Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Inventions and Their Patents—and a Giveaway!

By Kathleen Y’Barbo

            The nineteenth century was known for great advances in science and industry. The latter half of the century brought about the mechanization of business, an increase in higher learning, and the age of machines that ushered in the Industrial Revolution.
            I am currently writing a book series that centers on inventions and inventors. After creating a few fictional discoveries, I wondered just how my characters might go about filing for and receiving patents on these inventions. The process, as it turns out, is much simpler than I expected.
            The United States Patent and Trademark office has declared that there are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant patents. Utility patents are awarded for processes, machines, or other compositions or for improvements to these things. Design patents are just that, a patent given for creation of a design. Finally, plant patents are given to those who invent or discover new varieties of plants.
            Before making a request for a patent, a patent search must be done. This is generally where an inventor will bring in an attorney who specializes in this area. My research showed that there were only a few attorneys who specialized in working through the details of patents during the latter years of the nineteenth century. Harry A Toulmin, Sr. of the Springfield, Ohio firm of Toulmin & Toulmin, was on the leading edge of this practice of law. Among the patents he researched and brought to fruition were five different design elements of the Wright brothers’ flying machines.

            Since the inventors in my stories are applying for utility patents, I took the search further to see what would have been required during the latter half of the nineteenth century. First, an application would be filled out showing, among other things, the details of the item being patented as well as providing information on the invention and its creator or creators. 
            All inventors must be named and their citizenship data included. Drawings are included as well as background information and any claims on the scope of the patent. A fee must be paid and sworn oath must be provided that states, among other things, that the inventors believe they are the original and first inventor of the item. Patent applications are generally published 18 months after application. The time between application and the granting of the patent can vary greatly, but it is not a quick process and can take years.
            A look back at the US Patent Office reveals an interesting history. A disastrous fire struck the Patent Office, then housed in Blodget’s Hotel, on December 15, 1836. All 10,000 patents and several thousand related patent models were destroyed thanks to an old and defective fire hose that would not funnel water onto the fire. 
            Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent over the next ten years in an attempt to restore all of the lost information. Eventually, the Patent Office declared the effort a lost cause. A fire in 1877 repeated the problems of the earlier fire. While postal workers doing a poor job of banking the fire in the basement fireplace had caused the 1836 fire, no cause was ever determined for the destruction of the building, which had been declared fireproof. Thanks to lessons learned in the first fire, however, no patents were lost the second time around due to duplicates being housed elsewhere.
            Perhaps it is the United States Patent Office that gives us an admonishment that is as valuable now as it was back in 1877: Save your work!


As the month of May begins, I’m celebrating with a contest! FLORA’S WISH, book 1 of the Secret Lives of Will Tucker series features a Pinkerton agent whose other interest is inventing. I’m giving away a copy of FLORA’S WISH in a random drawing. Leave a comment on this post to enter. Tell me what sort of invention—real or fictional—that you would love to see me use in an upcoming book. Or just tell me that you would like to win. A winner will be chosen at random. Contest ends at noon Central time on May 2.

Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a Carol Award and RITA nominee of forty-five novels with almost two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad and nominations including a Career Achievement Award, Reader’s Choice Awards, and several Romantic Times Top Picks. A proud military wife and tenth-generation Texan, she now cheers on her beloved Aggies from north of the Red River. Find out more at


  1. How about using one of those weird health contraptions that sprang up, doctoring all sort of ailments with electricity or whatever? Sounds like an interesting book!


  2. Okay, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest the bra as the invention you should put in your next story! Really, though, I wonder who invented it, and if the first women to wear one felt scandalous, not wearing full undergarments. I think there could be some good story material in there, and quite possibly very funny material!
    I have a young son who I think could be an inventor someday. He's very imaginative, and is always making things, usually out of paper and tape, but sometimes from boxes or other cardboard pieces.....and, of course, more tape. If he's going to be an inventor we're going to have to invest in some stronger materials for him! :D

  3. I really can't think of an invention. So, I'm just gonna say that I would love to win!
    campbellamyd at gmail dot com

  4. Thanks for this interesting post, Kathleen. I've wondered before about the steps involved in getting a patent. I bet your book will be interesting too.

  5. I have found very few books with Pinkerton agents and I just love the ones that I find. I would like to say the fly swatter. Surely, they tried to do something about all those pesky flies that seem to lurk everywhere waiting for the perfect opportunity to pester the daylights out of everyone and every animal. My dogs go crazy trying to catch those pesky things.


  6. Back scratcher. Wonderful when you really have an itch that you can't reach.


  7. I keep thinking that surely humanity has invented everything they can. But then someone comes up with something else that I never would have thought of! Wish I could invent something!


  8. shoe wooden last or skate key and skates!
    Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House
    lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]net would love to win this Pinkerton agent story~

  9. I would like to see plants used a theme, the discovery of a new variety of flowers . . . or secondly, a story about the very first patent lawyers. My husband is designing some yard equipment and working through the current patent process, which involves a lawyer and illustrator. Even though the government will fast track a senior adult, it still takes a lot of time. We've received two patents, though!

    cjarvis [at] bellsouth [dot] net

  10. The curling iron! I can see many hilarious and horrible attempts and finding out how to get the perfect heat etc. I see poor ladies with shocks of hair missing from being burned off - wow, I must be a horrible person to imagine that. lol
    Interesting info, thank you!
    Susan P
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

  11. I'm going to have to share this post with my hubby who is forever coming up with inventions and never doing anything about it. Interesting look into something I don't hear much about.

  12. I think a time machine would be see it on some shows and wonder how fun it would be to go back. =)
    truckredford (at)gmail(dot)com

  13. I think it is amazing how once a patent runs out, how many 'copies' of that invention turn up. A lot goes into a patent and I agree that you should always save your work! Several copies! :)

  14. My first day as a member of this group and certainly, I would love to win the book!

  15. I think something about antiseptics or some other breakthrough in the medical field would be interesting.
    may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com

  16. How about the sewing machine? That was a great invention, and still very much in use. I remember sewing on my Mother's sewing machine. Also, when I was sewing in High School. Ten the foot feed that you only had to press instead of peddling. I would love to win "Flora's Wish". Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  17. I can't think of any new invention. I know now in this modern day and age we live in, there are certified patent agents that you can use. I would really love to win!

  18. I'm tired so can't think of an invention to include in your next book. However, I would love to win Flora's Wish. It sounds intriguing.
    Thanks for the giveaway.


  19. I like the treadle sewing machine idea - that was such a huge step forward and must have saved the seamstress an incredible amount of time.
    I would love to win Flora's Wish. It sounds most interesting!


  20. Hmmm what invention to use in your next book? That is a hard question and I can't think but give me a minute. I am going to say a fan - since air conditioning was not an option back then at least invent a fan to help keep you cool in the summer. Thank you for the chance to win.

    griperang at embarqmail dot com

  21. How about some type of home refrigeration system that was a larger type than a square box??? I would love to win your new book!!! It sounds great, thanks for the opportunity!

  22. I'm loving all of these comments!! You've given me plenty to consider for that next book!! :D


    Carole Jarvis!!

    Check your email for instructions on how to claim your copy of FLORA'S WISH!

    Thanks to all of you who commented!

  24. I missed the chance for book but just wanted to say how interesting this post was about patents, I had wondered how they were done. I think some kind of invention that would help women in the home would be good for your books in future, maybe something so you wouldn't have to cook so much-not my fav job..
    Paula O(