Chester Carlson focuses on a copying invention

  • Carlson worked at Bell Labs in the 1930s in the patent department. He had multiple ideas for different inventions. However, he focused on copying because typing on two sheets of paper with a carbon paper in between was messy and frustrating.
  • Carlson was fired in 1933 during the Great Depression. By 1936 he had a new job and also went to night school to study law. To relax, he read books on science and learned about Pál Selényi’s work on electrostatic images.
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Carlson did chemical experiments in his own home, to the frustration of his family and neighbours. He mad smelly compounds, melting sulfur over zinc plates in the kitchen smelling like rotten eggs, and once even starting a fire.

Carlson used Selényi’s ideas (more or less to use light to remove static charge, not create it) and his own. After many experiments, he had a breakthrough and created the first copy in 1938.

The Xerox 914 is a story we can learn from

The Xerox 914 copy machine of 1959 is a great breakthrough in office technology and product design. Its hallmark was simplicity: You simply paced your paper on glass and pressed a button.

How Chester Carlson invented it is a story of risk and persistence. As with most innovation, it took decades from having an idea to making it a real product in the marketplace.

Another decade of development produced the Xerox 914 - named because it could copy paper up to 9″ x 14″. This model was simple to use and didn't damage originals.

As with most new tech, it had some problems. It tended to overheat and often came with a fire extinguisher. The machines required a small team of people who maintained them. But relative to competitors, it was a breakthrough in many ways.

  • Once patented, Carlson was turned down by 20 companies between 1939 and 1944, including IBM and the U.S. Navy.
  • Carlson continued to work in patents at the P.R. Mallory Company and demonstrated his work to an engineer from Battelle, who was there to testify for a patent case. Batelle was impressed and offered financial support.
  • In 1946 they signed a deal with Haloid (later renamed Xerox). In 1948 they released the Xerox Model A Copier that took 39 steps to make a single copy.

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RELATED IDEAS

In the 30s and the 40s, Disney movies had artists and animators manually working on sketches and colouring. Drawings were redrawn with every changing movement, with originally created colours mixed and put on the animated characters, creating authentic effects.

Some movies, like Sleeping Beauty, required nearly a million drawings, followed by a tedious colouring process.

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Protecting Intellectual Property

The idea of property protection has been around since the early 500 BCE in Greece. Their chefs were granted year-long exclusive rights for creating specific cuisines.

Now, the goal of intellectual property protection has stayed the same, which is to prevent the unlawful copying of ideas and encourage creation of new products which will benefit the public and strive for more free-market competition.

There is nothing like a bowl of cherry Jell-O topped with a fluffy raft of faux whipped cream on a hot night. Both foodstuffs can be credited to William A. Mitchell.

  • Mitchell was born in Minnesota in 1911. He got a degree in chemistry at the University of Nebraska and worked at General Foods at the start of World War II. There, he developed a substitute for tapioca, which was in short supply.
  • In 1957, Mitchel developed a powdered fruit-flavored vitamin-enhanced drink mix named Tang Flavor Crystals. In 1962, NASA sent Tang into space to disguise the water's metallic taste onboard the spaceship.
  • In 1956, Mitchell attempted to create instantly self-carbonating soda. It resulted in the candy known as Pop Rocks, which was patented in 1961.
  • In 1957, Mitchell patented a powdered gelatin dessert that could be set with cold water. It paved the way for quick-set Jell-O.
  • Mitchell introduced the faux whipped cream called Cool Whip in the same year.

Mitchell received about 70 patents over his career.

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