The Most Common Sense Business Approach to Patentable innovation in Utah
Sometimes you find fun articles or studies that venture to rank the “most important” innovations, like this recent one, the most impactful invention by state:
What?! Utah’s own Lester wire invented the electric traffic light, “letting drivers know when to stop, go, or slow down”?! oh my heck. Move over Utah Jell-O dessert!
Reasonable minds can differ about how to rank innovation. Whether and how patents are and should be involved in such innovation is also a good question. Some scholars are skeptical that patents drive innovation. From a business perspective, I think at least some of the criticism misses the point. By necessity, businesses are pragmatic, not scholarly. For them, patents are not always most useful as merit badges of innovation. Rather, patents can be practical competitor management tools, deterring, hindering, or even halting competing products.
So, getting back to the article, we might long to seal hunt with the genius Inuit who prototyped the kayak (Alaska). But maybe more business props to the folks behind the modern tampon (colorado). Tampon inventor Dr. Earle has protected his design with a patent, as well as his fledgling Tampax brand (a portmanteau of “tampon” and “pack”) with a Trademark registration. In 1933, he sold the patent and trademark registration to german immigrant and Denver businesswoman Gertrude Tendrich for $32,000—$589,757.56 in 2017 dollars. Ms. Tendrich then founded and helmed the Tampax company, which was eventually purchased by Procter and gamble in 1997 for $2 billion. Somewhere in there (ww2), Tampax produced large quantities of wound dressings and saved a bunch of soldiers – extra innovation points.
How did Utah son Lester wire fare? according to the salt lake tribune, while he thought of having his light patented, wire didn’t see the process through. The first traffic light patent was awarded to someone else.