Question from Felix:

Hey Invention Geek,
Is there a patent for the MRI machine? If so, who holds the patent?

Thanks for your question, Felix!

The short answer is: yes, there are, in fact, a few of patents associated with the development of the modern MRI.

The slightly longer answer includes stories of betrayal, intrigue, and full page ads in the New York Times.

First of all, Raymond Damadian is widely credited with the initial discovery of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

After exposing tissue samples to nuclear magnetic resonance, Damadian observed a difference between tissue in a cancerous tumor and healthy tissue. He published an article in 1971 in the journal, Science, about his findings. In collaboration with other doctors, the first MRI for a full body scan was built in 1977. Damadian named it the “Indomitable,” because of the seven years of complex work needed to finish the project.

He obtained US patent 3,789,832 for the MRI machine, called an “apparatus and method for detecting cancer in tissue,” in February of 1974 and was eventually inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame for this achievement in 1989.

An image from the original MRI Patent, issued Feb 5, 1974.

An image from Damadian's MRI Patent, issued Feb 5, 1974.

Now, while credit for the original MRI scanning machine goes to Dr. Damadian, credit for the development and refinement of magnetic imaging — which is what helps the machine do what it does as well as it does it — belongs mainly to chemist Dr. Paul Lauterbur.  Damadian’s original patent had included the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) for diagnostic imaging, as it ahd been discovered a few decades earlier, but it turned out to be fairly inaccurate and was deemed unsuitable for diagnostic purposes.

Lauterbur's 1992 patent on NMR magnetic imaging.

Lauterbur's 1992 patent on NMR magnetic imaging.

Lauterbur’s work developing the use of NMR for magnetic imaging was crucial in the ultimate success of the MRI Machine as a diagnostic tool. The doctor worked for decades to improve the accuracy and reliability of the imaging process. In 1992, he was awarded patent 5081992 for a “method for calculating localized magnetic resonance spectra.”

In 2003, Dr. Lauterbur and British chemist Peter Mansfield were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in the field.

But Dr. Damadian was not to be forgotten. After Lauterbur was awarded the Nobel prize in 2003, Damadian (or friends, as some stories have it) took out full page ads in the most popular newsparers denouncing Lauterbur’s win and demanding reconsideration.  While there is no appeals or recall process for a Nobel Prize, Damadian did receive additional recognition in 2004 when he was awarded a Bower Award for scientific excellence by the Franklin Institute.

Dr. Lauterbur was finally given a well-earned place in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

Both men contributed greatly to the advancement of modern medical diagnostic technology as we know it.

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A period of time where people depended on a candle flame as a means of a portable device to help see in the dark came to an end with the invention of the flashlight. However, the invention of the flashlight did not occur until later in the 19th century because it depended on the inventions of the electric light and battery.

Joshua L. Cowen was the original owner of the American Eveready Battery Company and designed a safety fuse to ignite photographic flash powder. This was the precursor to the modern flash bulb. However, the invention did not see much success as Cowen had hoped for photographers. The U.S. Navy bought the fuses and used them with underwater explosives.

Ever_Ready_Flashlight_Ad_1899Later, Cowen came up with the idea of decorative lighting for a flower pot. This light up device was composed of a metal tube, light bulb and ran on a dry cell battery. This garden decoration was also a failure.

In 1896, Cowen sold his company, ideas and patents to Conrad Hubert to become a full-time inventor. Cowen went on to pursue his passion for trains and created toys and a new company; Lionel Model Trains.

Hubert was a Russian immigrant who moved to the United States in 1891. In Russia, Hubert had a reputation as a great businessman. However, because of the Russian persecution of Jews, Hubert chose to move to the United States and arrived at Ellis Island in 1891. He changed his name to Conrad Hubert from his birth name, Akiba Horowitz. Exercising his business skills, Hubert opened a cigar shop in New York City. He also tried working within several other businesses including; restaurant, a boarding house, a milk wagon route, a jewelry store, a farm and a novelty shop. The novelty shop would become Hubert’s most successful business. Continue reading “Let There Be Light! – Invention of the Flashlight”

Question from Douglas:

I use a ballpoint pen nearly everyday, who invented it?


The first ballpoint pen patent, 392,046, was issued to John Loud on October 30, 1888. Loud was a leather tanner and needed a writing device to assist him with marking leather and cloth. Regular fountain pens were unable to perform the tasks Loud needed. The new ballpoint pen worked well on tough surfaces, but was too rough for use of paper. The pen was never commercially produced.
View Loud’s patent here.

Irritated with how often he had to fill his fountain pen with ink, László Bíró, wanted to invent a better writing product. Bíró realized the ink used for newspaper printing dried quickly without smudging. He wanted to create a writing device that would dispense ink with the same qualities as the newspaper ink. László and Georg Bíró created the first commercial ballpoint pen. The brothers filed for a British patent on June 15, 1938. They also filed and received US patent 2,400,679 on May 21, 1946. The pen had a few kinks. However, thanks to a creative marketing strategy, the ballpoint pens were popular, especially among the British Royal Air Force.
View Bíró’s patent here.

hetrickJohn Hetrick’s invention was the first prototype of today’s modern air bags and derived from an accident on a Sunday afternoon drive. In the spring of 1952, Hetrick, his wife and daughter went for a car ride in their 1948 Chrysler Windsor.  The car veered into a ditch on the side of the road to avoid an on-road collision.

Hetrick recalled “As I applied the brakes, both my wife and I threw our hands up to keep our daughter from hitting the dashboard … during the ride home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the accident. I asked myself: ‘Why couldn’t some object come out to stop you from striking the inside of the car?'”

As a retired industrial engineer technician, Hetrick was concerned that there was not a device in the car to cushion the impact of an accident between the vehicle’s interior and the passengers. Hetrick used his experience working with the Navy to create a safety device for vehicles. He received U.S. patent 2,649,311 for “safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles” on August 18, 1953.

German inventor, Walter Linderer received German patent 896,312 on November 12, 1953.  Linderer’s system involved a compressed air system, which was released by the driver or bumper contact. Later research concluded that compressed air could not expand and fill the bag fast enough for maximum safety.
Continue reading “More Than Air – Invention of the Air Bag”

The space race may have ended, but its legacy will live on in a number of everyday products.

NASA may not have invented Tang, but the legendary agency did contribute to the development of many other products we consumers use every day.  Memory foam, safety grooving and enriched baby formula were all NASA influenced.

Memory Foam –

memoryfoamIn 1966, scientists at NASA developed a open cell polyurethane-silicon plastic to improve the safety of seat cushions on spacecraft and to lessen the impact of landing. The soft cushion material wants to maintain it’s original form and structure when it is compressed. Even after being compressed to 10% of it sizes, the foam will return to its original shape and size which is why it is called memory foam.

Charles Yost, who helped to develop the product, called the substance temper foam. He formed a company to sell the product. The foam was originally used in X-ray tables and football helmets. Today, the substance is used for many applications from the medical industry to consumer products. The foam can be found in couches, mattresses and pillows.  The foam has been added to prosthetic limbs to reduce the friction on joints. Continue reading “NASA Discoveries…Not Just For The Moon”

Question from Gary:

Wasn’t there a published US application that the attorney did NOT remove a comment before it automatically published – something like I bet my inventors won’t even read any of this???

Hello Gary,

What a great question!!!

Yes, there was an application where a comment which should have been removed was published.

US Patent Application 20040161257 filed on July 21, 2003 for a display control apparatus for image forming apparatus had a very interesting claim included. Claim 9 of the application read as follows:
The method of providing user interface displays in an image forming apparatus which is really a bogus claim included amongst real claims, and which should be removed before filing; wherein the claim is included to determine if the inventor actually read the claims and the inventor should instruct the attorneys to remove the claim.

The actual patent, US patent 7305199, issued December 4, 2007 does not have this bogus claim included.

You can view the application here.
The patent can be see here.

Question from Archie:

The Wienermobile. What’s the deal with the vehicle? Does it have a patent?

What a great question, Archie!

Indeed, the “deal” with the Wienermobile is quite an interesting one, and, yes, it does have a patent associated with it.

It all started in 1936 when Karl Mayer, nephew to beloved meat magnate Oscar Mayer, imagined what would become the best known promotional vehicle (literally!) in American history.

Mayer chose the General Body Company of Chicago to realize this vision. The 13 foot long frank first rolled off the assembly line July 18, 1936 at a cost of $5,000 — no small price in the middle of the Great Depression!

Wienermobile 1936

The Original Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, 1936

While it spent the first few years of its life bound to the streets of Chicago, Wienermobile-mania continued to spread as the company began visiting towns across the country. Gas rationing in WWII may have kept the friendly frank off the streets for a time, but by 1969, the famed Wienermobile made its first trans-continental journey.

To protect his creation, Carl G. Mayer received a design patent D171,550 for an automotive vehicle on September 27, 1952. Any one of the fleet of 8 wandering wurst can now be seen across the United States, and even in foreign countries like Canada, Spain, or Japan.

In addition to the design patent, the Wienermobile is protected by a number of trademarks.

– TG

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machineThe history of popcorn making and corn popping machines have seen much improvement. Advancements have allowed us to efficiently pop our favorite snack just in time for that movie. In the past, many methods had been executed to pop corn as a treat. One simple way was placing kernels over a fire on a hot rock. As the impact of the heat increased on the kernels, they would pop in different directions. People would chase after the pieces in order catch and enjoy the taste of this snack. Sadly, many of the corn kernels were charred. Luckily, there are easier ways to obtain this delightful goody and it began with the world’s first commercial popcorn machine.

Charles Cretors is accredited as the inventor of the first commercial popcorn machine. He first received United States Patent 506,207 on October 10, 1893 for improvements on peanut-roasters or corn-popper. Continue reading “Butter, Salt and Lard – Refining Popcorn”

Question from Royce M:

Is it true that there was a patent for the first self serve grocery store?
Thanks, Royce

Yes, that is absolutely correct. Piggly Wiggly was America’s first modern self-service grocery store.

Clarence Saunders received patent number 1,242,872 on October 9, 1917 for the concept of a self-service supermarket store. Saunders had revolutionized the grocery industry and improved the customer shopping experience.

Originally, shoppers depended on store clerks to gather their grocery order from the shelves. Sanders developed a self-serve setup to avoid wasted time and expenses. In response to the change, packaging and brand recognition became increasingly important because consumers now directly chose products. Sanders’ innovative idea was a success as other stores began to adopt the same layout for their locations.

95 years later, since the opening in 1916, Piggly Wiggly stores can still be found today in the Southern and Midwestern regions of the United States.

Read the Piggly Wiggly patent here.

Statue of Liberty PatentDid you know the subject of America’s most famous design patent wasn’t actually designed by an American?

On February 18, 1879, French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi received US Patent D11,023 for a statue design – one he called, “Liberty Enlightening The World.”

You know her as The Statue of Liberty. She stands tall on her pedestal on Liberty Island, a beacon of hope for Freedom seekers the world over.

But, did you know the greatest symbol of American Opportunity almost didn’t happen due to a lack of funding? It’s true!

Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned in 1876 – the year of the American Centennial – to create the statue as a gift to America; it would be a symbol of friendship between France & the US for everyone to see. France would raise the money to build the sculpture, and America would handle the pedestal.

Simple, right?

Not really.

Even with Bartholdi’s patent – which he got specifically to allow him to create and sell replicas of Lady Liberty as a fundraising effort – France still had trouble finding enough public support. It took numerous auctions, art exhibits, lotteries and theater events were used to raise the needed funds from their end.

Construction of the statue began in 1875 and was not completed until nine years later in 1884. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel tower, planned the skeletal framework for the statue. A larger-than-life representation of the Roman Goddess Libertas, Bartholdoi used two different women as models. The face is said to be a likeness of his mother. His wife posed for the arms and torso of Lady Liberty.

Liberty Enlightening the World

Liberty Enlightening the World

Meanwhile, America was having her own bit of funding problems. That is, until Joseph Pulitzer’s shame campaign against the wealthy and middle class alike spurred enough interest to finally fund the pedestal in 1885, just months before the statue – which had been shipped from France July of 1884 – arrived in New York.

So finally, on June 19, 1885, the world’s single, most powerful symbol of Freedom arrived in America in 350 pieces packed into 214 crates. They were reassembled in their place on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. On October 28, 1886, before thousands of spectators, President Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty on the now-named Liberty Island.

Lady Liberty stands 305 feet and 1 inch tall from its base to the tip of the torch and weighs 450,000 pounds. Each year over 3 million people visit the statue that has welcomed immigrants to Ellis Island since 1892.

Statue of Liberty