We hear a lot about patent portfolios when we scan our morning dose of tech news stories. Rarely a day passes without news of yet another legal clash between shady lawyers or Silicon Valley behemoths, either settling spats between multinationals or the questionable activities of patent trolls.
These huge and well-heeled organisations hold many patents, which they gather either through their staff putting in the hard work to make the inventions, or by acquisition of patents from other inventors. It is not often that a large quantity of patents are amassed by any other means, for example by an individual.
There is one prolific individual inventor and holder of many patents though. He achieved notoriety not through his inventions being successful, but through their seeming impracticability while conforming to the rules of the patent system. His name was [Arthur Paul Pedrick], and he was a retired British patent examiner who filed a vast number of eccentric patents from the early 1960s until his death in the mid 1970s, all of which stretched the boundaries of practicality.
His subject matter was varied, but included a significant number of transport inventions as well as innovations in the field of energy and nuclear physics. We wish there was room to feature them all on these pages, but sadly they are so numerous that it is difficult even to pick the selection we can show you. So sit down, and enjoy the weird and wonderful world of [Pedrick] innovations.
Placing the Bar Before the Horse
At first sight, GB1405575A, “Propelling automobiles without using petrol or gasolene” ([Pedrick]’s spelling, not a typo) might seem to conceal a genuine innovation in the field of automotive endeavour. but the drawings accompanying the patent application reveal a debt to an earlier era. A horse is harnessed behind a car, and its forward motion is precipitated by moving its manger away from it in the hope that it will start walking forwards to reach its food. The brake pedal is connected to the animal’s head collar, and the ignition switch administers a mild electric shock to the unfortunate animal to set it in motion. A refinement has the horse in a hamster-wheel style treadmill, allowing it to rest during periods in which the car freewheels.
We can see that this vehicle would work, and given the right horse, might even reach the required 5 miles per hour for use in the busy streets of a modern city like London. However we can also see some problems with the extra length of the horse and manger, parking that much vehicle could be a challenge.
Catflaps and Cataclysms
In GB1426698A, “Photon push-pull radiation detector for use in chromatically selective cat flap control and 1000 megaton earth-orbital peace-keeping bomb“, [Pedrick] demonstrates his talent for solving problems on both a mundane and global scale simultaneously. While ensuring that the domain of his elderly but hyper-intelligent talking ginger cat is not encroached upon by a black cat belonging to his neighbours, he also applies his mind to the problem of maintaining the peace in a world that was then at the height of the Cold War. His detector could distinguish between the coats of passing moggies when driving a cat flap, or notice the flashes of missile launches when attached to an orbiting satellite. The satellite would then launch 1000 megaton nuclear bombs on the perpetrator, thus ensuring the peace through mutually assured destruction to entirely new levels.
We are naturally impressed with this versatile technology, but given that the hyper-intelligent talking cat here has a rather beautiful tabby coat, we can’t help wondering whether its usefulness might not extend beyond ginger and black animals.
Is There Anything More Important Than a Cup of Tea?
Some of [Pedrick]’s inventions were not especially high-tech, yet they still applied to particularly important subject matter. GB1351926A for example, “Improvements In Tea Strainers” tackles the problem of finding the most efficient design of sieve to stop tea leaves ending up in the inventor’s favourite hot beverage. A variety of configurations are modeled, before finally a design of interlocking wires forming a hexagonal tessellation is found to be the best.
Sadly for [Pedrick], the introduction of the tea bag has rendered his invention largely obsolete. We are however completely convinced that the completely novel and unique design would have made it stand out from the crowd of superficially similar but inferior strainers, and in fact had he commercialised it at the time then the history of hot beverages might have been completely different.
Wide Bodied Airliners, Years Before Their Time
[Pedrick] was at work during the golden era of the Jet Age, during which the marvels of international flight were becoming available to the masses for the first time, and ocean liners were constantly going out of business. Bravely foreseeing a market for ultra-high-capacity aircraft that would not be fulfilled for several decades, he proposed in GB1439086 (A), “LARGE FLAT BASED LOW FLYING AIRCRAFT USING FASCES OR BUNDLES OF BODIES OF EXISTING LARGE AIRCRAFT SUCH AS THE BOEING 747”, that multiple fuselages could be attached side by side to form a huge aircraft that might fly over the oceans at very low altitude and carry huge numbers of passengers in safety and comfort. Sadly the aircraft was never built, so we will never know whether it might have delivered on its promise. It would be several decades before the vision could be at least partially realised by the advent of so-called superjumbo aircraft.
You might expect that this could be an April Fool’s joke in which we take a series of either preposterous or extremely obvious ideas and present them as groundbreaking and visionary, accompanied by unlikely home-drawn diagrams in glorious ballpoint. But in fact there is no joke other than the one [Pedrick] was pulling on the organisation he had served. He was a real retired civil servant, and all his applications were genuine.
Who knows, some of them might even have worked!
Thanks [Clare] for the suggestion.