Thursday, February 9, 2012

patentECO - A Guitar-Tuning Flashlight

I recently perused a musical supply catalog and saw a listing for “the world’s first chromatic green [guitar] tuner.” The description of this clean tech device went on to say that the user can “[s]imply give the crank a few turns and you’re ready to tune. No more expensive and wasteful batteries . . . [t]he built-in flashlight lets you tune on a dark stage.”
Of course, the ad doesn’t mention that one could use rechargeable batteries, but let’s not quibble. We can agree that using human-supplied mechanical power to turn the crank to supply the small (my tuners require 2 AAA batteries for a total of 3 volts DC) amount of power needed by this device is clean technology, good for the environment, conserves the metals and other material used for the eliminated batteries, reduces the amount of fossil fuels combusted or nuclear fuel reacted to charge the batteries, and, multiplied by the sale of millions of these tuners, represents one small step on the road to a clean tech society. We would find this tuner in the Energy area of the patent ecosystem.
And because it’s clean tech, and labelled a “green” product, it’s completely new and different, right?
Ah, no, not exactly.
Patent number 252,691, “Combined electric lamp and generator,” was issued on January 24, 1882 to Elizabeth Morey of New York, NY. The invention is classified as 362/192 in the USPC, a class and subclass covering illumination with a generator power source. The purposed of Morey’s invention is “to furnish a portable electric lamp for domestic and business purposes, which is directly combined with its generator, so as not to be dependent upon a central station for the current . . .” The lamp contains “a small dynamo-electric machine or current-generator . . .” Attached to the motor is a “convolute spring and winding-up devices — a motive power of sufficient power to actuate the current-generator.”
Also relevant to the hand-cranked green guitar tuner with flashlight is patent number 983,742, “Electric hand lamp.” Issued on February 7, 1911 to John W. Mead of Buffalo, NY, this patent is also classified in 362/192. Of historical note, this patent was issued exactly one week before patent number 984,519 to John M. Browning.
Mead describes his invention: “The current for lamps of this character has heretofore been furnished by dry batteries located in the handle of the lamp. Inasmuch as such batteries are necessarily small they soon become exhausted and require frequent renewal, thus involving constant expense for maintenance. It is the object of this invention to produce an electric hand lamp containing a magneto for generating the current for lighting the lamp, the body of said lamp having preferably the form of a pistol or revolver and the armature being operated by a trigger in substantially the same manner in which a pistol is fired.”
Much of what we see as new, clean technology in the patentECO patent ecosystem is the re-purposing of old technology in more efficient ways, for new uses, or with new materials. Prior art matters.