To Patent or Not to Patent?
This article was originally published in the "web extras" section of the Pipes & Tobacco Magazine website, which is sadly now defunct. It appears here on Pipedia by permission of the author.
To patent of not to patent?
19th century pipe designs, inventions and contrivances not destined for prime time
Twenty years ago, longtime clay tobacco pipe collector and close friend, S. Paul Jung Jr., and I collaborated on a two-year research endeavor that resulted in the publication in 1987 of the limited-edition (250 copies) 19th Century Patents, Designs and Trademarks for Tobacco Pipes and Related Material Issued by The U.S. Patent Office, 1858-1899. The title pretty much says it all, but the backstory about its contents reveals much more.
Short history of the U.S. Patent Office
The U.S. Patent Office (now the United States Patent and Trademark Office) was established under the authority of the Patent Act of 1790. The Patent Office shared space with the General Post Office and Washington City Post Office. All the patent records, perhaps as many as 10,000, and several thousand patent models were housed in about two-fifths of the first floor, and on all of the second and third floors of this shared building, known as Blodgett’s Hotel. A disastrous fire occurred on Dec. 15, 1836, and most on-file patents were destroyed. In the 46 years prior to the Great Fire, the U.S. Government had issued about 10,000 patents. Most of these could not be revived, so Congress acted to restore those records that could be reconstructed from private files and to reproduce models that were deemed critical. There were a total of 2,845 patents restored, most of which were eventually given a number beginning with “X,” and patents whose records were not restored were canceled. All patents after the date of the re-established Patent Office in March 1837 were numbered as a new series (without the X), beginning with a new Patent No. 1. Of these 2,845 restored patents, none pertained to tobacco pipes, and the very first tobacco pipe patent that Jung found on file was dated 1858, hence the start-date of his investigation. Why the end date of 1899? Jung desired to focus solely and totally on 19th century patents, so the last patent in his book is dated Dec. 19, 1899.
Terms of reference
What is a patent, a trademark, a design? A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the Patent and Trademark Office. The term of a new patent is 20 years, with “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others. Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark. A design patent is issued on a new design, used for purely aesthetic reasons, that does not affect the functioning of the underlying device. A design patent protects only the ornamental appearance of an invention, not its utilitarian features. Now that you’re definition-savvy, let’s move on.
Jung’s magnum opus
This 1,200-page publication (issued as two soft-cover volumes) contains some 550 patents, trademarks and designs for pipes, pipe bowls, cigar pipes, pipe cleaners, mouthpieces, pipe stems, pipe machines and associated pipe accessories, each patent reproduced in all its exactingly detailed and descriptive text with the attendant meticulously drafted illustrations/line drawings/sketches/diagrams, some patents consisting of as many as five or six pages. Collectively, they represent patentees from across the nation, Canada, Europe, even Australia.
As one would expect, Paul’s research at the U.S. Patent Office with a start year of 1858 resulted in finding two pipe patents; as the century advanced, however, and the popularity of tobacco pipes spread across the country, the number of inventor-patentees increased concomitantly. For example, here are the pipe patent statistics for the last few years in Jung’s study: 1896: 30; 1897: 27; 1898: 33; and 1899: 26. Of course, at about the same time, frenetic patenting activity was occurring in Great Britain, France and Germany, and some patent production agreements crossed the Atlantic in both directions. (I am not familiar with the Patent Office records of France and Germany, but I do know that our own patent office does not publish compendia of patents by class. Great Britain does, and at least from the mid-18th century through the 1930s, bound volumes covering five-year increments of Patents for Invention. Abridgements of Specifications, Class 130 were published for sale to the public.) You might ask: What is the most interesting and curious aspect of this research endeavor? Poring through the volume, I encounter pipes in just about every shape and size and in all manner of materials. However, if you have been to a pipe show, done a sufficient amount of pipe lore reading or seen several pipe collections, you’d come to the realization that the majority of these 550 patented devices never saw factory floor daylight. A large number of these patents were submitted under the rubric “Tobacco-Pipe,” while others were characterized as “Improvement in Tobacco Pipes,” and a lesser number as “Design for Tobacco-Pipe.”
As I randomly glance through the book, certain words and phrases in a number of patent specifications draw my attention: saliva or spittle chambers, moisture cavities, nicotine cups, wire-cloth bowl linings, fire-proof-lined bowls (flint, feldspar and soluble glass), asbestos-lined bowls, perforated and coiled-spring diaphragms, coiled stems, detachable ball-and-socket joint stems, foraminated tubular stems, serpentine stems, detachable pipe bottoms, pipe nipples, chin rests and more. You get the general idea of where I am going, don’t you?
Scrutinizing a number of patents, I see many that, today, might be called contraptions, jury-rigs, gimmicks, Rube Goldberg-like devices for smoking tobacco. I don’t recognize any that might have, at a time, been produced by any reputable manufacturer in any quantity. In fact, without intending to malign the noble efforts of those patentees, I have to admit that many of the illustrations conjure up thoughts of some mad creation in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, or something used for smoking in outer space. In the mind of each inventor, no doubt, his device may have been the best of breed, designed to minimize tar and nicotine absorption, or to extend the pipe’s life, and it may have exhibited other desirable characteristics and properties, but the outward, unconventional, often bizarre appearance of so many of these drawings, at least to my eye, was beyond unusual, almost eccentric, or outré. So is it any wonder why no sane, cost-conscious pipe company showed an interest to obtain the rights to produce some of these unorthodox devices? No doubt, all these inventors went to inordinate effort to think through a special or uniquely configured smoking utensil and took the time to submit their design to the U.S. Government (no doubt, the bureaucratic paper war was less complicated in those days), got it approved, and that’s where the story ends.
Explainable? Yes! Most of these patentees were private citizens, not pipe manufacturers; they had no access to production facilities, and they probably lacked the requisite entrée to pipe company management. I suppose that the inventor hoped that some manufacturer would be induced to mass-produce his patented pipe, once the patent entered public domain. Sadly, from the evidence, this was not the case, although Jung includes several trademarks that were granted to people in the trade, companies that should be recognizable to some collectors: William Demuth, F.R. Kaldenberg, and F.J. Kaldenberg, all of New York. There’s one trademark granted to Demuth in 1899, No. 32,423, “Buckwheat.” What was Demuth thinking? I am no ad man, but I consider this trademark wholly unappealing for branding a tobacco pipe. (As an aside, sometime in the mid-19th century, there was a New York-based company called the American Patent Smoking Pipe Company. I wonder just what that company’s pipes looked like!)
But enter the 21st century, and you can find the odd pipe now and then, such as Bianchino’s briar that the Bartlett Pipe Company sells on the Web, the so-called patented “Freedom Smoking Pipe” —offered in three finishes—that burns upside-down (http://www.mountwashingtonvalley.com/pipe/bianchino.html). Were it a 19th century patent, this pipe design would have been quite at home in Jung’s book.
One of the practical uses of Jung’s book is investigative work. As an example, by the end of the 1870s, Ganneval, Bondier & Donninger (G.B.D.) of St. Claude, France—these three gentlemen were maîtres pipiers—became Bondier Ulrich & Cie, with headquarters in Paris. J.W. Cole writes:
Whereas in one or two cases the GBD trademark was blatantly used, others thought to get over this by using such brands as GBP, DBG, GBM, GPD. Whenever and wherever this occurred, GBD unhesitatingly attacked the imitators and took them to court. The verdicts in favor of GBD were confirmation of the quality and renown of the brand.[i]
Included are two patent trademarks that bespoke Cole’s allegation. On June 22, 1880, the U.S. Patent Office granted Trade-Mark No. 7,947 for the letters “G.B.D.” inside an oval to Bondier. On Feb 21, 1882, the U.S. Patent Office granted Trade-Mark No. 9,125 for the letters “G.P.D.” inside an oval to Rejall & Becker, a New York-based pipe company whose customary logo, “R&B” inside an oval, was embossed inside the fitted cases of its meerschaum, briar and Bakelite pipes. When I queried John Adler, a tobacco industry authority in Great Britain, he responded that G.P.D. was a trademark infringement, and the verdict was in favor of G.B.D. There is also a bit of pipe trifecta-trivia in this volume. On May 1, 1894, U.S. Patent 519,135 was issued to Charles Peterson of Dublin, Ireland, for his unique construction of a pipe and mouthpiece, described as a “certain new and useful Improvement in Tobacco-Pipes,” that’s come to be known as the Peterson System pipe; the text states that the original patent was issued in Great Britain and Ireland on Aug. 8, 1890, and in France on Jan. 22, 1891.
Now, a comment or two on searching for both old and new patents without leaving your armchair, if you own a computer, or if you avail yourself of one at a local Internet café or public library. Should you desire to conduct your own investigation into U.S. pipe patents of the past, there is a limited search capability at the U.S. Patent Office’s Web site, http://www.uspto.gov/patft. Start your search with Class D27, Tobacco and Smokers’ Supplies, and then struggle with the convoluted and arcane system of tobacco pipe pieces and parts scattered within other classes. Or try Google Patent Search:
http://www.google.com/ptshp?tab=wt. You might get lucky. Other Web sites include STO’s Internet Patent Search system (http://www.bustpatents.com) and Delphion Research (http://www.delphion.com). Access to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and its Patents Database is also free (http://patents1.ic.gc.ca/intro-e.html). If you have an idea for a pipe design, check the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations agency, and search for similar international patent applications (http://www.wipo.int/portal/index.html.en). The U.N. scheme, International Classification for Industrial Designs, goes something like this: Class 27 (Tobacco and Smokers’ Supplies), Subclass 02 (Pipes, Cigar and Cigarette Holders), T0238 (Tobacco Pipes), and all pipe-related accessories fall under Subclass 99.
If you are only curious about early British patents, the very first volume of Patents for Inventions… covering the inclusive dates 1721–1866 is on the Web and it’s free at GoogIe Book Search; you can download the more than 200 pages of this particular volume. As well, there are companies chartered to conduct this research. In January 2004, 3i Analytics published Smokers’ Requisites; Match Boxes Patent Mapping Report (ID ITR1082045) for sale at $120. The online abstract reads like someone’s done due diligence in his homework: Patent Mapping Charts. Tobacco pipes; Tobacco pipes combined with other objects; Bowls for pipes; Mouthpieces for pipes; Mouthpieces for cigar or cigarette holders; Accessories for smokers’ pipes; Seasoning of tobacco pipes; Appliances for smoking cigars or cigarettes; Cigar or cigarette receptacles or boxes; Receptacles for cigarette papers; Ash-trays; stands for smokers’ requisites; Cases for tobacco, snuff, or chewing tobacco; Devices used by the smoker for controlling the moisture content of, or for scenting, cigars, cigarettes or tobacco; Match receptacles or boxes; Devices for igniting matches; Holders for ignited matches; Pipe-spills; Devices for splitting matches; Smokers’ requisites not provided for elsewhere. [More than 1,000 Patents][ii]
If you just like to display the artwork attendant to a particular old pipe patent, you might want to contact Steven Diley, who sells original patents that were deaccessioned from the U.S. Patent Office (MSDiley@aol.com). Two additional sources are U.S. Patent Place Vintage Art Prints (http://www.patentplaceusa.com/servlet/StoreFront) and the Patent Museum (http://www.patentmuseum.com).
A worthwhile endeavor
I doubt that you’ll be able to find anywhere near the number of patents on the Web that are contained in Jung’s book. If pipe patent history is something that interests you, owning his compilation is, I think, a better use of your time and resources, assuming you can find a copy of this book now out of print. In my opinion, the compilation could have been worth much, much more to a historian if, say, it included written evidence from other sources to prove that a patented pipe eventually became a production pipe, that is, a patent that materialized into a real, rather than a conceptualized, tobacco pipe.Jung captured, collated, reproduced and published every patent that he found at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He had no interest in mining U.S. tobacco industry data to determine how many of these patents later appeared as realized smoking pipes, and even if he had tried, I doubt that he would have succeeded in finding such industry records. As a reference, as a retrospective catalog of the many ideas and concepts for smoking pipes, as an insightful account of what, for about 50 years, Man sought to devise and design as whimsical, fanciful pipe designs, and to seek the government seal of approval on his own pipe thingy, there is no equivalent volume in print that compares with Jung’s opus for its breadth and range of illustrative information about a period in which individual inventiveness, ingenuity and imagination were rampant. There’s one Internet bookseller who seems to agree with this assessment, because he currently has a copy of Jung’s book for sale at $2,000!
Lots of books offer pretty color pictures of pipes made yesterday and today, but nothing to date has ever come close in content and scope to this treatise. From my own limited knowledge of briar and other wood pipes, it’s evident to me that too few—perhaps almost none—of these 550 or so patents ever entered the marketplace as product and, if my conclusion is accurate, it’s sad that the well-intentioned efforts of so very many inventors came to naught. I can sum their collective ventures by quoting from a recent event that is somewhat analogous to all their failed inventions. It’s the 2001 Financial Times Stock Exchange’s lighthearted nomination of the Royal Bank of Scotland for “It’s the Thought that Counts” award: “You Can Knock But There’s Nobody Home.”
[i] J.W. Cole, The GBD St Claude Story (Cadogan Investments Ltd., London, 1976), 13. [ii] http://www.marketresearch.com/product/display.asp?productid=1082045&xs=r.