Saturday, July 1, 2017

USPTO or Google Patents

I recently saw a photograph of an “Oyster Car,” a specially designed railroad car designed to carry fresh oysters from the Gulf to Chicago. It was invented by Arthur E. Stilwell, the founder of the Kansas City Southern Railroad. The concept interested me, so I went foraging about on the internet to see what more I could find.
There were a pair of interesting articles in the Fall 2014  “The Cannon Ball,” a quarterly publication put out by the Sunrise Trail Division of the National Model Railroad Association. It turns out only one (or possibly two—no one seems to know for sure) of these cars were built back in 1897. There is, in general, a surfeit of information about this car, but author Walter Wohleking managed to dig up some fascinating facts. In the process of his researching he found a copy of the 1898 U.S. patent issued to Mr. Stilwell.

So I went to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website to see what could be found. What a pain! Then I remembered that Google has a comprehensive listing of patents from around the world at Google Patents. I typed in the patent number (which was listed in the article) and up came this page:

You’ll note that the USPTO class is “B61/D5/00 Tank wagons for carrying fluent materials.” “Fluent Materials?” Eh?

Anyway, besides the descriptive text there are three images from Stilwell’s filing showing the design and construction of his invention. Here’s one:  

The 10th anniversary of the iPhone’s introduction got me to thinking about the development of mobile phones. What better place to look than Google Patents? So I typed in “cellular telephone.” That was a mistake. There were over 175,000 hits. Yikers. This time I gave the search a date range: 1850 to 1986. That cut down the hits to less than 60. Yay.  

First up was a patent filed in 1973, and issued in 1975, to Martin Cooper and seven others from Motorola:  

Among the images were two of interest. 

The first shows Motorola’s approach to setting up a cellular system. The second is a graphic showing how the components all worked together to lets us talk from the field (which is all the 1st Gen cell phones were capable of). Note the image of the cell phone itself – the familiar shape of Motorola’s first commercial unit, the DynatTAC 8000X, which didn’t become available until 1984 (at a price of $4,000—equivalent today to $9,300). Imagine!

Also of note o the search findings is a patent issued to A.E. Joel, Jr of Bell Labs in 1972 – a year before Motorola got theirs. As you can see from this schematic, Bell was looking at a in-vehicle based system. In the end, Motorola won out big time.

What about the Apple iPhone? I wasn’t able to find much. There was a patent issued to Apple in 2004 for an “Electronic Device.” The company made a single claim for their invention: “We claim the ornamental design for an electronic device, substantially as shown and described.” And what is shown is this:

The iPad, as envisioned in 2004—six years before the introduction of the thing. In the description of the image Apple said this:  FIG. 9 is an exemplary diagram of the use of the electronic device thereof the broken lines being shown for illustrative purposes only and form no part of the claimed design.” Yeah, right. BTW—2004 was the same year Apple began development of the iPhone.

Okay. This addition to Finding Stuff has focused on the public accessibility of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s files. Knowing about the USPTO, and Google Patents, may one day be of great use to you researchers out there. Thanks for tuning in.