The model for the utility patent dates back to German patent law in the 1800’s, and addresses a gap in market for small inventions which were not patentable at the time but were deemed as worthy of patent protection due to their economic value.
Prior to the utility patent designation, the German patent office was only granting patents to inventions which were completely new and highly innovative.
However, the industrial revolution produced a great number of valuable technical solutions which were very simply constructed. These were generally modifications of existing objects and tools which were already in common use.
This model proved to be useful throughout the industrial world and quickly spread to other countries, including the Unites States and other Western countries. The model was most recently introduced in Denmark as late as 1992 and Austria in 1994.
When looking back at the US Patent Office records, one will find a wide variety of curious, small invention success stories. It’s a good bet that even the smallest, simplest items we use everyday are covered by patents which have made fortunes for their inventors.
Because patent law requires that each change made to a patented item be patented as well, many significant inventions like the telephone are covered by numerous patents.
No item is too small, simple or cheap to be patented, and in many cases the simpler items require greater patent protection because they are cheapest and easiest to copy.
A good example of simple design which became a best selling toy is the “return ball”, a simple rubber ball attached to the end of a long piece of elastic. The string is tied around the finger or held in the hand, and when thrown out the ball returns to the thrower’s hand thanks to the recoil effect of the string.