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This is about science produced by the California Institute of Technology and originally broadcast by station KPCC in Pasadena California. The programs are made available to the station by national educational radio. This program is about Count TX patents with host Dr. Peter lesser man and his guest Mr. Lee stamped. Here now is Dr. Leslie Mann part of the American dream in its own way is the patent system. Who of ours has not schemed and plotted avi's own little invention a better bottle top a safety hair curler a perpetual motion machine even perhaps a moon rocket to be developed developed designed and safely protected by patents. And then desired to be purchased by an appreciative world and bringing to the lucky inventor a huge income wealth
beyond the dreams of avarice by which a man could spend the rest of his life in cultured ease. The Americans are in a sense the most inventive race on earth. From grapefruit slices to lasers. The ideas come pouring forth. All over the front to the individual as it is here and the patent system in itself is in a way a part of that in the spirit of a man protecting and profiting by his own ingenuity but always with his ingenuity directed towards the good of others. Perhaps it isn't a part of something to do with the old Yankee combination of inventiveness. And the sound he had for a dollar which is so much a part of the American personality which makes patents in the United States such a significant and central part of every day life
engine nearing and science. To talk to us we have Mr. Lee stem who is particularly well suited to discuss the whole subject of patents lead turkeys BSN engineering and his B.A. and for the George Washington University. He has spent something like 25 years in the patent game 12 at the high church itself for the game. The U.S. Patent Office. Another 10 in industry and for the last three or four years he has been a patent officer at the California Institute of Technology and is executive secretary of the California Institute of Technology Research Foundation. How did you start off. How did you get into the patent business in the first place. Well creator It was almost accidental. When I graduated from high school at the height of the depression I
took a civil service examination seeking any sort of position I could find and it so happened that the appointment I received was as a messenger in the United States Patent Office. This gave me a job and a direction. So that's how you started off but I guess a patent officer has to really be rather highly qualified I imagine engineering is essential to his background. Yes well while I worked in the Patent Office in practically every division as messenger clerk typist and so forth I educated myself evenings at George Washington University. And when I achieved my Bachelor of Science and Engineering I qualified for a professional job as a patent examiner. Get into my profession. But I noticed the interesting fact that you were also a qualified lawyer is that you. Well it's actually a requisite for the practice of that profession that you hold both degrees. Generally to start as a patent examiner the civil service requires an engineering degree
but practically every patent examiner trained himself in law profession and I took my law degree at night. Evenings. George watch University. So I guess really when one comes to think of it it's perfectly obvious that annoy and engineering are both essential for a patent officer. I guess the whole patent system is a very very old thing. What about the history of the patents. Well historically. Patents go back to the Middle Ages and prior to the institution of the American system. The Monarchs. In Europe for example would simply grant an exclusive right as a favor to someone without regard to inventiveness later on by special acts of legislature in the colonies before the
United States was formed. A man could get an exclusive right for an invention but the founding fathers when they put when they framed the Constitution they were concerned they want to protect inventions but they want to get away from the old monarchist approach. Yes I think that's absolutely fascinating leader. The fact is as you say that as far as the United States goes the patent system is built right into the Constitution. Yes that's right. The constitutional provision says. Something like this that Congress shall have power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and inventions. I think that's fascinating just to see how far back into the American ethos the whole patent system goes and to continue about how far back I believe
that many famous Americans of early days were actually associated with Pat Jefferson and Franklin for example were prolific in Ventura. Abraham Lincoln had several inventions. Lincoln what sort of things that he invented or he invented. One device which I think on examination was intended to be perpetual motion device but which was had a title which indicated it was some sort of. Mechanical linkage and another device for lifting the barges over Shoals which incidentally was never used. Well in that case I guess neither of his inventions would have been yours as you pointed out that the one for lifting barges wasn't used and I guess he probably never got the perpetual motion system to work. So far as I know none have today. History doesn't record that Lincoln's very brilliant talents he was not an invention inventor of
perpetual motion in connection with this subject Peter I think it's interesting that the first act that Congress passed in putting this portion of the Constitution into effect was the first time in history that the right of an inventor to profit from its invention was recognized by all or anyone anywhere in the world. That is interesting so that that in a sense is another strongly American aspect of the path. Yes very much so. Which I had never realized the tour being harassed harassed the patent system changed very much since the days of the founding fathers. In principle the American system has not in fact changed. For the most part after our first stat. The rest of the world slowly began to follow these sorts of rights are available now in most countries in the world in one form or another.
In other words many other countries in the world have adapted into their own laws. What were originally framed by the US Constitution and American system. Yes sir that's correct the idea being to. Trade off with the inventor a right to exclude others from using his invention if he would make public what it was that he had invented so that science could build upon his disclosure. I see. I guess actually the word itself means means open definitely. Yes in the sense used in connection with patents it means an open document a document open to the public for all to see. I see so we shouldn't think of a patent as being a secretive thing in fact it's the absolute opposite to a secret. That's right but. It's strange that this is true after the issuance of the patent after the contract is sealed so to speak because our patent applications are in fact kept in secrecy until they are published that's always us and
so of course one gets back to the other old traditional picture. The inventor behind locked doors secretly inventing his famous devices and not betting anyone in until he's actually got a patent. How does a patent last for in the United States in the United States at 17 years from the date of publication or issue is that under our present system. And then are you through then or can you renew it. No a patent is not renewable. It becomes public property after its expiration. Do you have any idea whether that's the same sort of period in other countries I expect. No it varies all the way from 10 to 20 years some countries have taxes which are necessary and conditions of working which are necessary to keep patents alive in the American system the right is. Retained by the inventor for 17 years without any requirement whatever other than that he make his initial disclosure fully and properly.
I imagine there must also be a lot of very complicated international war about whether something patented here is covered and protected in France or in the Philippines or any other spot. No as a matter of fact the effect of a patent can extend only so far as the jurisdiction of the country that issues it. And there are no. Laws in which each country respects the rights of another so that if an inventor wants protection in a foreign country he must take out a patent in that foreign country don't respect ours or her. Similarly we don't respect the US. That is most interesting. Well really I can't help asking you how does Cal Tech get into the patent game after all Cal Tech doesn't seem like an engineering outfit or something that is going to be making things for money. Well it's sort of a full out situation because Cal Tech is an
educational and research institution. Is Engaged soley in basic research as a matter of policy they don't try to build machines. They try more to delve into the secrets of nature to push back the frontiers of science. Kel-Tec provides a service is a Jet Propulsion Laboratory for Nasser and in this respect they're doing something approaching applied research but it's space oriented it's it's not the development of Earthbound science or things for use. However in the course of basic research in the course of this space separate. They have to constantly improve their knowledge of various science. Disciplines and create new instruments to be able to do better the things they're trying to do and even in the basic research it Kel-Tec this
requirement still exists. So inventions crop out of this basic research into space research. Yes I see what you mean sir. So you say that neither Cal Tech nor JPL is in the game for profit as it were. They're simply trying to do things better than anyone else. And so as a result of this they frequently come up with inventions which represent rail improvements upon the current state of the art and which are useful here on Earth today and those are the ones that. Make it necessary for us to be in the patent business as you see. Incidentally if I cut in on that. Are you implying that you can't patent something on a moon rocket. Oh you can. There is no anything which is new and useful may be patented. The problem comes. Why do you want the patent and how are you going to use it and who are you going to exclude from using it. And when you start to
analyze things this way there is not any point in either an industrial. Company or an institution like Cal Tech acquiring patents whose only use would be governmental or whose only use would be a single use even though they are new and. Useful. In other words one wouldn't one wouldn't patent a lunar module or something like that but only parts of it that might be useful to people on earth. Well I think the government might in a defensive patenting situation so that they haven't developed it they wouldn't have to pay a royalty to someone else who developed it later. But our interest in acquiring patents Kel-Tec is to try to provide new and improved product products for public use here on Earth. And we try to limit our acquisition of patents to this type of thing and allow the government to patent. Other things which made we may develop under sponsored
research which the government may want to patent for purposes of its own. I see sir. So that as far as we're concerned to count out our patenting is purely a public service. We simply attempt to acquire patents on things which we believe should be developed and which will be of value to the general public. That's right any profit that we might make or our policies might affect states that the main effort is is the public benefit effort of trying to provide new products that if profit is made on this program why is that so much for the better but it is not the main motive. All I wanted to ask you about that in my introduction I just played up the popular idea there that to patent an invention as a way of making a fortune do any of the professors at Cal Tech who invent things get rich on the income from there and very well to the present
time the answer to that is no. Most of our inventions or. Fairly advanced instrumentation things that are not mis produced are used so that while we give our inventors 15 percent of our early income nobody's. Got very much out of that nominal thing rather than a large one. In other words the things that they are inventing would only be used in a very specialized high level research lab and not in every house wife's kitchen stuff like that to the present time that is true. I like to think that some mass produced item that is useful to the whole world on a large scale will come along perhaps tomorrow. Yes I do truly I love to maintain that dream. You know I'd like to ask you why do you fear that patenting an invention is so important. It seems to the general public that it would
be better possibly to just leave this free for anyone to use. Well a Kel-Tec were fairly strenuously devoted to the idea that. Private enterprise is the way to get things into use. If an invention is in the public domain and requires money for development no one manufacturer will be maybe willing to risk his capital to develop it and put it on the market if he knows that all the rest of the world can immediately capitalize on his effort and compete with him the next day. Hi I see you you mentioned the technical term public domain could you explain what that means we heard so much. Well I think it's fairly literal. If something is published for example without patenting or the patent is. Donated to the public. This would mean that anyone
can use it. Oh it just means that it's open to use by anyone that the originator has no exclusive right to the thing as Oh and we feel that with invent a specially with inventions which require money to be developed that this is not this is against the public interest so we strive as hard as we can to acquire private rights in this sort of property so that we can go to industry and say we can protect you if you invest some money to make this new and better product available to the public so. So there I do yeah. If I can paraphrase here is that if somebody invents something that is good and would be good for people but costs a lot to make it is far better to protect this so that someone will have the initiative to try to produce this to sell it to people so that he may make a profit. But that in effect the public will be better off because they will actually have the site. Yes Peter that's stated quite well I might add that
we try very hard to get other educational institutions and nonprofit foundations to see this our way. I see to make the same effort. So if I was going to ask you that what about the other major research institutes in the country do they take the same point of view that we do. Some few of the larger ones do. It's perhaps unfortunate that smaller school or smaller institutions or institutions in a relatively non industrial areas have a lesser interest and are less sophisticated about patents and don't try as hard as we do in this respect. In a sense they probably don't look far enough ahead. Yes I would say that you know me. What sort of things are patented at Cal Tech. We know of all the interesting research done here it's kind of hard for an outsider to imagine the sort of things that would come up in the course of research that people might feel were making a packing time. Well actually Cal Tech. On a campus.
Has an extremely broad spread spectrum of interest and of scientific disciplines and everything from microbiology to soil test equipment to electronics to lasers to cryogenics and of course the space shuttle the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It's simply a combination of everything man has ever known before so there's a wide spectrum of activity and of course therefore a wide spectrum of inventions. And so these new ideas are pouring out all the time and people like Celtic and I or other research institutes are permanently dissatisfied with their equipment and with the things that they have so they invent stuff which is better. And then they patent that. However another thing Lee can't take of course has a large number of theoreticians the sort of people who make scratchings on paper and produce famous earthshattering equations. How about those sort of ideas kind of man. Patent a mathematical formula for example.
No we cannot. If I may generalize. You you can only patent. You can patent a process. A device. Or an apparatus. An article a compound that has to be a physical embodiment of some sort an idea a mathematical formula and electoral process are not patentable because they don't have any. Any form ice and they're not provided for in statute. So that so that one cannot really in essence hack into nabs tract idea. One can only patent some concrete idea which is a definite improvement on things. I expect this means that most of the patents supplied take come from the experimentalists and I suppose that as you pointed out the further utility is very limited except to other experimentalists who are working at a really deep level.
I would say this is true of most of them. Occasionally something comes along which surprisingly appears to have a potential for mass production. What are some things like that. Well quite recently as a matter of fact we have two of them which which may come into mass production if their development. Proceeds as we hope will. For example one of our polymer chemists deeply involved in investigating the semiconductor qualities of. Organic materials. Developed an extremely miniature solid state battery. And we have a large manufacturer as a licensee now expanding a good deal of effort and funds in trying to develop it for mass marketing. It was a totally unexpected result off the
paratha of the man's inquiry. That's a wonderful illustration of serendipity where a pleasant and most desirable result comes quite unexpectedly from other sources. Whatever sort of things like that come out play well for example another of our polymer chemists deeply involved in solid propellant was searching for a better binder for a solid propellant material to be used in solid propellant rockets. And he developed an asphalt polymer mix which turned out to be quite poor binder for her. So our parents. But to have peculiar thermoplastic rebel qualities would make it an extremely interesting product which might have a thousand different uses all the way from paving to Canal lining. It's one of one of the possibilities that we have in our patent
portfolio for large scale use. I like that service men invented what he hoped was going to be something we could go up in a rocket to the moon and in spite of that it in fact never got on the ground it stayed on the ground and that's the place where it really should be as a some sort of paving compound. Any other things that seem especially interesting. Well those are the ones which to me seem to have. The largest potential for mis production. We have a solid state trial development and a battery charger and various transistor improvements which have this potential of develop. And all along this broad spectrum of invention that I've told you the developments in all those areas. You talk about that a broad spectrum and movement in time worked. Can you tell us what is happening in
the United States and Cal Tech in the direction of patents who are making inventions these days where are the backyard inventors. Well you keep hearing that they're being crowded out by large corporations but I've been in this business so long that I hesitate to believe that I don't think that Yankee ingenuity you mentioned earlier is ever going to die. Since my friends know me as a patent attorney it's hard to walk down the street without meeting a man who doesn't have an idea and I think our backyard inventors are here to stay. Well I like that in other words. And you're also making the point that Celtic inventors are something in a way like the backyard inventors you know only individuals trying to do something a little better. As individuals they are but you do have to remember that the kind of research they do they have the very very best of tools and equipment and assistance to work with. They're not exactly like the backyard inventor.
And so as you say we see that the Celtic inventors are not exactly like the backyard inventor but they are these lone individuals watching on and trying to improve the world. And as the old saying goes if we can slightly modified even a better mousetrap or the better synchrotron or better moon rocket where Peter path to meas door and when there were changes and in many basic ways we still have this virtually unlimited resources of imagination of men pouring out ideas new ideas. Good. Bad ideas sometimes merit runs sometimes crazy but occasionally ideas are earth shattering experience. Now the patent office provides the means of protecting this idea so that a million may profit by his own ingenuity. Thank you.
About science
About Caltech's patents
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California Institute of Technology
KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This program focuses on the patent system and the patents owned by the California Institute of Technology.
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Interview series on variety of science-related subjects, produced by the California Institute of Technology. Features three Cal Tech faculty members: Dr. Peter Lissaman, Dr. Albert R. Hibbs, and Dr. Robert Meghreblian.
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Host: Hibbs, Albert R.
Producing Organization: California Institute of Technology
Producing Organization: KPCC-FM (Radio station : Pasadena, Calif.)
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Chicago: “About science; About Caltech's patents,” 1967-12-26, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 2, 2021,
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APA: About science; About Caltech's patents. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from