New inventions are created every day all across the globe by inventors or groups of inventors working together, sometimes even children. Read more about child inventors and the inventions they have created. With innovation, the world changes by the day. The following are well known and famous patents consumers recognize and use every day. Also, check out our article on recognized trademarks.
The Internal Combustion Engine
An internal combustion engine is a heat engine that combines high temperatures and high pressure gases produced by combustion to propel an engine. Like most inventions, the internal combustion engine was continuously improved by different engineers in order to get to where it is at today. There are several famous patents regarding the internal combustion engine.
First was John Barber’s gas turbine patent titled “Obtaining and Applying Motive Power, & c. A Method of Rising Inflammable Air for the Purposes of Procuring Motion, and Facilitating Metallurgical Operations,” in the UK in 1791 (UK patent application 1833). In 1794, there were two important innovations leading to today’s internal combustion engine: Thomas Mead’s patent of a gas engine in the UK and Robert Street’s patent of a vapor engine. Following those two was John Steven’s design of the first American internal combustion engine in 1798.
The sequence of improvements continues through the 1800s all around the world. In France in 1807, engineers Joseph Nicéphore and Claude Niépce used the prototype of their internal combustion engine to power a boat on the Saône River using controlled explosions of dust. Also in 1807, nearby in Switzerland, engineer François Isaac de Rivaz developed and patented an internal combustion engine powered by oxygen and hydrogen. Almost 20 years later in 1823, Samuel Brown in the U.S. patented the first industrially used internal combustion engine.
Italians Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci were granted a patent for their internal combustion engine invented in 1853 titled “Specification of Eugene Barsanti and Felix Matteucci, Obtaining Motive Power by the Explosion of Gasses,” on June 12, 1854 (patent application GB185401072A). Then in 1860, a gas-fired internal combustion engine was created by Jean Lenior before Nikolaus Otto patented the first atmospheric gas engine in 1864. Following this was the invention of the first commercial liquid-powered internal combustion engine by George Brayton in 1872. In 1876, Nikolaus Otto received another patent — this time for the four-stroke cycle engine working with inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach.
On August 9, 1898, Rudolf Diesel was granted a patent for his improvement on the internal combustion engine (patent application US608,845A). Diesel aimed to improve the internal combustion engine by making it more affordable and efficient for small businesses and independent entrepreneurs who were competing with companies using expensive steam engines at the time. Due to Rudolf Diesel’s improvements on internal combustion engines, the United States was driven deeper into the industrial revolution. The invention of the internal combustion engine is one that will continue to see advancements.
Air conditioning, as well as refrigeration and ice-making, exists thanks to Dr. John Gorrie and his experimenting with artificial cooling in the 1840s. Thera are a couple famous patents regarding air conditioning. On May 6, 1851, Dr. John Gorrie was granted a patent for “Improved Process for the Artificial Production of Ice” (patent application US8080A). Gorrie’s idea of air conditioning was practical, however, he was unable to bring his invention to market once his chief financial officer had passed away.
Almost 50 years later, in 1902, a man named Willis Carrier built on Gorrie’s findings to design a humidity-controlled system that used cooling coils to humidify or dehumidify the surrounding air. On January 2, 1906, Carrier was granted a patent for his “Apparatus for treating air” (patent application US808897A).
Willis Carrier has multiple patents in the air conditioning industry. He received a patent for “Method of Humidifying Air and Controlling the Humidity and Temperature Thereof” on February 3 1914 (patent application US1085971A). This ‘971 patent protected his design of an automatic control system. Another Carrier patent is the “Refrigerating System and Method of Refrigeration” granted on March 9, 1926 (patent application US1575818A). This centrifugal cooler was the first practical method of cooling large spaces with air conditioning.
The invention of the incandescent light bulb is a famous patent credited to Thomas Edison. However, the lightbulb is the result of a series of improvements to electric light. Before Edison in America, there were scientists in the UK who were able to demonstrate a constant electric light in 1835. The scientist, James Bowman Lindsay, was satisfied enough with his invention to move onto innovating, failing to acquire a patent for his invention. This change of focus later set the stage for Edison’s further improvements.
On January 27, 1880, Thomas Edison was issued one of the most historically famous patents for his invention of the incandescent lamp (patent application US223,898A “Electric Lamp”). The incandescent lamp patent drove the United States, and later the world, into the electric era and out of the gaslight era. It is a common misconception that Edison was the inventor of light bulbs, however, this is not fact. The not-so-famous patent issued to Thomas Edison was for his improvements to the electric lamp, which was already invented. His improvements included design changes and the use of different materials, like carbon filament. These improvements made electric light reliable and safe to use.
On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was notably issued a patent for his invention of the telephone (patent application US174465A “Improvement in Telegraphy”). Known as the most valuable patent ever granted by the U.S., not only did this famous patent include the telephone device, but also the idea of a telephone system. What is not widely known is the fact that the famous patent was almost granted to Elisha Gray or the fact that is was Bell’s assistant that invented the telephone ringer.
Alexander Graham Bell emerged as the inventor of U.S. patent 174,465 despite close to 600 lawsuits challenging the validity of his patent. On February 14, 1876, both Gray and Bell (and his attorney Marcellus Bailey) walked into the patent office in Boston, Massachusetts with the intent to file a patent application for electronic communications. Because Marcellus Bailey filed first, it was Bell who was awarded the patent. Elisha Gray was only filing for the notice of an invention (caveat), meaning he was not yet ready to fully describe the invention.
Bell did not have a working prototype of the invention, but luckily for him, the U.S. Patent Office dropped the requirement to have a working model in 1870. This meant all Bell needed to file was a description of the invention. Due to this fact, Bell’s working model he later manufactured had its issues. The transmitter could not operate at great distances, making the invention quite useless. That was until Thomas Edison, yes the inventor of the incandescent lightbulb, made improvements to the transmitter, allowing its practicality for public use.
Thomas Edison, however, was not awarded the patent for the improved transmission of telephone communications. That patent went to Emile Berliner who two weeks prior filed a notice of invention (same as Elisha Gray had done).
The invention of the television was developed in multiple different processes. The first process was electromechanical, credited to German Paul Nipkow. Nipkow was awarded a patent in Germany (patent application DE30105C) on January 15, 1885 for the first electromechanical television system. The device was not very practical until advances in amplifier tube technology became available.
A working electromechanical television was developed by John Baird in 1925. It was not until January 15, 1929 that Baird received a famous patent for his “Apparatus for Transmitting Views or Images to a Distance” (patent application US1699270A). Although Baird’s invention was a functioning system, the image resolution was incredibly low.
Philo Farnsworth was the next pioneer in the industry of televisions as he was able to transmit the first electronic television image. Farnsworth was granted a famous patent on August 26, 1930 for his “Television System” (patent application US1773980A). This patent was involved in a patent suit filed by RCA, the Radio Corporation of America.
Vladimir Zworykin was another inventor who was working for RCA, hired by broadcasting head David Sarnoff. Zworykin had been working on an iconoscope since at least 1923, four year prior to Farnsworth filing for his ‘980 patent. Zworykin filed a patent for his “Television System” in 1923, but it was not granted until October 26, 1938 (patent application US2141059A). Although armed with a patent, Zworykin was never able to create a working prototype of his iconoscope. Read more about reduction to practice.
Sarnoff eventually offered Farnsworth $100,000 for ‘980 patent, and when Farnsworth declined, a patent war ensued. RCA filed a lawsuit, claiming Zworykin’s ‘059 served as prior art to Farnsworth’s ‘980 patent. Although RCA won the first suit as well as the appeal filed by Farnsworth, a judge decided Farnsworth had prior art going all the way back to 1922, a year before Zworykin filed for his patent. Farnsworth won the patent war and his patent continued to be valid.
The Solar Panel
Solar panel technology is another invention resulting from a series of developments in the industry of solar energy. Going back all the way to 1839, Edmund Becquerel is believed to have made the important discovery of the photovoltaic effect — a process that generates an electric current in a photovoltaic cell when exposed to sunlight. This effect is the fundamental process behind the solar cell.
Almost 50 years later on September 4, 1888, the first solar cell patents were granted to Edward Weston for his “Apparatus for utilizing solar radiant energy” (patent application US389124A) and “Art of utilizing solar radiant energy” (patent application US389125A). Weston’s invention used thermopiles to convert solar radiation into electrical energy.
The next solar cell patents were granted to American inventor Melvin Severy on October 9, 1894 for both his “Apparatus for Mounting and Operating Thermopiles” (patent application US527377A) and “Apparatus for Generating Electricity by Solar Heat” (patent application US527379A). Patent US527377A alleviated the need to move thermopiles according to the sun’s movement. Patent US527379A mounted thermopiles onto a standard which allowed the thermopiles to move on a horizontal plane.
Today’s solar panels are manufactured using silicone rather than selenium. On June 25, 1946, Russel Ohl was granted a patent from the USPTO for his invention of the first silicone solar cell titled “Light-Sensitive Electric Device” (patent application US2402662A). The invention of modern solar panels are credited to Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson for their creation of silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells in 1954. Their invention led to the first solar technology that could power an electric device for multiple hours a day. The “Solar Energy Converting Apparatus” patent was registered on February 5, 1957 (patent application US2780765A).
The airplane was one of the most important modern inventions, allowing humans to travel the world by air. Famously invented by the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur received their patent titled “Flying-Machine” on May 22, 1906 (patent application US821393A). Three years prior in 1903, the Wright brothers successfully flew their prototype of an airplane multiple times before lightly crashing it.
Following the origin of airplane design, French aviator Louis Blériot introduced his significant development to aviation in 1908. Known for being the inventor of the monoplane as well as the first pilot who flew between Europe and Great Britain, Blériot received a patent in France on June 23, 1908 for his “Système de Commande” (patent application FR8770E).
The Wright brothers engaged in a patent war over their “Flying-Machine” patent. In August of 1908, the brothers filed two infringement suits against Glenn Curtiss to prevent the Curtiss from flying or selling the airplanes that used ailerons. In January of 1914, the Wright brothers won this suit against Curtiss because he had refused to pay licensing royalties for the sale of such aircrafts. There were many more infringement suits filed in the U.S. and Europe by the brothers as others refused to pay royalties. Read more about royalties and the different licensing agreement types.
Global Positioning Systems, or GPS, were developed during the Sputnik era. As the first Russian satellite was launched into space in 1957, it emitted a radio signal. Scientists at John Hopkins University in the United States observed an effect later coined the “Doppler Effect.” With their observations, the scientists were able to track the movement of Sputnik from the ground.
In the late 50s, American physicist Roger Easton played a key role in the development of a global positioning system. Beginning his work at the Naval Research Lab (NRL) in 1943, Easton began working on the Naval Space Surveillance System (NAVSPASUR) in 1958. Easton, along with his colleagues, designed and manufactured the first satellite tracking system called MINITRACK.
The same year of 1958, Roger Easton, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), introduced “Transit,” the first global satellite navigation system. Also sponsored by the United States Navy, the first Transit satellite was launched in 1960. The U.S. Navy used Transit for the tracking of U.S. submarines carrying nuclear missiles in the following years.
Easton’s experiments with time and space led him to working on the Timation in 1964. Timation, short for time navigation, is using highly accurate clocks placed in multiple satellites to determine the precise location of something on the ground. Working on these ideas of Easton’s, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) began the GPS project where they launched NAVSTAR in 1974. NAVSTAR was the first satellite with a 24-satellite GPS.
Roger Easton is known as the original developer and designer of GPS. He is titled the inventor on two critical GPS patents owned by the U.S. Navy. On October 2, 1973, Easton received a patent for his “Apparatus And Method For Improving Sensitivity Of Navigation System Using Earth Satellites” (patent application US3763492A). The following year on January 29, 1974, Easton was granted another patent for his “Navigation System Using Satellites and Passive Ranging Techniques” (patent application US3789409A).
There are three other major GPS advancements that were granted patents from the USPTO that were all registered on September 17, 2013. Filed first was patent application US8538690B2, “Vehicle Tracking Detection and Alarm Method and Navigation Device Using the Method,” invented by Dong-Mong Li, Wei Teng, and Chi-Ming Lu. This system upgrade combines vehicle location and spatial recognition to provide alerts in order to avoid any impact. Filed next was patent application US8539380B2, “Integration of Location Logs, GPS Signals, and Spatial Resources for Identifying User Activities, Goals, and Context.”
Eric Horvitz, John Krumm, and Ramaswamy Hariharan developed a system that uses GPS signals and location logs to determine user activities and goals. Patent application US8538667B2, “Evaluating Road Conditions Using a Mobile Vehicle,” was created by Robert Friedlander and James Kraemer to enable users to obtain current road conditions through their devices and vehicles.
The 3D Printer
3D printing is the manufacturing process of a three-dimensional object from a digital file. Although seemingly new, 3D printing has actually been around for decades. On March 11, 1986 Charles (Chuck) Hull was issued the first patent for stereolithography along with his new added features STL file format and digital slicing. Hull’s patent was titled “Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography” (patent application US4575330A). Stereolithography is a form of 3D printing that works layer by layer using a photochemical process.
Hull was not the first applicant for a patent involving stereolithography — 2 years prior, in 1984, three French engineers Alain Le Méhauté, Olivier de Witte, and Jean Claude André were almost granted the patent for the stereolithography process. However, their patent application was abandoned due to “lack of business perspective.”
Stereolithography (SLA) actually goes back even further than 1984. One of the first references to stereolithography was in 1974 when new scientist David Jones jokingly described the SLA process and never continued exploring the idea. Then in 1981 Dr. Hideo Kodama spoke about a rapid prototyping technique that worked layer by layer using a method that preceded stereolithography. Kodama was never granted a patent because he failed to complete the patent application before the deadline.
In the late 1980s, stereolithography gained some competition in the 3D printing industry as selective laser sintering (SLS) was invented. On September 5, 1989, Carl Deckard was granted a patent for his method of 3D printing: SLS. Deckhard’s patent was titled “Method and Apparatus for Producing Parts by Selective Sintering” (patent application US4863538A). Instead of using a photochemical process to 3D print, SLS uses a high-powered laser to trace and bind layers of powder polymers together to create a solid object.
The most well known process of 3D printing in the 20th century is fused deposition modeling, or FDM. On June 9, 1992 Scott Crump was granted a patent for FDM titled “Apparatus and Method for Creating Three-Dimensional Objects” (patent application US5121329A). FDM solidifies digital files by depositing melted materials onto a predetermined path.
Apple holds many recognized and famous patents. The first iPhone was released to the public in June of 2007 by Apple Inc. A design patent was granted to Apple Inc. that covered the ornamental design of the iPhone 3G and 3GS on May 4, 2010 (USD615083S1). It was not until December 18, 2012 that the USPTO granted Apple Inc. a patent for the “electronic device” (patent application USD672769S1).
The use of an iPhone includes a number of Apple patents. One of the most critical components of iPhones is its touchscreen. The first touchscreen patent worldwide is believed to have been registered in 1965 by UK engineer Eric Johnson in 1965 (patent application GB117222). Johnson later received a U.S. patent in 1969 (patent application US3482241). On June 21, 2011, Apple was granted an extremely broad patent for “capacitive multitouch interface” (patent application US7966578B2).
In addition to the touchscreen, Apple has patented their crack-resistant glass screen formula in November of 2011 (patent application US20110279961A1). In iPhones beginning at the iPhone 5s, there was the touch ID feature that was patented (patent application US9030440B2). After touch ID, Apple introduced face ID on iPhones X and newer smartphones (patent application US20190045094A1).