Patents are the legal records of innovations and inventions. Patents help inventors protect their ideas and keep other people from copying them. In order for inventors to get a patent, they must apply for them through individual country governments who grant them “territorial rights” to the technical information that the inventor conveys in their application. Once the government approves the patent, it is granted and filed for records. Patents are typically good for twenty years from the filing date and maybe applied to any form of technology and innovation not previously filed.
A lot of scholars and lawyers use the term “intellectual property,” especially when discussing patents. Intellectual property is a term used to describe ideas or any creation or thought that is different and innovative, and these ideas can thus be patented, copyrighted, or trademarked. These actions protect people from being copied and having their ideas stolen. Intellectual property can refer to any invention, innovation, design, theory, or artistic work. Patents typically protect people’s inventions, but trademarks and copyrights can protect people’s artistic ideas and discoveries. For more information on patents, Crash Course has a very thorough and entertaining video regarding the topic of patents.
Today, many people acquire and collect historic records and diagrams from patents. They serve as an artistic and historic account of inventions and thought from former times. Historians, antiquarians, restorers, historic preservationists, architects, engineers, lawyers, and many other people might find patents particularly interesting because of their field of work, and many ordinary people who can appreciate the artistry and ingenuity can find value in the collection of historic patents.
Patents serve as a good resource for finding out the specifics of inventions as they detail what the inventions are, the construction and materials that make up the invention, and the overall purpose or goal of the invention. Since they convey so much information, they are great historical resources and documents and might be valuable to many people such as scholars, collectors, preservationists, and reenactors.
People who might find a lot of value in patents are people that are interested in the restoration and preservation of cars, aircraft, clothing, or really any other kind of material culture. Patents also have diagrams that depict exactly what the item or invention looks like which allows historical interpreters to know exactly what material items looked like during the time that they were produced. Many times, patents will also include a specification sheet, that explains exactly how the invention or innovation was made, what materials were used to make it, and why that invention or innovation was significant during the time that it was filed. They can also detail what materials were available in what locations at the time that the invention was created and can give historians and preservationists information about the common materials that were used by people during the timeframe that the product was produced. For example, these patents can convey what types of metal were most typically used in production of the invention and why inventors chose what materials they used. Patents can clearly spell out specific detailed information that people that are involved in restoration need to recreate such items and establish the historicity of their projects.
The artistry and aesthetic that the diagrams from patents provide might also interest a lot of people. Many of the diagrams that make up historical patent diagrams are very artfully done. Patents from the eighteenth and nineteenth century were drawn by hand and printed using stone lithography (a blog post about lithography will be published later). Because artists and patent offices used such methods, shading and details from the lithography process, create really original and beautiful prints. Shading and detailed lines are really pronounced in lithographic works, and thus, such patents can be valued as works as art. Many people use diagrams from patents to decorate their homes and offices. Also, the innovations, inventions, tools, and technology that are depicted in these patents are typically implemented in all facets of life; there are patents that represent all types of interests and niches. Patents cover varied inventions and innovations such as cars, airplanes, fashion, cosmetics, games, toys, and many more activities. Patents can serve as art for anyone with such hobbies and interests and can help people decorate their spaces pertaining to their own tastes and pastimes.
Patents also represent the uniqueness and inventiveness of the objects that they represent. Patents cannot be filed if they are not unique enough or if the item has already been invented. Therefore, they are representations of original ideas and things. Nearly every idea and invention has been patented in the modern era; so, the patents themselves represent the resourcefulness and time from which they came. For example, imagine the original patent of Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. The patent for the lightbulb represents a one-of-a-kind invention that was advanced and revolutionary and demonstrates how unique it was for the nineteenth century.
Thomas Edison's Patent Application for the Light Bulb, January 27, 1880, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, National Archives, accessed May 28, 2019, https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/edisons-light-bulb-patent.
Patents can also represent crazy and unique ideas. Many blogs and publications have noted these outlandish ideas including: National Geographic’s “These Are the Cleverest, Weirdest Mapping Ideas Ever Patented,” Mental Floss’ “11 of America’s Most Inspiring Cup Holder Patents,” Smithsonian’s “Patents (Only) a Mother Could Love,” and World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) “Historical Patents—Weird and Wonderful,” and “Patent Picks—Weird and Wonderful.” All of these articles illustrate the strange and interesting nature that some inventions and patents demonstrate. There certainly are some creative, original, and interesting inventors and inventions!
Furthermore, historical patents preserve the legacy of famous inventors and inventions. Thomas Edison filed many patents that serve as a great primary resources and insights into his life and works. These documents allow the viewer to examine how Edison perceived his inventions and examine their ingenuity from the period in which they invented. Patents are records from the people that filed them, and since there were so many technological advancements that occurred from the Industrial Revolution, patents serve as some of the best documents to preserve the legacy of that era. Patents were filed by nearly every inventor from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that not only included Edison but also include inventors such as Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell, George Westinghouse, and George Washington Carver. Patents can benefit anyone interested in these prodigious people who are very prominent when studying industrial-era history and can lend themselves to studying different historical interpretations from these great minds and make great primary sources from the actual time that the inventors and the inventions.
Patent filed by Nikola Tesla, October 17, 1910, Maymont Group Collection.
Maymont Group is an organization that collects and sells original patents that date from the nineteenth and twentieth century. We collect the original documents that the inventors filed, and all of our patents are nearly over one hundred years old. We digitize the original patents and maintain the digital rights to them in order to preserve the history and intellectual knowledge that they have. It is our goal to create a database of all these patents for research and academic use. In order to fund this endeavor, once the patents are digitized, we list them on our website with the aim of selling them. Our main objective is to safeguard and preserve the ingenuity and genius of the inventors that came before us.
British Library, “What are Intellectual Property Rights?” accessed May 28, 2019, https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/articles/what-are-intellectual-property-rights.
Stacey Bredhoff, “Thomas Edison’s Patent Application for the Light Bulb (1880),” OurDocuments.gov, accessed May 28, 2019, https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=46#.
Arthur Daemmrich, “Patents and Public Goods,” Smithsonian Institute, September 25, 2015, accessed May 29, 2019, https://invention.si.edu/patents-and-public-goods.