Assisting Companies to Recognize and Energize Innovation



This Week’s Featured Inventor

US Patent Services

Light or Lite?

This week’s featured invention came down to a close call between two extremely important inventions:  beer in a can or the incandescent light.  It was a bit of a toss-up, but we will go with Thomas Edison and the incandescent light bulb.  Contrary to popular belief, as with many of his ideas, Thomas Edison did not “invent” the light bulb.  What Edison did was to create a better version of an existing idea, and one that could be commercially successful.  So, in order to see how Edison designed his now famous light bulb, we need to go back and look at inventors before him that contributed steps along the way in its development.

First it is important to understand why the light bulb was needed.  At first glance it seems obvious:  the world had to shut down at night because there was no electricity, right?  Not true.  People and cities had developed methods of lighting that did not rely on electricity but were improvements over a simple candle.  For instance, in the 1700s a major industry in the United States was whaling.  Whales were not generally hunted for their meat.  Instead, it was their blubber that was in demand.  This blubber was then converted into whale oil, which became a fuel source for lamps.  Whale oil was an extremely stable fuel, but the issue was getting it.  Whaling was a dangerous industry and, worse, as whalers became better at their craft, whaling became more difficult due to species loss.  Many species of whale reached near-extinction levels due to the demand for their blubber.

Fortunately for humanity, and the whales, by the end of the 1700s and early 1800s substitutes were found for whale oil.  These included common sources such as wood and natural gas, but they also included more exotic methods of harnessing energy such as through wax or peat.  Eventually, after oil had been discovered as an energy source, kerosene lamps became increasingly popular.  As a result it became more and more common for cities to be illuminated, but the drawback was still the degree of difficulty in obtaining the fuels and keeping the lights going.  Furthermore, electric lighting would prove to be safer than many of the fuels that were used at the time.

So, although there was not exactly a need for electric lighting, it was obvious that improvements could be made, just like had been done in the past.  Here is where Edison came in.  Again, Edison was not the first to attempt this.  For instance, in 1875 two individuals from Canada, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans, actually received a patent for a light bulb.  Edison would eventually buy the patent from them.  Another person, Sir Joseph Swan of England, experimented with light bulbs and came up with one that could burn for over thirteen hours.  It was an improvement, but not good enough.

Edison was the next to step in.  Between the years 1878 to 1880, Edison and his associates (after buying the patent from Woodward and Evans) worked on thousands of different theories for improving their design.  After settling on a design, the next step was finding a filament that worked.  Again, Edison tried literally thousands of materials (he said he tried over 6,000 plant filaments alone), until he began to theorize that carbonizing the material would make it last longer.  Finally, after years of painstaking research, the carbonized cotton thread filament showed promise.  This was enough to give Edison the patent for the incandescent light bulb (patent #223,898), which was awarded on January 27th, 1880.  Although the creation of one light bulb was not enough to turn the tide against gas usage (older areas of some cities still use it, hence the areas known as “gaslight districts”), it showed enough potential to eventually become the dominant source of illumination in the 20th century.

Have you or somebody you know ever had the light bulb in your head turn on, leading to a new invention or patent?  If so, why don’t you celebrate this with one of our products?  Click to our website to find the many ideas we have for commemorating accomplishments such as the awarding of a patent.


This Week’s Featured Inventor

US Patent Services

Nicholas Otto and the Road to Modern Transportation

The question is frequently asked, who invented the first car? Henry Ford? Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler? Karl Friedrich Benz? Maybe even as far back as Leonardo da Vinci?

Actually, this is a tougher question than it would seem. Many would argue it was Benz, but the answer hinges in part on what your definition of a “true” car actually is. Regardless of how you answer this question, you cannot overlook the contribution of Nicholas Otto, who was issued a patent for an internal combustion engine that contains the basic principles of the engines used even today. Amazingly, his patent was issued all the way back in May of 1876. After some confusion over the legitimacy of this patent, he, along with Francis and William Crossley, were reissued the patent on October 23, 1877 (Patent # 365,701).

The key to Otto’s invention was devising one small enough to make a car feasible. Previous steam engines that had been created were much too large to be practical for an automobile. After Otto’s invention, there was a frenzy to create the first practical and reliable automobile, thus setting the stage for modern forms of transportation.

So, why does everyone remember Ford, Chrysler and Benz and not Otto? One reason is that the first three created actual cars, while Otto only came up with a component to make the car possible. However, as with many inventions, this was THE key piece that allowed for the technological revolution that followed, and still Otto is largely forgotten. With US Patent Services, we have many products that will help you recognize those who have been key contributors to your patent development but may be doing it outside of the spotlight. Visit our website store to find ways to honor these key members of your team.


In 23 years of operating U.S. Patent Services, we have served a lot of customers. Sometimes certain customers stand out in some unusual way. This is one of my favorite stories about a certain customer.

It was back 1994. Col. Oliver North was in a very heated senate race in Virginia. At the time, it was the most expensive senate race in history. Well, we were doing our weekly mailing to new patent recipients which back then was done manually through the weekly patent gazette. One of our employees saw that Oliver North had been granted a patent on a new type of body armor. So, just for the heck of it, we sent him a patent plaque, thinking nothing much more about it.

Well, to my great surprise, about three weeks later, we received a phone call. It was him. My office manager just about fell off her chair when she took the call from him asking for me.

So, I took the phone call immediately with the very clever remark “Col. North? Is it really you?”

His response was “well, that’s what my mother calls me”. He then went on to profusely thank me for the “beautiful patent wall plaque” and proceeded to order over $600 worth of patent commemoratives for his partners and employees, remarking on how appreciative he was of them all.

It was true graciousness while in the midst of a massive campaign for the US senate. And if that was not enough, I received a very thoughtful and personalized Christmas card from him and his family shortly afterward.


Edison Awards
I’d like to tell you about the Edison Awards experience that we have had in recent years. We are a proud partner of The Edison Awards. The awards are celebrating their 25th anniversary of recognizing innovation, honoring innovators and defining excellence in the design, development and marketing of new products and services. The Edison Awards symbolize the persistence and excellence personified by Thomas Alva Edison, inspiring America’s drive to remain in the forefront of innovation, creativity and ingenuity in the global economy.

The cool thing is that they recognize innovation in so many diverse fields including Energy & sustainability, industrial design, innovative services, lifestyle & social impact, living, working & learning environments, material science, media/visual communication, science/medical, retail frontiers, marketing, and transportation. It’s not just about products and inventions, but innovation across life.

Once a year, the Edison Awards throw an incredible, black-tie gala and party in New York City at a fantastic place called Le’ Capitale in lower Manhattan. In past years, I’ve met so many innovators I couldn’t begin to tell you. I’ve met the head of Ford – Alan Mulally, the founder of Discovery Channel – John Hendricks, the head of MIT – Dr. Susan Hockfield, the head of the TED conference – Chris Anderson, and on and on.

So begins my story about this year’s event and our role in it. We designed and craft the actual embedment awards given out to the recipients. But this year, increasing our support, we also crafted the table centerpieces for the gala event. After much brainstorming, we found these giant light bulbs that over a foot high and 9” in diameter. You see one and you go “that’s a big light bulb!”. They stood up right with the socket end held in place within a small candle glass (like a shot glass) that was glued to a 9” diameter mirror plate. We worked all afternoon the day of the event to set these up.

So, I was hoping to repack them after the event and use them for something else. That was until I did a really stupid thing, which I actually don’t regret. Following the dinner and presentations, I gave one of the centerpieces away to someone I had been talking to. All of a sudden everybody started grabbing them. It was controlled chaos. Within just minutes, I mean minutes, all (50) centerpieces were gone! People grabbed them and started walking out with them right and left right while I’m just standing there going “I guess I’m not going to get those back”. I even saw some guy trying to buy one off another guy for $50. All the time, although flattered that they were such a hit, I’m watching, thinking and then shaking my head going “who wants to walk around New York City at night in a tuxedo carrying a giant light bulb?”


Levitating Patent Award

US Patent Services

Check out this levitating patent award we made for a customer who wanted something a little out of the ordinary to commemorate a patent.

Why do people in creative positions like to be recognized? According to a survey by Kuczmarski & Associates, there are (4) key elements that recognition provides;

  • Senior management exposure
  • Career advancement
  • Sense of pride and accomplishment
  • Public acknowledgement and peer recognition.

I’d like to talk today about the very first one, Senior management exposure. This also relates to one of the best practices in recognition – that the recognition program have upper management support, commitment and participation. This is a huge component for recipients of recognition. If upper management is not involved, or the responsibility delegated it to someone with less seniority, then you are missing a substantial opportunity to motivate your innovators.

I’ve been to many, many recognition events over the years and felt the vibrations when upper management attended. Pixar Animation Studios is one of the events that comes to mind because it was such a human centric environment. They wanted something very special for their inventors. So, we spent almost a year designing, for Pixar, an incredible, electronic, etched glass patent wall plaque with an embedded film strip that is Doppler radar activated and micro-processor controlled with programmable LED illumination and programmable duration via hand gesture recognition.

These awesome, one-of-kind patent plaques were unveiled at a big event. Everybody who was anybody attended the event, including Mr. Cantall and John Lassiter, the head of Pixar. All the inventors got to greet and talk to them. It was their opportunity to be seen while being recognized for their accomplishments. When upper management participates, recognition allows people to be seen in a successful light not just by fellow workers, but by the people who can also help them advance.

ipPerformance Group is a leading Intellectual Property Asset Management (IPAM) advisory and benchmarking service. ipPerformance Group has benchmarked the IPAM practices of more than 350 world-class companies. In particular, they have conducted extensive surveys on IP and inventor recognition programs in hundreds of companies, from Fortune 100 on down.
The key finding in these surveys related to the effectiveness of a well-structured and well communicated inventor recognition program. The metric used was idea disclosures. In summary, close to 60% of the respondents indicated that they saw significant increases of idea disclosures when they implemented an inventor recognition program.
These findings make a conclusive business case for implementing and promoting an inventor recognition program.

There is a very important link between recognition and invention. I think anybody would admit that creativity is responsible for invention. Well, recognition stimulates creativity and hence invention. How? Creativity is driven by a sub-behavioral motivation called “intrinsic” motivation. Intrinsic motivation co-exists with “extrinsic” motivation, but is responsive to quite different factors. In both studies and surveys, recognition has a proven positive effect upon intrinsic motivation, which is the drive to problem solve, create and innovate. It’s the initiative that emanates from self-growth, personal satisfaction and accomplishment. Recognition allows people to enjoy that feeling, humbly, with people around them.