The strange and unusual world of patents

A device for the treatment of hiccups (United States Patent 7062320)

A device for the treatment of hiccups (United States Patent 7062320)

Which famous inventor was furious when his father-in-law applied for a patent before the inventor thought it was ready to go? Answer below, or in this book: The Reluctant Genius by Charlotte Gray (TK6143 B4 G73 2006 in the Schulich Library).

Before the answer, you should know that there are still lots to be invented. The patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a hiccup treatment is a cup that gives you a shock when you take a drink. However, a patent has yet to be granted.

Canadian patent application 2345760 by scientists working for Pfizer is for “Substance P” which may be useful in the treatment of hiccups, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, Tourette’s Syndrome and a few dozen other neurological conditions. Don’t try it on yourself just yet.

US Patent 4320756, filed in 1981, is a fresh air breathing device. The inventor says, “The recent rash of fires in high-rise hotels and deaths occasioned thereby has given rise to the need for a breathing device and method for supplying a hotel guest and/or fireman with fresh air until he can be rescued.” He developed a tube to be inserted down the toilet through the water trap to “fresh” air. Breathe easy until help arrives?

If you want to find more possible ways for stopping the hiccups or can come up with a way of getting fresh air rather than sewer gas to hotel guests trapped by a fire, the Schulich Library has a number of resources that can point you in the right direction. Don’t be shy to ask a librarian!

And the answer: Gardiner Hubbard was Alexander Graham Bell’s father-in-law. Bell came to teach Hubbard’s deaf daughter but ended up working with funding from Hubbard on improvements to the telegraph and, eventually, marrying his daughter. Hubbard wanted him to figure out how to send many messages at the same time. Bell had different ideas, and developed means of transmitting sound electrically. US Patent 174465 filed in 1876, his first having to do with the telephone, is called “Improvement in telegraphy”. Indeed! After numerous counterclaims and much work by lawyers, in the end, Bell prevailed. He continued to work on numerous projects but enjoyed a healthy income from the telephone. He and his wife, Mabel, lived happily, spending much time in Cape Breton.

If you have any questions about these patents, or want to explore the world of patents in general, don’t hesitate to ask a librarian.

Jim Henderson
Geographic Information Centre

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