We are approaching a momentous date for the future of Europe. On the 26th of May 28 countries will go to the polls to elect their representatives in the European Parliament.
It seems timely, then, to have a look at the relationship among politics, politicians, inventions and patents, of course, from an impartial point of view.
When it comes to the patent world, the USA were the pioneers. As a result, their citizens show a knowledge on patents greater than that of other countries. That greater awareness of the existence of patents is probably linked to the early involvement of US politicians in the patent world.
Thomas Jefferson, third President of the USA, was an amateur inventor. He invented a revolving book stand, a gravity driven clock, an improved pedometer, improvements in the polygraph (a device to make two copies of a handwritten document simultaneously) and a new kind of plough. What’s more , he can be regarded as the first patent examiner in the history of the USA and probably in the world.
Thomas Jefferson is believed to have examined the first patent in the USA; US01, granted on the 31st of July in 1790. That year, only two patent applications were filed, but the number of patent applications soared in 1791 and Jefferson, who was to become the US president in 1801, had to quit the job of patent examiner because he couldn’t cope with so many different tasks. As of that moment, patent examination was carried out by a group of patent examiners he was in charge of . The USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office) was founded in 1802. Thomas Jefferson can be regarded as one of the pioneers in defining the concept of “inventive step” . In one of his letters, he compared an invention consisting of a series of buckets to extract water from a well with a similar device already known in ancient Egypt: ” but it is the principle, to wit, a string of buckets, which constitutes the invention, not the form of the buckets, round, square, or hexagon; nor the manner of attaching them, nor the material of the connecting band, whether chain, rope, or leather” . Thomas Jefferson was already aware of the fact that the invention was neither in the shape of the buckets nor in the kind of material used.
Abraham Lincoln served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Undoubtedly, he was one of the most popular presidents in US history, and interestingly he was also an inventor. During his adolescence and young adulthood he used to sail along the Missisipi river and on several occasions he reached New Orleans from Illinois , where he lived. He was often faced with the problem of the ship running aground because of sandbanks. In fact, when he began his political career, one of his main objectives was to improve the navigability of the Sangamon River, a tributary of the Illinois River that in turn flows into the Mississippi. Lincoln tried to design a system that would allow boats to overcome those sandbanks, without the need of applying a huge force as he had often witnessed. He made up a ship comprising a plurality of floats that could be inflated whenever there was a need to get over a sandbank. The application US6469 was entitled “Buoying Vessels over Shoals” and was filed in 1847 when Lincoln was staying in Washington as a member of congress. The patent was granted on the 22nd of May in 1849. In those years it was necessary to file a model simultaneously with the patent application. There was a fire at the USPTO in 1877 that destroyed most of those models but this one has been preserved and is exhibited in one of the Smithsonian museums. The invention was never manufactured and experts believe it would not work properly. Abraham Lincoln was always interested in patents and inventions and he even worked as a lawyer in a patent suit. He also gave a famous speech remembered in the patent world by his final sentence: “the patent system adds the fuel of interest to the fire of genius”.
With regard to this patent, interestingly and unlike in most patents of that time, the document does not include Lincoln’s signature because a collector of autographs cut it out at the USPTO .
Below, an excerpt of that famous speech by Lincoln where he made reference to the importance of patents in promoting technological progress:
“Next came the Patent laws. These began in England in 1624; and, in this country, with the adoption of our constitution. Before then [these?], any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.”
Other US politicians that were inventors as well are:
Benjamin Franklin (prolific inventor; lightning rod, bifocal glasses, among others), though modern patents had not yet begun, Peter Cooper (candidate to the presidency of the USA and inventor of a type of steam locomotive) and
John Deere (inventor of a polished steel plough and founder of a well known agricultural machinery company).
Konrad Adenauer (01/05/1876 – 04/19/1967) was the first chancellor of the Federal German Republic after the war (1949 – 1963). He also was the leader of the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), the main German political party for many years. He led Western Germany to a period of economic prosperity from the ruins of the war. He showed a great inventiveness as well, and patented some of his inventions. For instance, Konrad Adenauer invented the “soy sausages”. Adenauer was the mayor of Cologne during the First World War which was suffering from hunger due to food shortages. One of the difficult to find foods was meat, so he suggested replacing it with soybeans. These sausages were called “Friedenwurst” or “peace sausages”. He is said to have filed a patent application with the German Patent Office and that the patent was refused because this was contrary to the German rules on the ingredients of sausages. Paradoxically, a patent ( GB131402A ) was granted by Great Britain, the enemy, in 1918.
The subject matter of the patent was a sausage made up of meat and soybean meal. In those years he invented a new type of black bread where an additive was added to the soy flour, as well. The invention was patented in Germany
DE296648 and in Austria AT74310 . He also invented a procedure for the improvement of the conservation of sausages and other meat products by adding soy, which was protected in France by the patent FR516924.
He went on with his inventiveness during the years between the two great wars, even though he did not file any patents: a light to go inside toasters, a rake with a hammer incorporated, an easy-to-clean shower head, a hose nozzle and a device for eliminating insects by means of electricity, among others:
When talking about patents, politics and Germany, a reference must be made to the issue of “patents that funded the SS“. The patent DE670226C was filed by Anton Loibl (member of the SS and Hitler’s driver). In spite of not meeting the patentability requirements, the patent was granted by the German Patent Office due to the pressure exerted by Himmler. Subsequently and in order to assure steady income for the SS, a decree made compulsory the use of the subject matter of the patent throughout Germany (it was a reflector attached to the pedals of bicyclwa). The profits were used to finance the Ahnenerbe (An institute for Archeological research of the SS) and the Lebensborn (an association for the promotion of the “Aryan race“). The company that exploited the patent made use of ·slave labour· and prisoners from concentration camps. This 1963 article from “Der Spiegel” says that the use of those reflectors was still compulsory in 1963 for police bycicles in Western Germany,
In France, the relationship between politics and patents that I have selected also lies in the turbulent years of the Second World War. More information about this case can be found in an entry written in Spanish for the blog of the OEPM (Spanish Patent and Trademark Office) entitled “Patentes: Ocupación, Colaboración y Depuración“. The civil engineer and entrepreneur
Pierre Louis Brice invented a concrete tank for liquid fuels in which water was circulated through a series of channels arranged along the internal walls, thus allowing concrete to be used for the construction of tanks for liquid fuels and saving all the steel for weaponry. Obtaining a patent in Germany (DE73047 ) was his big mistake.
Once France was liberated, purge procedures (Épuration legal) began, to punish the colaboration with the occupiers. The first measure against Pierre Louis forced him to resign his posts in the “Union Chamber of concrete builders” and in the “National Federation of Public Works”. He was not allowed to take part in the boards of companies and his own company was fined with 4 million Francs, Nevertheless, the company had already resumed its activities in 1947 and was carrying out important works in Dunkirk. In 1948, the lawsuit against Brice was withdrawn, but 5 months later there were reports in the press saying that the lawsuit had been dropped due to political pressure, All that coincided with the repression of a miners strike, what led Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie to make the following statement in the French Assembly:
“Les hommes qui ont amassé des fortunes grâce à la collaboration jouissent maintenant pour une bonne part tranquillement de leur trahison tandis que le gouvernement, indulgent aux collabos, a mené une politique de répression scandaleuse contre la classe ouvrière¨.
“The men who have amassed fortunes through collaboration now enjoy now enjoy much of their betrayal quietly whereas the government, indulging the collaborationists, has pursued a policy of outrageous repression against the working class.”
A hostile atmosphere towards the government arose, which ended with the resignation of the Minister of Justice André Marie on the 3rd of February 1949. That also made that the Ministry of Public Works suspended the participation of the company Sainrapt et Brice in works organised by the Ministry. One month later the same measure was adopted by the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urbanism.
In Japan, the politician was not only an inventor but also a patent agent. It is Naoto Kan who, after graduating from the institute of Technology Tokyo, became a patent agent in 1971. As in so many other cases, he himself was an inventor, filing a patent application in 1973 on a machine especially designed for calculating the score in the complicated game Mahjong. Naoto kan was known worldwide when he was appointed Prime Minister of Japan, serving from 06/08/2010 to 09/02/2011 after having been Minister of Health and Minister of Science and Technology . He was Prime Minister when an earthequake and the subsequent tsunami wreaked havoc on the East Coast of Japan on the 12th of March 2011.
In Mexico, it is Herberto Castillo , candidate in 1988 for the presidency of Mexico by the PSM (Socialist Mexican Party), engineer and inventor of the tridilosa, a very light and resistant, materials-efficient 3-D structure, made from steel and concrete and widely used in civil engineering . In the
Espacenet Database , it is possible to find three patent documents where Heberto Castillo is the inventor, all those patent applications were filed later than 1966, when the trilidosa was invented. Castillo defined the trilidosa as a socialist structure because all the elements worked accordingly to their needs and gave to meet the needs of others.
In Spain we had a large number of inventors that were also politicians and politicians that also invented. Among others I have chosen the following ones:
Juan de la Cierva Codorníu , diputado en 1919 y 1922 e inventor del Autogiro.
Federico Molero Giménez was an engineer, a physicist and an inventor who also had political activity as a member of the Spanish Communist Party. He played a fundamental role in securing the water supply in Madrid during the Civil War. Once the war was over, he left for the Soviert Union where he continued his inventive activity. He obtained several patents on solar energy and stood out in that field, becoming the Director of the Institute of Solar Energy of the Academy of Sciences, In 1966 he returned to Spain where he took part in the beginnings of the Tagus-Segura Transfer . He passed away in 1969 after setting up a huge workshop for the exploitation of the patent ES0348932 whose figures are shown below, and which refers to the construction of large prefabricated canals.
Emilio Herrera was president of the Spanish Republic in exile (1960-62) and also a military engineer and inventor. He invented a pressurized space suit, one of the first ones, as part of a project to study the stratosphere in a planned stratospheric balloon flight in 1936. However, both his the project and his scientific career were thwarted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War that same year. The historical archive of the OEPM has two patents, both related to aeronautics where he is one of the inventors: ES127649 entitled “Instrument for calculating the features of aircraft” and ES080315 whose title is “An improvement in the anchorage posts for dirigible balloons” whose figure is shown below:
Fernando María de Ybarra de la Revilla was an entrepreneur and deputy for the League of Monarquic Action and the Conservative Party, but also an inventor and as such appears in several patents related to blast furnaces with which he worked most of his life. He was executed in Bilbao at the beginning of the Civil War.
In the turbulent 1920s and 1930s there were several political scandals were patents were somehow involved. In the entry which I devoted to “The forgin of rebel” I made reference to the supposed patent that the “Duque de Hornachuelos” obtained thanks to political pressure, even though the invention, the simple addition of advertising to cigarette packages, was not patentable.
The “estraperlo” was a huge political scandal that brought about a crisis in the government of the Second Spanish Republic, causing the president Lerroux to step down. The “estraperlo” was a kind of roulette and the term was incorporated to the RAE dictionary to designate the black market of the postwar period. The “estraperlo” was patented and more information about the patent and the political scandal can be obtained in the entry I wrote for the blog of the OEPM.
Last year, thanks to the novel “Filek, el estafador que engaño a Franco” (Filek, the swindler who deceived Franco) by Ignacio Martínez de Pison I learnt the tribulations of Filek, a peculiar man from the Austro Hungarian Empire that was able to swindle Franco, getting the BOE (Official State Journal) to publish in 1939, a few months after the end of the war, a decree which established the urgency of the works for the construction of a factory where a supposed gasoline whose formula was patented was going to be manufactured from the water of the Jarama river.
Nowadays, it is not so common to meet politicians that invent or that have appeared as inventors in patents. It will probably have to do with greater specialization in both jobs, inventor and politician. It is difficult to be an individual inventor today when it is common for inventors to be part of a team of scientists or a large company and being a politician probably requires full-time dedication.
After this historical summary of politicians that were inventors and patented their inventions and about patents that played a role in the politics of the last two centuries, we will have to wait for the results of next European Elections to see if there will be any change in the European Patent System. Undoubtedly, the patent-related issue at stake nowadays is the so called “Unitary Patent” and the “UPC” (Unitary Patent Court). It is well known that Spain did not join it either with a “Popular Party” Government or with a “Socialist Party” Government. Analysing the electoral programmes of the last general elections, only the PNV (Nationalist Basque Country) and the Catalonian Independentist Parties (“Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya” and “Junts per Catalunya”) explicitly stated to be in favour of joining the “Unitary Patent”. A quick review of the electoral programs of the Spanish parties for next elections for the European Parliament shows that there is no reference whatsoever to the “European Patent with unitary effects” or “unitary patent”. In any case, the project is in a “standby” situation, awaiting the outcome of Brexit and of the appeal to the German Constitutional Court.
The Spanish Political Party with the most references to patents in its electoral programme for the European Elections 2019 is “Unidas Podemos”: They demand a fair price for patented drugs obtained thanks to research financed by public investment, they also say that patents should not be an obstacle to access to technology and finally that intellectual property should encourage innovation and not be a barrier for companies.
I am sure that there are many more cases of inventors that were also politicians and vice versa. If you are aware of any of them I encourage you to disclose them through comments and I will be able to incorporate them in future versions.
Leopoldo Belda Soriano
Proofread by Ben Rodway