independently of one another, the result shouldn’t be one of those people getting the kind of monopoly that could result in gold-plated testicles for all the household pets while everyone else is relegated to polishing said testicles to make a little cash. That the patent system can’t handle this kind of thing shows a clear flaw. One that hasn’t been dealt with since before the telephone, apparently.

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Comments on “Cracked Pokes Fun At Simultaneous Invention”

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28 Comments
Anonymoussays:

Shulman claims that Bell?s ?eureka moment? occurred on March 10, 1876, when the inventor made the liquid variable transmitter work, after having stolen the idea from Gray. However, Bell?s real breakthrough took place the year before on June 2, 1875, when he realized that the induction method would work? and the following day, when he constructed the so-called Gallows telephone.
Having first written down his theories in November 1874, Bell already had a very sophisticated understanding of the principles of the telephone?he was just having trouble making it work. The liquid transmitter work he did was inconsequential since he quickly returned to the induction transmitter design of the Gallows telephone. The liquid transmitter experiment simply didn?t matter, so even if the idea had been stolen it would be irrelevant.

So Bell really did invent the telephone.
Contrived stories and criminal conspiracies were left out of this stories example.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

Actually, it did matter, because without Gray’s work, the telephone would never have been usable. Thus, independent invention applies.

Moreover, this is something that has gone on for a long, long time. For example, there was recently a mechanism discovered that predates Babbage’s counting machine by over two thousand years, having been supposedly invented by Archimedes. Its use? To calculate when the next solar eclipse was going to be. And guess what? It used gearing technology that was only rediscovered within the last century.

So yeah.

Josef Anvilsays:

Re: Re: Telephone

Wow. I guess I don’t use the interwebs enough. It would seem that there were quite a few people involved in the “invention” of the telephone and it appears that some of them knew of each others work.

All this history and no one has figured out that a 5 year patent is more than enough of a head start.

Richardsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Telephone

Actually this is all barking up the wrong tree.

Question the following:

1) Why didn’t the Romans have bicycles?

2) Why was the rather strange Newcomen steam engine invented before the high pressure steam engine that was almost universal from the 1830’s onward?

3) Why do we credit Swann and Edison with the light bulb when the incandescent (tungsten filament ) bulbs that were universal from the 1920s till the 1990s were invented by someone else whos name I challenge you to quote without using Google?

The answer to all these queries is that the mechanism of an invention is almost always pretty much obvious – but the materials and manufacturing processes required to make it are not and the infrastructure required to make is useful are seldom present when it is first thought of.

The Romans had all the knowledge of gearing, wheels etc that is required for a bicycle, but no materials or manufacturing methods capable of making one that wasn’t considerably more work than walking. They also had few roads smooth enough to ride on without much painful bruising.

The Newcomen engine is much less obvious than the high pressure engine but can be made without a boiler capabl;e of sustaining a high pressure and without a tight fitting piston-cylinder combination.

Swann, Edison and the others struggling to manufacture a lightbulb that had a useable life. Making a bulb that would work for a few seconds or minutes was easy – and many did it. Swann was the first to succeed in this but Edison had priority at the (US) patent office and so Swan was forced to cut a deal with him. These two are remebered because they were on the scene when the lightbulb first became usable – but their designs were outclassed just a few years later by a couple of Hungarians who designed the bulb we all used for so many years.

The same story is clear from preceding comments about the telephone. Bell, Gray and the others had all invented the basic idea and were searching for materials and detailed methods to make it practical. They were lucky enough to be living at a time when is was practical – a few years earlier the same idea would have been unfruitful.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Telephone

Bell, Gray and the others had all invented the basic idea and were searching for materials and detailed methods to make it practical.

that’s right because IT”S THE METHOD you use that ‘makes it practical’. that you patent. So whatever method is practical (makes it work) is A METHOD that can be patented.

Not the end result, but the method of achieving that result.

I am sure you are all aware of this basic knowledge stuff, why then display such a poor understanding of it here ??

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re: Telephone

Really?

What do you think design patents cover?
Oh that is right, they cover the end result, not the method of production, not the method for reaching such design, they patent the end result.

What do you think happens when someone, patents a “method for wirelessly transferring data”?

https://www.techdirt.com/blog/wireless/articles/20111001/00365416161/patent-troll-says-anyone-using-wifi-infringes-wont-sue-individuals-this-stage.shtml

On a follow up that troll manage to get a small win in court against manufacturers of wireless equipment since they lost the antitrust case they were trying to throw at them. In the meanwhile they keep suing coffee shops, restaurants hotels and just about anyone who bought a wireless router.

That is not patenting a method.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

because the bow and arrow was first invented in Africa before man moved to other places. America, Europe, Asia then the rest of the world.

studies much history ??

why would native Australians live here for 60,000 years and hardly invent anything at all ??

Necessity is the mother of invention, they did not invent car’s or plans, or engines or bow and arrows, because THEY WERE NOT NEEDED.

that is also why it appears that inventions appear at about the same time in some cases, because necessity meets existing technology and people apply themselves to the problem.

jupiterkansassays:

It’s also a little known fact that hanging out with the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk was a professional engineer named Octave Chanute who was the leading authority on aeronautics in the country. The Wright brothers contacted him because of his authoritative book “Progress in Flying Machines” and he was there with them helping invent the first airplane. Their correspondence fills two volumes.

Oh, and they hid the airplane from the public for five years because they were afraid their ideas would get stolen. Needless to say that during those five years other people invented their own airplanes that worked, though not as well as the Wright’s plane. This forced them to make their first public demonstration in 1908.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

they in fact invented “A METHOD OF HEAVIER THAN AIR POWERED FLIGHT”

they did not invent ‘the aircraft’, or heavier than air, or power, or flight. Just A METHOD OF FLIGHT.

because we all know that you do not patent the end goal you patent a method of achieving that goal. Leaving (rightly) the door wide open for others to invent their own (possibly better) methods of achieving that same goal.

Bell invented a method of sending sound over wires, clearly others invented OTHER methods of achieve the same goal, and rightly got patents for them.

it’s sad and funny that you guys go on and on about patents when clearly you have not bothered to even try to understand what a patent is or how it works.

Again, I have to conclude this is largely due to the quality (or lack of) your education system, or simply wilful ignorance.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re: Re: Re: Re:

A patent is a monopoly plain and simple and like any monopoly it should be very limited in scope, just enough to achieve some goal.

The goal of patents is to incentivize disclosure.
It is not to make sure the inventor gets a market and it is not about the well being of the inventor.

Further patents should be about about how it was implemented and only apply to that, this is not what happens in the real world though since people discovered that they can make the language of the patent fuzzy and get more coverage of things they didn’t intend to or didn’t think of at the time of the writing.

So is sad that you can’t grasp those simple concepts.

Anonymoussays:

of course we all know a patent is a description of A METHOD of achieving a goal.

no one invented “the electric light” they all invented A METHOD OF TURNING ELECTRICITY INTO LIGHT.

That is why Edisons patent does not cover the patent for a LED !! They are both methods of converting electricity into light, but are two totally different METHODS.

It’s the method you patent, not the result.

You patent a METHOD of converting steam into mechanical energy, you don’t invent a ‘steam engine’. So there can be multiple methods that achieve the same goal and they can ALL be patented.

Timothy, do you honestly has such a poor grasp of that fundamental concept ??

Your education system appears to be highly flawed, or you must of been away that day/year.

Stuart Foxsays:

Anonymous Coward

Patents and Intellectual Property (IP) seems to be an area replete with numerous myths and misunderstandings as well as great complexity, duplication and high costs.

Many people consider that in hindsight some inventions are obvious.

Under their ‘First To Invent System’ The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a means to decide priority and who gets the patent where there is a simultaneous claim to an invention by more than one inventor – its called ‘Interference Proceadings.’

Such disputes which are / were rare anyway, are abour to end with the implementation of ‘The America Invents Act’ whererby the US will finally harmonise with the rest of the world in adoptimg a ‘First to File’ (a patent application) system.

‘Design Patent’ is a US term which essentially concerns appearence rather than the way something works or a method of doing something which in the US is termed a ‘Utility Patent’ though often the distinction is not made, thereby leading to some confusion including that a relatively small appearence change may enable circumvention of Design Patent rights. One advantage though is that both are on the one USPTO database which many also find the easiest to use.

Most other countries avoid confusion through clearly diferentiating between appearence and method / working by not including the word Patent for appearence IP – i.e. in Australia we use the terms ‘Registerd Design’ and ‘Patent.’

Whilst one may obtain a patent on the particular means of achieving the objective of an invention it is generally not possible to patent the objective itself – searching prior patents will often reveal numerous means of achieving the same objective AND it doesnt have to be a better means, just a sufficiently different way of achieving the objective.

With further harmonisation we are getting closer to emiliorating some myths + to the holy grail of IP – a single ‘World Patent’ – welcomed by some though not all but sadly still a long way to go.

Despite the difficulties good inventions improve life and the ecconomy and can be very rewarding in numerous ways.

Stuart Fox
Inventors Association of Australia

Stuart Foxsays:

Anonymous Coward

Patents and Intellectual Property (IP) seems to be an area replete with numerous myths and misunderstandings as well as great complexity, duplication and high costs.

Many people consider that in hindsight some inventions are obvious.

Under their ‘First To Invent System’ The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a means to decide priority and who gets the patent where there is a simultaneous claim to an invention by more than one inventor – its called ‘Interference Proceadings.’

Such disputes which are / were rare anyway, are abour to end with the implementation of ‘The America Invents Act’ whererby the US will finally harmonise with the rest of the world in adoptimg a ‘First to File’ (a patent application) system.

‘Design Patent’ is a US term which essentially concerns appearence rather than the way something works or a method of doing something which in the US is termed a ‘Utility Patent’ though often the distinction is not made, thereby leading to some confusion including that a relatively small appearence change may enable circumvention of Design Patent rights. One advantage though is that both are on the one USPTO database which many also find the easiest to use.

Most other countries avoid confusion through clearly diferentiating between appearence and method / working by not including the word Patent for appearence IP – i.e. in Australia we use the terms ‘Registerd Design’ and ‘Patent.’

Whilst one may obtain a patent on the particular means of achieving the objective of an invention it is generally not possible to patent the objective itself – searching prior patents will often reveal numerous means of achieving the same objective AND it doesnt have to be a better means, just a sufficiently different way of achieving the objective.

With further harmonisation we are getting closer to emiliorating some myths + to the holy grail of IP – a single ‘World Patent’ – welcomed by some though not all but sadly still a long way to go.

Despite the difficulties good inventions improve life and the ecconomy and can be very rewarding in numerous ways.

Stuart Fox
Inventors Association of Australia

websays:

patents too damn crazy.

i liked that guy on shark tank who invented a vehicle seat belt lock so you cannot start car while un-belted.

now i just need to go see my chineese friends and make these radio-signal car seat belt buckles not his hefty electrical mammoths- and make millions.

so will i get a patent? the method will be different and more cool. but just between you and me i could not have thought of it ealier before shark tank tv show.

while at it and to teach americans to stop the patent madness i intend to patent obama.

So not even the president of united states will be able to use his own name. I mean even “Jesus”, the very son of god, is already patented in america for clothes and we know christ is a 100% more cool.

Again will i get the obama patent?

Where does the patent madness end?

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