7 questions on patents


Apple and Samsung are locked in fierce patent battles. Samsung has complained about patent law being "manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners". How much do you know about inventions?

Apple and Samsung phones

1.) Multiple Choice Question

This illustration is from a patent dated 1900. What is it for?

  1. An alarm bed
  2. A heated bed
  3. An operating table


This patent from 1919 is along similar lines, but more alarming. J D Humphrey's design is for an alarm clock that wakes the sleeper with a blow to the forehead from a pivoted antenna released by the clock mechanism.


2.) Multiple Choice Question

US inventor Thomas Edison was renowned for the sheer number of his patents. For which of the following was his first successful US patent in 1868?

Thomas Edison
  1. The electric light bulb
  2. The phonograph
  3. The electric vote recorder
  4. A moving image camera

3.) Multiple Choice Question

The earliest known patent in England was granted in 1449. It was for the manufacture of which of the following for Eton College?

Eton college
  1. Stained glass windows
  2. Paper
  3. Bricks

4.) Multiple Choice Question

In the 1930s, Kellogg and the National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco) fought a titanic legal battle over which distinctive cereal?

child with bowl
  1. Shredded Wheat
  2. Weetabix
  3. Rice Krispies

5.) Multiple Choice Question

The term "patent troll" has come to describe firms that acquire patents so that they can later extract settlements from companies on infringement claims. The phrase was coined by staff at which company?

  1. Apple
  2. Dyson
  3. Intel

6.) Multiple Choice Question

Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr was best known as a sultry screen siren, but she had a sideline as an inventor. What patent did she approach the US military with?

  1. Compact spy film camera
  2. Torpedo guidance system
  3. Nerve gas-resistant mask

7.) Multiple Choice Question

This description is taken from US patent 4,022,227: "The hair styling requires dividing a person's hair into three sections and carefully folding one section over the other." What does it describe?

  1. The quiff
  2. The combover
  3. Dreadlocks


  1. It's an alarm bed. Ludwig Ederer's design works by tipping the sleeper to a 45-degree angle when it is time for them to get up.
  2. It's the electric vote recorder. Edison acquired more than 1,000 patents and was the driving force behind such innovations as the phonograph and one of the earliest motion picture cameras. His role in the invention of the incandescent light bulb is much debated.
  3. It's stained glass windows. Henry VI granted the patent to Flemish-born John of Utynam for a method of making stained glass that had not been previously known in England.
  4. It was Shredded Wheat. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the pillow-shaped cereal was first made by a man called Henry Perky. After he died, his patent for the cereal and the machine to make it expired and the Kellogg Company started manufacturing a similar cereal. A successor to Perky's company, the National Biscuit Company, sued. The court ruled in favour of Kellogg.
  5. It was Intel. Patent troll is a derogatory name given to organisations that aggressively defend patent libraries without releasing products of their own. It is widely thought to have been an Intel patent lawyer who coined the term.
  6. It was the torpedo guidance system, which used "frequency hopping" elements inspired by music. The patent was granted to her and a co-inventor on 11 August 1942.
  7. It's the combover. Frank and Donald Smith of Orlando, Florida, took out the patent on a method for styling hair to cover bald areas using a chap's own hair in 1977.

Your Score

0 - 3 : Out of ideas

4 - 6 : Patent pending

7 - 7 : Eureka!

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