RELATIVELY USELESS PATENTS.
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By ' The Inspector."
THE JOURNALS LAST week have certainly affordedadequate publicity to what are claimed to be a number of remarkable inventions on the part of Mr. F. L. H. Rapson. These novelties have been brought into the limelight in no niggardly fashion. It will be recalled that they deal with a patent jacking arrangement, a patent steering gear, an engine darter, a vaporizer, and other accessories. Parlicularly noticeable is the embodiment in several of them of a ball-mounted worm device. The amount ,of publicity given to these specialities has, at any rate, induced sufficient interest to bring about quite a lot of discussion as to the practicability of the various schemes. I am not concerned at the moment to enter the lists in that respect, but my thoughts are inevitably turned, to the circumstance that, on the whole, patented devices are, so far, if one comes to think about it, but of relatively little moment in the anatomy of a modern , motor vehicle. It is indeed surprising to recall how few patented ideas appear to be absolute necessities to the production of a first-class motor vehicle built on up-to-date lines, particularly when one remembers what a highly specialized form of construdion a chassis is, and how it represents the embodiment of a stupendous amount of original thought and schem ing I have always been very sceptical as to the real utility of much patenting as distinct from the advantages which are supposed to be obtainable. As a prxetical designer, with a few patents of some interest., if not value, to my credit, I have always felt that the publication of final specifications acts as a tremendous spur to many another eager brain. Only the inventor knows how exceptionally difficult it is for him to persuade the chassis manufacturer to embody in his design some particular patented component other than a purely proprietary accessory providing that the manufacturer can see the .slightest chance of using something almost or equally as efficient, which is not a blatant infringeitent. There are, of course, outstanding examples where a patented device has fortunately held its own, such, for instance, as the non-skid chain of the Parsons type, a few outstanding carburetters, a solitary clutch or two, ball bearings, and so on, but the case is rare indeed where some substitute or alternative, even if it also be patented, is not available. Albion patents, for instance, are valuable enough to Albion, but I imagine secure little revenue to their inventors from other users—althougb here I am only guessing, of course.
At one period some years ago, in America, I remember reading that gigantic efforts were made by certain astute proprietors of letters patent to levy tribute on all and sundry chassis manufactitrers for the use of certain well-known and widely-employed components. Exactly how this matter was ultimately composed .I :do not recall, other than that tlie patentees or at any rate the proprietors of the patent were able to turn the position to their own account. Earlier still there was something of a similar movement in this country, principally on account, if I recall correctly, of the proposed claims of those who were interested in the patent.rights secured on Mercedes specialities, particularly in respect of the float feed carburetter, the honeycomb la,diator, and the gate-change method of Change -speed, but there is no such restriction nowadays.
The principal value in a patent, so far as automObile practice is concerned, is never, I should imagine, in respect of royalties payable on a very wide scale ley manufacturers of all classes of machines, but rather in such cases where the intrinsic value more so than the cleverness of the patented speciality ensures its widespread adoption as against competing methods, in which case it would sell were it not patented, or, alternatively, where .the patents may figure valuably as an asset in the balance sheet of the firm, their value in such an instance being strictly comparable with thateof good-will.
There-are relatively few patents of any value which cannot with reasonable facility be surrounded. If secret tales could be told, endless have been the experiments with patent carburetters, ignition and other devices, not primarily with a view to reaching conviction as to their absolute indispensability, but rather to their yielding experience and pointing to possible alternatives which could be adopted without the necessity of paying royalties. If I had occasion to consider the advisability of protecting a novel idea for embodiment in chassis construction, I think I should build but little on the protection afforded me by patent registration. I should rather feel that I would need to ensure financial success by producing the idea myself in conjunction with my friends in such a way that I could dispose of it in open competition as to intrinsic value from all points of view, regarding any advantage I secured from the circumstance of patenting as collateral only, and adventitious.
It would appear that the comparative absence of patented features upon which manufacturers have had to pay royalties to others, so far as modern chassis are concerned, is indirect evidence of the inutility of the protection generally afforded by letters patent. A chassis may bear evidence of' its ,own designer's patents—for what that is worth—lout seldom enough of other peoples. They are all too frequently but stimulants td other people's inventions in the motdr world. What patents to-day have proyed a benefit. to those who were the first to develop practicable aircraft ? Are Dunlops' huge trading results due to their forceful business methods and their high quality production, or are they due to the efforts of the original inventor I Who gets royalties on the worm drive or on the gate change? I always recall the ease of the incandescent mantle in remarkable inventive advance. rt surely would have been cheaper for the inventors to have devoted time and money to manufacture solely on a ecanpetitivo basis rather than to have poured good money after bad attempting to levy legitimate toll on pirate infringers.