Saturday, June 21, 2008

New Book: Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel

This is library conference season, so I've been racking up frequently flyer miles by the thousands. Air travel isn't as fun for me as it was pre 9/11, but spending hours in the air does give me an opportunity to catch up on my reading. On my most recent flight I finished Mr. Gatling's Terrible Marvel: The Gun that Changed Everything and the Misunderstood Genius who Invented It by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Julia Keller. The book is a biography of Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling and his most famous invention, the Gatling Gun, the first practical machine gun. (See the Economist review, "A Little Gatling Music.")

Strangely enough, Gatling claimed to have invented his machine gun in order to mitigate the pain and suffering caused by war. His reasoning, so he claimed, was that a rapid-firing weapon would require much fewer soldiers, thus reducing the size of armies and the number of battlefield casualties. Keller does a good job of capturing the essence of life in 19th century America, with all its energy, contradictions, noise and (even) odors. Central to her story is the idea that the U.S. patent system made it possible for amateurs like Gatling to drive economic development and social change farther and faster than ever before.

The book contains several factual errors and omissions. For example, Keller states that Samuel Hopkins, the first American inventor to be granted a patent under the new federal patent law in 1790, was from Pittsfield, Vermont. In fact, Hopkins was born in Maryland to Quaker parents and was a resident of Philadelphia for most of his life. (Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office, March 1998) And Although Keller mentions Gatling's many other patented inventions (his first successful invention was a seed planter patented in 1844), she provides the patent numbers for only a few: Nos. 3,581, 36,836 and 47,631). According to a Wikipedia article, Gatling's lifetime total was nearly 50 patents. It's interesting to note that searching Gatling's name in Google Patents retrieves only 12 patents.

Monday, June 09, 2008

New Patent PDF Download Tool

Patent Retriever is a new service for downloading patent documents. Launched just days ago (May 30), it will retrieve US, EP and WO (PCT) patent documents in PDF format fairly quickly, although I haven't timed it against other similar services. Users may download single documents or up to ten documents in batch download mode. It appears to retrieve some US documents from the EPO's esp@cenet database and some from the USPTO website. However, it does not appear to retrieve pre-1836 patents (X patents) or additional improvement patents.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Last night I watched a very interesting documentary by Gary Hustwit called Helvetica. It was a fascinating conversation with graphic designers about the font Helvetica, typography and graphic design. Helvetica was created in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas type foundry in Munchenstein, Switzerland and within a decade became the world's most successful and well-known font.

The story reminded me that the first U.S. design patent, issued in November 1842, was for a type font. Unfortunately, the surviving copy is a handwritten document that does not include drawings of the font. (See D1.)

The inventor (or designer) was George Bruce, a Scottish immigrant and owner of a type foundry in New York. Bruce was one of the most successful type designers in the 19th century. His inventions included numerous fonts and improvements to type-casting machines.

Since 1842 there have been thousands of design patents for fonts. Fonts are classified in the USPC under Class D18, Printing and Office Machinery, subclasses D18/24-D18/33. It's interesting to note that Bruce's first patented font is still being cited in recent design patents.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Classification Order 1877 - Class 606, Surgery

The USPTO has recently published Classification Order #1877 affecting subclasses in Class 606, Surgery. Class 606 is part of a mega-class composed of Classes 128, 600, 601, 602, 604, 606, 607. Class 606 covers surgical instruments. This is the third classification order issued this year. As of June 1, 2008, approximately 38,000 patents (1790-present) and 21,000 published applications (2001-present) are classified in Class 606.

New Patent PDF Download Tool

IP Newsflash (IPN), an information portal for IP news, official notices and case law, has added a patent document download to its suite of patent information tools. Users can retrieve a PDF copy of any patent document in the EPO's Open Patent Services (OPS) database by entering a patent or publication number. Other tools include a patent family search (with data export in XLS, DOC and XML formats), prior art search and register of EPO Board of Appeals decisions. IPN also tracks recently granted EP patents and published applications up to six months old through its EP Monitor service. Users can view graphs and lists of top applicants by IPC.

IPN is one of my favorite sites for tracking IP news. Its suite of information tools is an excellent compliment to official patent office websites.