Patent Pending

The Supreme Court may soon reinvent the rules for invention

Barbed Wire was designed for "preventing cattle from breaking through wire-fences," Glidden writes in his application. (United States Patent and Trademark Office)

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Cotton Gin
Inventor: Eli Whitney
Date: March 14, 1794
Of Note: Only the 72nd patent overall (the first was a method for making pot ash). Whitney's gin was approved by James Madison, a key implementer of the Constitution's patent clause (Article I, paragraph 8, section 8)

McCormick's Reaper
Inventor: Cyrus McCormick
Date: June 21, 1834
Of Note: "It was perfect for farming the Midwest, but not for the rocky soils of New England," van Dulken says. "It helped encourage migration west."

Barbed Wire
Inventor: Joseph F. Glidden
Date: November 24, 1874
Of Note: Designed for "preventing cattle from breaking through wire-fences," Glidden writes in his application.

Cigarette rolling machine
Inventor: James A. Bonsack
Date: March 8, 1881
Of Note: As with the sewing machine, shoe lasting and linotype, Bonsack's invention was a facilitator of "things had been previously done by hand," van Dulken says.

Inventor: Mary P. Jacob
Date: November 3, 1914
Of Note: Claims to solve the problem of garments that required tying laces in the back, which interfered with "the wearing of evening gowns cut low."

Frozen Foods
Inventor: Clarence Birdseye
Date: August 12, 1930
Of Note: The food would have "substantially" the same structure as it had before it was frozen, and would retain "its pristine qualities and flavors," Birdseye writes.

Inventor: George de Mestral
Date: September 13, 1955
Of Note: This invention is a result of a new technology enabling novel devices, van Dulken says. Where de Mestral's invention failed with cloth texture, it succeeded with nylon, patented in 1937 by Wallace Carothers.

Post-It Note
Inventor: Spencer Silver
Date: September 12, 1972
Of Note: In the late 1960s, Silver wandered around his lab soliciting applications for a poor-quality glue. His colleague Art Fry suggested using it for a removable bookmark.


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