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The Intellectual Property of the Fourth of July

Patriotism is on full display in the United States every July 4, and Independence Day is the highlight of summer for tens of millions of Americans. The day is typically celebrated with parades, red and white bunting, Revolutionary War imagery and lots of food and drink.

Not surprisingly, intellectual property is found throughout the day’s festivities. We thought it would be fun to research the IP of the Fourth of July and look at some of the patents and trademarks that help us do, drink, eat and celebrate the day. (Clicking on the titles will take you to the respective Google Patent page).

1. BBQ Grill Scraper


The Great Scrape Woody Paddles scraping a grill clean


Patent Number: US 8741068 B2

Granted: Jun 3, 2014

Have you ever met anyone who actually enjoyed cleaning a barbecue? Whether gas or charcoal, barbecues and grills get filthy. Accordingly, the USPTO includes several patented inventions to help ease the task.

This invention, now marketed as The Great Scrape by Thompson Brothers and Company LLC., is modestly billed as The Ultimate BBQ Cleaning Tool, and an alternative to metal wire brushes. Available in three sizes, it is described as “a barbeque grill scraper and related methods of use that utilize a scraping end formed of a heat-responsive material to remove char and other debris from the grilling surface.” The Woody Paddle, the largest of the three models, is available for $34.95. Judging from very positive online reviews, it seems to work as described in both the patent application and marketing copy.

Additional Reading:

Examiner.com: The Great Scrape Woody Paddle BBQ Tool Review

Amazon.com Listing: New All Natural BBQ Grill Scraper by The Great Scrape


2. Frozen Confectionery

Patent Number: US 1505592 A

Granted: Aug 19, 1924

“It is among the objects of the invention to provide a method or process for making a frozen confection of attractive appearance, which can be conveniently consumed without contamination by contact with the hand and without the need for a plate, spoon, fork or other implement.”

Rapid advances in manufacturing and refrigeration technology in the early-20th century enabled the American food industry to create myriad new cold and frozen food products. Ice cream and popsicls were two of the fastest growing categories.

In 1905, Frank Epperson left a syrupy drink containing a stir stick outside on a cold night in Northern California. He awoke the next day to find the original popsicle. In the early 1920s, he revisited the frozen-drink-on-a-stick idea, partnering with Loew Movie Company employees in 1923 to create the original Popsicle Company. Popsicles were an immediate hit at amusement parks and beaches that summer. Despite the success, Epperson waited a year to file for a patent, which was granted just before Labor Day. Hot summer days and nights, as well as decades of Fourth of July celebrations have been much more enjoyable as a result. The oldest patent on this list, our IP of the Fourth of July would be incomplete without it. 

Additional Reading:

NPR: How An 11-Year-Old Boy Invented The Popsicle

National Archives’ Prologue: The Frozen Sucker War: Good Humor v. Popsicle

The Atlantic: Don't Use the P Word: A Popsicle Showdown


3. Water Recreation Device


Patent Number: US US8292681B2

Granted: Oct. 23, 1012

More commonly known as a wakeboard, the ZupTM board became an instant success in the watersports industry because it enabled anyone, including “Individuals who could not ordinarily partake in the activity of towed water boarding” to have fun. In its first year, it became the best-selling product in the history of Overton’s, the largest watersports dealer in the world. The reasons are easily seen in this customer review on Overton’s website; “We had 10 people go with us, and all 10 stood up, and it was cool to see the look of triumph and fun all wrapped up in one instant.”

Additional Reading:

IP Watchdog: Patented Wake Board Made in America by Inventor Company

Zup Board listing at Overton’s


4Surfing Device 


Patent Number: US 7261050B2

Granted:  Aug. 28, 2007

Note: The IPfolio HQ is located in Berkeley, CA, less than a mile from the shores of the San Francisco Bay. While sailing, surfing and kiteboarding aren’t typically considered integral to the July 4th experience, they are some of the favorite summer hobbies of the IPfolio team.

This patent provided the IP foundation upon which Sven and Rouven "Bufo" Brauers developed their Bufo and Hydroflex brands in Oceanside, CA.

Their invention enabled them to provide surfers with reliable, high-performance surfboards built without wooden stringers. Stringer-less surfboards promise greater customization options to tailor board design to the individual surfer’s preferences, lower wear rates, and longer service life. Watch the videos below to see the commercially available products.

Additional Reading:

Company Website: Hydroflex Supercharger Technology

Video: Bufo Brauers gives Board Riders Review a Tour of Hydroflex Technologies (March 2010)

Video: Bufo Brauers of Hydroflex Surfboards (March 2012)

Video: Steve Ford tests a Bufo "Hydroflex." (March 2010)


5. Neck Entry Wetsuit

Patent Number: US 5898934

Granted:  May 4, 1999

In 1952, Jack O'Neill opened one of California's first surf shops in his San Francisco garage where he sold early versions of wetsuits. More than 60 years later, O'Neill is the best-selling wetsuit brand in the world, the result of a steady investment in R&D. This patent, a continuation of two earlier applications, “discloses a neck-entry wetsuit with an expandable collar formed by a gusset insert that folds in on itself, but which allows both the collar and the neck region to expand when unfolded.” It is marketed as the Z.E.N. ZIP System Entry system. Consumers and product reviewers love it:

“The Psycho's best trick, though, is the Z.E.N. back zip closure, which uses an internal layer—O'Neill calls it Barrier 2—that pulls over the head to channel away any water that manages to get inside the super-short zipper and Double Super Seal neck. Drain holes along the bottom of the Barrier 2 let the water drain out of the suit, so it never actually gets to your skin, where it can suck away heat.” Backcountry.com

Additional Reading:

VIDEO: O'Neill Psychofreak Wetsuit


6. Solar Powered Umbrella Table




Patent Number: US 20110265694

Granted:  Nov. 11, 2011

American inventors Matthew Portis and Obadiah Hampton developed an outdoor table to convert solar energy into DC voltage so that electrical devices and appliances could be plugged in and charged using electrical outlets installed directly on the table. The application also included a moisture detector to detect unsafe moisture levels and turn off the electricity in response. Portis and Hampton continued to develop their ideas into a company, and have now commercialized their vision using the SolGreen SmartTable brand. If you want to provide party guests with the ability to recharge their iPads and smartphones while they’re eating ribs, this is the table for you.

Additional Reading:

Video: SolGreen Evodia Mini SmartTable Outdoor Solar Table

Press Release: Sustainable Spartans Bring Solar SmartTable to Michigan State University

Georgia Southern University: New Solar-Powered Tables Funded by Student Sustainability Fees


7. Grease Drip Pan and Gas Tank Blocker for a Barbecue Grill


Patent Number: US 8347874 B2

Granted: Jan 8, 2013

Weber is synonymous with grilling and summer barbecues. Since introducing its first charcoal kettle to the post-war barbecue market in 1952, the Weber-Stephen Products Co. has continually evolved and improved its product line. This invention, protected by one of the 270 patents assigned to Weber, is an advancement in product safety; “the inventions disclosed herein relate to frame assemblies for gas barbecue grills which incorporate structures for preventing a consumer from storing replacement fuel tanks on the grill, in order to minimize fire and tipping hazards.” US patent 8347874 is used in Weber’s Genesis grill line.

Additional Reading:  

Weber Kettle Club: How to Determine Age of Your Weber Charcoal Grill

Law 360: Weber, Sears Near Settlement In Grill Patent Suit


8. Dispensing Valve with Trampoline-like Construction

Patent Number: US 4991745 A

Granted: 1991-02-12

A self-sealing valve is provided for fluid dispensing packages and the like, of the type which are compressed and decompressed to dispense therefrom liquids, pastes, powders and other similar flowable materials.” And thus the era of the upside down ketchup bottle began.”

In the early 1990s, Michigan inventor Paul Brown tried to figure out how to transform liquid silicon into flexible, one-piece precision valves. By working with a mold-maker, he arrived at a unique valve design:

“A little silicone dome with right-angled slits cut in its top. When the sides of the bottle were pressed, the dome’s slits opened, reminiscent of a flower’s petals, and the contents would be released. When the pressing stopped, however, the air would be sucked back into the dome, causing it to retract and the slits to close.” Davision blog

After Brown licensed his invention, Heinz introduced the upside down ketchup bottle to make summer barbecues more enjoyable and tidier. A year after the bottle's debut, Heinz ketchup sales rose 6 percent, while the overall ketchup category increased only 2 percent.

Additional Reading:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Heinz, Hunt's Battle Over Who's First with Upside-Down Ketchup Bottles

Daily Mail: Heinz Squeezed Me Out: Inventor Sues Company


9. Apple Tree: Honeycrisp



Patent Number: US PP7197 P

Granted: Mar 20, 1990

“This invention is a new and distinct variety of apple tree. It was discovered by Applicant in September 1974 as part of the University of Minnesota apple breeding program to develop winter hardy varieties with high fruit quality.”

What is more American on Independence Day (or any other day) than apple pie?

The business of apples is built on IP innovation, patents, trademarks and brands. Get them right and you’re looking at decades of profits. With a long history in agricultural innovation, the University of Minnesota got it very right when it patented the Honeycrisp apple in 1990.

A standard plant patent, US PP7197 P protects “one of the five all-time highest-earning inventions at the university” according to a lawsuit later filed against the university. Before the patent’s expiration in 2008, the school received $1.30 for every honeycrisp tree sold by approved growers. Revenues continue, however, because the university continues to own the Honeycrisp trademarks and brand.

Additional Reading:

Fruit Growers News: Honeycrisp Patent Expiration Not Expected to Change Sales

Esquire: Why are Honeycrisp Apples so Damn Expensive?

NPR: If You Want to Grow These Apples, You’ll Have to Join the Club


10. Fireworks Projectile Having Combustible Shell



Patent Number: US 5526750 A

Granted: June 18, 1996

Harkening back to that original “bombs bursting in air” celebration, fireworks are probably the most identifiable part of July 4th festivities. They - the engineering behind the explosions - have been also been patented and protected via the USPTO since the mid-19th century.

If you have ever seen the Disneyland fireworks display, which takes place nightly in Anaheim, CA, you know the Walt Disney Corp. knows fireworks. This patent is noteworthy because it focused on “a new method and system of presenting precision fireworks displays with a decreased environmental impact” and described potential applications in the accompanying images that included the ability to illuminate the night sky with Mickey Mouse ears.

Note: If you have ever wondered about the systems and methods for creating the pyrotechnic displays, basically how firework shows are created, the Background of the Invention section is well worth a read.

Additional Reading:

IP Watchdog: The Business of Patenting Fireworks

IP Watchdog: Celebrating the Fourth of July with Fireworks Patents

Patent Puzzle: Fireworks are Patentable


11. Squirt Gun



Patent Number: US 4591071

Granted: May 27, 1986

“There are maybe three inventions I have that I rank as my top inventions that I'm most proud of. The robot I built in high school, the memory-protected circuitry for the Galileo and the Super Soaker.” Popular Mechanics

It’s July, it’s hot - really hot - in some areas of the country, and not everyone is close to a beach or pool. Kids and adults need to cool off. Since its introduction in 1990, the SuperSoaker has provided high-pressure fun for Americans of all ages. Invented by a real rocket scientist, Lonnie Johnson (keynote speaker at IPforward 2017), it’s a lot more than “a toy squirt gun which shoots a continuous high velocity stream of water.” With sales close to $1 billion, The toy is ranked by TIME on its list of all-time great toys

Additional Reading:

IPfolio: Individual Patents that Built Empires

IPfolio: Lonnie Johnson: My Life as a Curious Inventor

Popular Mechanics: 7 Questions for Super Soaker Inventor Lonnie Johnson

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