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Invention

10/01

Turns out it is OK to Sing to Grandma

Or your toddler, or friends at work, or whoever else you may want to serenade with “Happy Birthday.”  Actually, it probably always was, but we will get to that in a moment.

In the federal court decision of Rupa Mara et al v. Warner Chappell Music et al, (http://www.scribd.com/doc/282475897/Rupa-Mara-Et-Al-v-Warner-Chappell-Music-Et-Al), federal district court judge George H. King ruled that the copyright for “Happy Birthday to You” was invalid.  Judge King went as far as to say that none of the various companies that have held the copyright to the song over the past eighty years, and by extension collected the royalties on it, held a valid copyright to it.  This included the most recent company to hold the rights, Warner Chappell.

For many, when (if) they heard news of the case, it was probably somewhat shocking that something like “Happy Birthday” could even have a copyright.  Because it has been around so long and is so frequently sung this seems almost ridiculous.  It seems “a gimme” that this song must be in the public domain.  In fact, this was even brought up in the case, as evidence was brought forward that the song has existed for some 125 years.  Clearly copyright protections can’t run that long, right?

Well, here’s where the legaleez gets a little fuzzy.  First of all, the copyright was first granted in 1935, so even though the song is older, its protection is not.  Furthermore, the judge ruled that the copyrights to the song only belonged to the musical accompaniment of it, and even then only to a specific piano version.  This would seem to set the song free, as most people probably don’t provide a piano accompaniment to the song as they are singing around the kitchen table.

But, and here is where the lawsuit becomes important, family and friend get-togethers are obviously not the only times that people gather round and sing off key to this song.  These other times are when the copyright in enforced – in situations where the song is used in moneymaking ventures.  For example, if the song appears in a movie, the makers of the movie had been obligated to pay a royalty, which is probably why you almost never see the song being sung in movies (think about it).

But it has appeared in some movies.  One example would be the 1994 movie “Hoop Dreams,” in which they had to pay $5,000 to include it for all of nine seconds.  Well, what’s $5,000 for a big Hollywood studio?  Turns out for “Hoop Dreams” that was a pretty significant chunk of its budget, since it was self-funded in part through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and only spent $700,000 in the making of the whole movie.

In fact, there were enough of these seemingly minor instances to add up to some serious cash.  Add them all up, and the song brings in about $2 million per year in royalties.  Royalties that will no longer be collected.

So what about the private performance around the dining room table of the song.  Turns out private is the key word.  As long as it isn’t a public performance the copyright laws do not apply.  So, I’m not sure where that leaves the famous singing of Happy Birthday to JFK by Marilyn Monroe, but I may have to watch again strictly for research purposes.

US Patent Services

You don’t have to Search far to find this Invention

This week we celebrate one of the most used inventions of the modern era.  If you are reading this, odds are you probably have used this invention to find us.  That’s right, September 4 is the anniversary of the registering of Google.com as a domain.

As this image shows if you are an internet user in the Western world, odds are that you are pretty reliant on Google.

google map

Courtesy of the Daily Mail

According to the map it is the most visited website in much of the world, and that is not just limited to browsers, as evidenced by the fact that many in Latin America use Facebook more than anything else (side note:  notice how Japan is still loyal to Yahoo).  But obviously, like any invention, Google didn’t just immediately take off.  There of course was a backstory to it.

According to Google itself, the infancy of the company began when co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin first met.  Page, who had already graduated from the University of Michigan, was considering moving on to Stanford and took a visit to school.  Brin was assigned to show him around the campus.  In spite of the fact that both of them recall that their first impression of the other was that they were obnoxious, by 1996 the two had already invented their first server, which they named BackRub.  BackRub lasted for slightly more than a year before the two began to focus their energy on Google.

From there, the company took off rapidly.  After being registered in 1998, it was soon receiving start-up funding and incorporated in California.  However, keep in mind that this time period was still somewhat the infancy of the internet for many people.  In fact, the battle for internet supremacy didn’t even involve Google Chrome, it was between Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and the former king of the browsers, Netscape Navigator (remember them)?

Ten years later Google was still not yet the king of the hill, as this very cool time lapse map indicates (Browser Popularity by Country).  Since then, though, it seems to be all Google all the time.  Want to search for something?  Use Google.  Create a document?  Google.  Get directions?  More Google.  Purchase a driverless car?  Well, not quite yet.

But what, besides simple habit today, was it about Google that made it so popular?  Many believe that the answer is quite simple:  as a search engine, it was better than the alternatives.  This was accomplished by Page and Brin working together to make Google search better.  Page was able to create an algorithm that analyzed the relevance of web pages based on hyperlinks.  In an obviously very complicated process, Page then created a system for ranking the web pages on their relevancy – a system referred to as PageRank (which is a reference both to web pages and Page himself).  At this point Page needed help, so he recruited Brin to help write the software to make it all work (Low End Mac).  

And clearly it did work.  In September of 1998 it was incorporated.  In December of that same year, PC Magazine had already noticed how effective Google was in sorting web results, stating that it “has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results”.  Today, the company has become so successful it has almost become synonymous with doing anything on the computer and has changed much of the way that we view computers today, including the bold idea (not just from Google) that things should be free.

At US Patent Services we can’t quite give all of our stuff away for free, but we do have some free additions that are available with purchases.  Feel free to check them out – you won’t even need Google to find us, as I’ve conveniently hyperlinked our website’s homepage to this blog.  Enjoy your shopping!

Paul Allen’s Bold Move

To different people, the name Paul Allen may mean different things.  For fans of desktop computing, Allen is probably the lesser-known part of the tandem that founded Microsoft, with Bill Gates obviously being the other.  Although still the owner of perhaps 100 million shares of Microsoft, Allen began to divest himself from the company after health issues in the late 1900s.

What does a relatively young billionaire do once they have left the computing game?  Well, here is what other people may know him for:  sports team owner.  Allen is the owner of the recently wildly successful Seattle Seahawks of the NFL, whom he bought in 1996.  He is also the owner of the not-quite-as-successful (at least recently) Portland Trailblazers (the not so successful part was both on and off the court, as the team was once known derisively as the Jail Blazers).  Allen bought the NBA team in 1988, and they went to the NBA finals in 1990 and 92 (the Clyde “the Glide” Drexler Era).  Finally, Allen has a partial interest in the Seattle Sounders of the MSL.

Obviously this so far has nothing to do with either patents or inventions or any of the other topics normally dealt with in this blog.  This is where the third part of Allen’s notoriety comes into play:  he and a company he co-founded, Interval Research Corporation, on August 29, 2010, launched what may be the most important patent lawsuit of modern times.

Interval Research Corporation is probably a company that you are unfamiliar with.  You can’t go to the store and buy one of their products.  The company was set up to acquire patents, and acquire patents it did.  Eventually the company came to hold over 100 patents, which isn’t a particularly large number.  But, as the old saying goes it’s the quality, not the quantity.  Interval Research Corporation went after patents that have become extremely useful in the world of computing.

How important?  Well, it is going to be up to the courts to decide, but the company (and/or Allen, depending on how you want to look at it) had a big enough belief in the value of its patents that it has taken some of the most well-known companies in America to court for patent infringement.  These include household names like Google, Netflix, Facebook, eBay and Apple, among others.

Clearly the company has made a bold statement, but can it win?  As Judge Wapner used to say, “Anybody can sue.  The question is if they will win.”

So, is Interval Research Corporation legitimately in control of this technology, or is this another case of a patent troll overexerting itself – this time against major players who can strike back?  The answer is a definite “maybe”.  At this point the court has issued a stay.  For those who are unfamiliar with what that means, a stay is a ruling by the court to stop the trial.  However, it is a somewhat indecisive maneuver.  Unlike dismissal, a stay can be either permanent or temporary.  In other words, the courts could decide that they want to take up the case again.  So, we will just have to wait for what could be a very long time as the courts try to sort this out.

At US Patent Services, though, we have gotten rid of the long wait.  There isn’t any question on how long it will take for our wide assortment of products to be shipped to you.  Looking for plaques?  They will be shipped in ten business days or less.  Personalized mugs?  10 business days or less.  Any of our super cool desktop awards?  10 days or less.  Inventor key fobs?  I think you get the picture – 10 days or less.  Whatever you want from our product line, we guarantee will be shipped to you in a timely fashion, leaving no question as to the status of your order, unlike this court case.

As a final note, if you would like more information on Interval Research Corporation, here is a summary of the whole case (http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2011/06/24/paul-allen-patent-litigation-stay/id=17842/).

The Sky’s the Limit for this Patent

Or maybe it isn’t.  Actually, Thoth Technology hopes to go further than that while bringing the ideas of science fiction to life.

Space Elevator

Space Elevator


One of the problems that still exists in space travel is its cost, and of that, a large chunk of the cost is devoted to the actual launch of the machine.  Why would that be so expensive?  Well, for starters, just like with an airplane, the act of getting a large piece of equipment to defy gravity takes a lot of energy, and a lot of energy means a lot of fuel for powerful engines.  Once they have completed their task, though, historically these have simply fallen back to earth (hopefully in the middle of the ocean).  Those fuel and engine costs all add up.

The space shuttle was an attempt to alleviate some of these costs, as a large part of the shuttle could be used over and over again.  While the shuttles no doubt provided us with a great deal of information about space, they were obviously not without their problems.  Eventually the shuttles were discontinued, due in part to what were perceived as fundamental safety issues.  The problem then was what would replace them, because they did actually provide a fairly cost effective (as far as manned space travel goes) means of putting people and supplies into space.

Turns out we are still working on that, and, with the space station still being manned, there is a need to continue to move people and cargo into space.  There are companies out there right now that are working on ways to do this using spaceships, for lack of a better word.

However, news has come out this week that another company has just received a patent for a different means of moving people and cargo into space:  a space elevator (patent # 9085897).  The space elevator is the brainchild of a company (Thoth Technology) out of Ontario, Canada.  The apparatus would be a giant (over 12-miles high) elevator that would dwarf any structure currently on earth.  For way of comparison, the building that is currently tallest in the world, located in Dubai, UAE, is around a half of a mile high (another one proposed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, would be another 500+ feet taller, which is still nowhere near the size of this elevator).  The space elevator would extend into the stratosphere, which, along with it being reusable, would help alleviate some of the costs of space flight due to the reduction in gravity that high.  Oh, yeah, it would also be inflatable.

Sound like the stuff of science fiction?  Well, actually it is.  Various types of space elevators have been proposed in science fiction works, and they have often used different means for conveying things to the top of the elevator, where the landing pad would be.  Turns out that the company hasn’t quite come up with how to do this yet, either.  There are some possibilities, though, including pneumatic tubes (which, oddly enough are also being proposed for human travel on earth), a railway, or perhaps a gigantic elevator running through it.  Although this is far from a minor detail to be sorted out, the company hopes to have a prototype of the elevator up and running within five years.

So, we shall see if this somewhat audacious idea ever amounts to a functioning invention.  Regardless, the company did receive their patent and dared to dream big – 12.4 miles big.  At US Patent Services, we hope that people continue to dream big and create the ideas that make for a better world.  Or, as Casey Kasem used to say, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

An Instance where Copying really did Pay off

Many, if not most of us, know the story of Thomas Edison: Thomas_Edison brilliant American who, through a combination of hard work and ingenuity, either invented or improved upon a plethora of inventions – so many so, in fact, that Edison has nearly 2000 American patents to his name.  Some of these inventions changed the world and became commonplace, such as the light bulb, electric meter (after all, he had to figure out a way to charge customers who wanted to use the electricity he planned on installing), phonograph, microphone and movie camera.  Others are a little more obscure, like concrete houses and furniture, a method for trapping ghosts, and (apparently this would be needed when they were caught), a phone to speak with the spirit world.

As much fun as it would be if the spirit phone worked, today we will look at a little more practical Edison invention, the mimeograph (patent #180857, which was approved on August 8, 1876).  For those who don’t remember, the mimeograph was a type of copier in which a person would hand crank the roller apparatus.  Meanwhile paper would pass through while ink was being forced through a stencil onto the page.  If that doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps the bluish-purple ink on the pages (perhaps even with a smear or blur to it) with the distinctive smell does, especially if you went to school before the widespread use of copiers and printers.  Regardless, the mimeograph was a huge improvement over any copy methods that were conceived of prior to this, especially since copying was often done by hand.

Now, with the aforementioned copiers and printers, mimeographs would seem to be something that the world has passed by.  After all, who has the time to stand there and turn that drum so that it can print out 20, 100 or 500 different copies?

Turns out some people do, and there is still a demand for mimeograph machines.  “Why?”, you might ask.  For some, there is a practical reason.  Turns out not everybody has access to the technology that we have become used to in our everyday lives.  If electricity is in short supply, a hand-cranked mimeograph is a fast, simple, and relatively inexpensive solution to the problem of how to make large amounts of copies.  For others, it’s more for nostalgic reasons.  In fact, there is even a Facebook page dedicated to the invention (Mimeograph Users Group).  Now, I must admit that I am not quite that excited about the mimeograph – maybe there’s some latent memories of a test I failed or blue smudges on my clothes – but it is interesting to think about the many important documents that reproduced with the mimeograph, as the era of “Xeroxing” didn’t begin until the 1960s, and even then mimeographs continued for decades longer.

One final note must be addressed here, and that is that some (many?) dispute Edison’s actual importance in regard to the mimeograph, despite his patent for it.  For some, Albert Blake Dick deserves the credit.  Dick took the basic Edison technology (with his approval) and turned it into the practical invention that would become known as the mimeograph (in fact, Dick was the one who came up with the word “mimeograph”) that would rule the copying world for the first half of the 20th century.  While you may not have heard of Albert Blake Dick, perhaps the company that he founded rings a bell:  A. B. Dick.  In fact, A. B. Dick is still around today and still a part of the world of copies and printing.

US Patent Services

Does it Tell you to Shoot Straight, too?

As a parent, how often have you had to remind a child about the various aspects that go into the seemingly simple task of going to the bathroom?  Did you remember to flush, did you wash your hands?  With soap?  And on and on.  For a new toilet user, aka a child who is being potty trained, the frustration for a parent can boil over.  Sometimes it seems that it would be easier to just put them back in diapers.

Well, there are some ideas out there to help parents in this process, one of which was patented on August 5, 1997 (patent #5652975).  The concept behind this invention, created by Glory Hoskin, was simple:  connect a device to an adult toilet that would provide gender-specific messages to youths just learning to use the “big girl/boy” bathroom.

When the child sits down, the device is prepped for its mission of sending out a message.  However, the message is held in place until the child gets up.  Then it released the gender-specific message.  Although the patent is unclear on what the message would be, one can imagine it to be some sort of positive reinforcement.  I’m a little unclear on how the device would work if you have two children, of different genders, potty training at the same time.  Fortunately I never had to deal with that.

Anyway, the device seems fairly simple and like it could even be helpful.  In fact, while researching this, I was surprised at how many patents there are for doing similar things.  I even came across versions of children’s potty chairs that were being sold.  But one of the more interesting ones that I came across was known, innocently enough, as the “toilet bowl attachment.”

The idea was to put an image on the toilet that the child would find interesting.  There would be a face on the tank of the toilet, and, when the lid was lifted, the same thing underneath.  The invention said it would focus the child’s attention.  Still seems innocent, and I totally get the idea.  In fact, looking at the first two images, which show the process, I can see how it might work for a child:

With the lid closed

With the lid closed

 

With the lid open

With the lid open

But image 3?

http://www.google.com.do/patents/US20060130230?cl=en http://www.google.com.do/patents/US20060130230?cl=en%5B/caption%5D

 

Who is going to find that comforting?  The only thing worse that I can think of would be a creepy clown telling you what a good job you did.

Brought to you by US Patent Services, where we just have regular toilets, but also all kinds of other neat products that you can check out from our website.

07/26

And some Things We maybe don’t Scream for

Earlier in the week, we did a bit on ice cream in all of its wondrous delight.  While working on this, we came across a few things involving ice cream that weren’t quite as much to celebrate.  In honor of them, and because July is National Ice Cream Month, we’ll take a quick look at a few of them.

First, let’s start with flavors.  The Huffington Post ran a bit ranking the worst ice cream flavors they could think of.  Some of them seem obvious, some are debatable, and some are downright weird and/or disgusting.  So, without further ado, here they are:

 

  1.  Butter Pecan (pretty debatable since it is the #3 seller in the United States)
  2.  Eggnog (works for me since I find eggnog disgusting to begin with)
  3.  Birthday Blast (ice cream with chunks of cake in it)
  4.  Bacon (proving that not everything is better with bacon)
  5.  Cotton Candy (totally agree, as actual cotton candy ranks up there with eggnog in my book)
  6.  Licorice (ditto)
  7.  Rum raisin (same)
  8.  Garlic (why would you want this?)
  9.  Horseradish (see above)
  10.  Pizza (kind of like bacon)
  11.  Cold Sweat (ice cream made with peppers so hot you need to sign a waiver before purchasing)
  12.  Lobster (unlike peanut butter cups, two great things together don’t always work)
  13.  Bubblegum (never liked that one, even as a kid)
  14.  Viagra (it’s hard to not make a joke about this ice cream that contains both champagne and the purple pill)

So, what is the most popular ice cream out there?  Perhaps this might surprise you, but the answer is good ol’ vanilla, which has about a 30% market share, but results do vary within the United States (at least as far as sales at Baskin Robbins go), as the following map indicates:

 

Don’t like any of these flavors?  Want to make your own?  Well then, here is an invention for you!  We all know that you can make your own ice cream, but man what a tedious process.  The portable ice cream ball will bring out the fun in making ice cream!  Just fill it with the necessary ingredients and then roll the ball around until the ice cream is ready.  Now making ice cream is simple and fun.  Heck, maybe you can play a game of kickball or volleyball while making your own ice cream goodness.

 

Once you’ve made the ice cream, you now have to have somewhere to put it.  We all know that bowls work, but cones are more fun.  But they also can be oh so tedious, with the having to constantly spin the cone to make sure that you are licking all sides so as not to drip on those hot summer days.  A guy could practically get carpal tunnel syndrome from doing that!  Don’t worry, folks, the answer to this problem has arrived:  the motorized ice cream cone.

That’s right, now you don’t have to do any of the work.  Just jam your cone in here and it does the spinning for you.  Now even the laziest of people can enjoy that delicious summer treat.  And that should make everyone able to have an enjoyable National Ice Cream Month.

Happy eatings from US Patent Services, where we may not have any ice cream inventions, but we have all kinds of products offering recognition for those who do invent, from mugs, to plaques, to awards, to many more that serve as even better motivators than ice cream for employees or others you wish to recognize for their outstanding service to your organization.

I Scream, You Scream, You Know how it Goes

There’s very little that goes better with summer than ice cream, which is why this week we will celebrate all things ice cream as our invention of the week.

Ice cream is one of those things that is truly impossible to date.  Not only was it invented long ago (and therefore has no patent), which in and of itself is problematic for dating it, but there is also the question as to what really qualifies as ice cream.  Does simply flavoring ice with honey or fruits count as ice cream?  If so, ice cream has been around for thousands of years.  References to flavored ices exist from the Biblical King Solomon and Alexander the Great in BC times, and to the Roman Empire shortly after that.  Furthermore, it is believed by many that the Chinese invented it even before this, possible thousands of years earlier than in the West.

Approximately a millennium or so later, Marco Polo returned from China with a new treat that was similar to what we would call sherbet today.  Somehow or another, during the period of great innovation known as the Renaissance, this treat morphed into something that was more similar to ice cream.  Where it happened is again somewhat questionable.  Some say in Britain, others say Italy.  Apparently ice cream was deemed so good that it wasn’t until approximately 100 years later that the nobility decided to share it with commoners.  Even then, ice cream generally remained a treat for the elite.

As a big fan of ice cream, I can understand the urge to want to keep it all for oneself.  That combination of milk, cream, vanilla, and sugar is undeniably a personal favorite.  And that brings us to how this week’s invention is ice cream.  No, it’s not just that ice cream goes great with the hot weather.  There is another reason:  on July 19, 1921, the name Breyers was granted trademark protection by the United States.

Breyers existed for longer than that, as it can trace its history to 1866, when William A. Breyer of Philadelphia produced his first batch of ice cream.  The ingredients were simple, and for years Breyers tried to keep it that way, sticking with milk, cream, vanilla and sugar, for example, for its basic vanilla flavor.  Of course, as times change, so do manufacturing methods.

Today Breyers Natural Vanilla sticks to this basic recipe, but others in the Breyers family have strayed from the all natural formula.  Most probably would not necessarily view that as a positive change, but jamming things like Oreos and M&M’s in ice cream certainly have been.  Other ice cream related inventions have maybe been a bit lacking, but we’ll save that topic for later in the week.

US Patent Services

A Belt that Does more than Hold your Pants up

Almost as soon as there were cars, there were automobile deaths.  Even before the turn of the century – the 1900s, that is – there were already people dying in automobile accidents, and it is no wonder why.  Early automobiles did not have the safety features that today we take for advantage.  Forget anti-lock brakes and airbags, early cars didn’t have “luxuries” like headrests (not standard until the 1960s), safety glass (the 1930s), rearview mirrors (1920s), or seemingly mandatory things like brake lights, headlights and windshield wipers (all more or less introduced shortly after the automobile but took a bit of time to become standard).  Heck, some early vehicles didn’t even have bodies on the cars (http://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/fc/54/ca/fc54ca5a7712acacc1a1ff82032b253a.jpg)!

Now imagine riding in one of these vehicles without a seatbelt, and it is fairly easy to see why the accident fatality rate in the United States was fairly high even though cars went nowhere near as fast as modern ones do.  In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the first year (1921) that it had statistics for was also the most dangerous when considering the amount of fatalities per vehicle miles traveled (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year#References).  In that year, there were 24.09 deaths per 100 million miles driven.  Today’s (2013) rate?  1.11.  The rate has essentially been on a downward trend ever since it has been kept track off.

Why the improvement?  Well, there certainly isn’t any one thing that can be given full credit for this, especially since the data doesn’t differentiate on who is getting killed and how.  However, undoubtedly the invention of the seat belt has played a major role in this, especially the three-point belt, which was patented in the United States on July 10, 1962, by Nils Bohlin (patent #3043625).

Bohlin was an employee for the Volvo Car Corporation of Sweden.  In fact, four years earlier, he had been named the first “chief safety engineer” of the company.  For Bohlin, seat belt safety was a priority.  It’s not that the belt’s didn’t exist, but there were serious problems with the design.  The so-called two point belt, which fastened across the abdomen, was known to cause serious abdominal injuries in crashes.

Bohlin’s new invention improved upon the design of the two point belt.  In addition to having the lap belt, there was now a belt that came down from the shoulder to the lap – the design we are all familiar with today.  The advantage of this design was that, in a crash, both the upper and lower body were held in place simultaneously, thus displacing the stress of the impact away from just one area.

The new invention was an immediate success.  Almost instantly, it became standard worldwide.  In the US, it was a mandated part of vehicles beginning with the 1968 model year.  Many governments have even made the wearing of seat belts to be mandatory.  Why?  Although Bohlin’s model has been redesigned slightly, it is basically the same today, and it is estimated that the three point belt reduces the risk of fatalities and serious injuries suffered during collisions by 50%.  In fact, Volvo has estimated that seat belts have saved over 1 million lives.  So, as you are taking your summer road trip this year, take a moment to both buckle up and say a word of thanks to Nils Bohlin, but also hope that his invention never comes in play for you.

Wishing you a summer of fun and safe travels, from US Patent Services.

A Red, White and Blue Weekend, with the Emphasis on Red

As a proud American, there is little about the Fourth of July weekend not to like.  Let’s start with the obvious, the freedoms that we enjoy as Americans.  Without these, Independence Day wouldn’t quite have the same meaning.

After that there are the other things that have become a part of the holiday:  parades, fireworks, cookouts, and lots of games in the yard.  All these things have something in common – they take place outdoors.  And on occasion with that comes a downside of partying outside, sunburn.

In my case, it got me pretty good.  Enough in fact that my wife had to put something called “Island Cream” (trademark #354882) on it.  By no means is this an advertisement for the product, but it did get me to thinking why it seemed to soothe my pain.  According to the bottle, it is because it contains aloe (sometimes referred to as aloe vera).  That of course made me think a little bit more about whether this was some sort of scam or what it was about aloe that relieved the burn.

Well, if use throughout history is a gauge of effectiveness, then aloe must have some healing powers.  There is documented evidence of its use over 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia.  Seems that it was used as a laxative, not for topical relief (in fact, today aloe is still used for both of these purposes, but more on that later).  Ancient Egyptians also used aloe for many purposes.  Not surprisingly, the plant is native to these areas, along with other parts of Africa and the Middle East.  In all there are over 500 types of plants that fall within the aloe genus.

From here, the use of aloe spread to Asia and Europe.  Reputedly it was used by Alexander the Great and his soldiers to treat wounds.  As the Europeans later spread their culture around the world, they brought the plant with them, and it is now grown in places that have similar climates to where it was native, including in the Western Hemisphere.  Obviously today it is still being used as a medicine.  But is it effective?

Opinions on that differ. According to the US National Library of Medicine aloe, like a lot of traditional and herbal remedies, has mixed results in testing of effectiveness.  For starters, it must be noted that two different parts of the plant are used.  The first is latex, while the second is gel.  The evidence, at least according to the Library of Medicine, would indicate that aloe latex, which is taken orally, is possibly effective for constipation, but sunburn is what I used it for.  On this, the gel that is used as a topical ointment, the evidence is mixed.  According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there are tests that indicate it is effective in treating burns and wounds, and other studies that indicated that actually increases the amount of time that it takes to heal.

So, does that leave you a believer or a skeptic?  Medical professionals appear to be skeptical.  Lots of people in history, though, have been believers in its power, and today it is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Of course none of that proves one or the other whether aloe actually works.  Perhaps we should just abide by the words of none other than Christopher Columbus, who stated:

Four vegetables  are indispensable for the well being of man;

Wheat, the grape, the olive and aloe.

The first nourishes him, the second raises his spirit,

The third brings him harmony, the fourth cures him.

I would think everybody must agree with Columbus on at least one thing on this list.

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