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Harnessing IP for Good: Recognizing Innovation on Memorial Day
This weekend, Americans will honor those servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We will reflect on their selflessness and patriotism. At the same time, we are reminded of the work our armed forces do every day to keep us safe and preserve our freedom.
To create and respond to newer, more sophisticated types of warfare, innovation surges. The American military invests in ideas that boost its prowess and enhance the welfare and security of its members. Often, these ideas spring from the very members themselves.
In recognition of Memorial Day, we’re taking a look back at these military-inspired IP-driven innovations.
Gary Walters lost one of his legs after stepping on an IED. He was fitted with a prosthetic, but the limb-to-socket interface caused him a lot of discomfort; it became hot, sweaty, and sometimes even painful. So Walters, alongside a team of eight others, conducted diligent research and created a solution: a prosthesis cooling system. The system provides a thermoelectrically cooled environment within the prosthesis socket.
In 1914, Garret Morgan patented a breathing device in the form of a canvas hood, or a “smoke hood.” His invention would inspire the modern gas mask used to protect soldiers and others in high-risk chemical situations. Even after his success with the smoke hood, Morgan continued to harness his ingenuity for good. After witnessing a car accident, he designed a traffic signal to stand on street corners and notify vehicles and pedestrians whether to stop or go. The patent was later sold to General Electric.
Lawrence Luellen had an idea: an uncontaminated, single-use paper cup to stop the spread of diseases transmitted by communal cups at public drinking fountains. Once Luellen had created his sanitary cup, he encountered fierce competition from other manufacturers and knew he would need a memorable brand to stand out. Thus, the trademarked Dixie cups were born, the name inspired by Dixie Doll Company, who shared production space with the company (Don’t worry, Dixie cups got permission to borrow the name!). World War II elevated Dixie to hero status, as cups were delivered to needy troops by the millions. During the war, the famous Dixie ice cream cups featured patriotic pictures and messages in support of the soldiers abroad.
John Phillip Holland fathered the modern submarine, engineering the first underwater vessel used by the U.S. Navy. His design combined water ballast with horizontal rudders for diving, a first in the field. Holland maintained his focus on research and development throughout his career; one of his last inventions was “an apparatus designed to allow sailors to escape from damaged submarines.”
After World War II, John Goodenough was ordered to Washington, D.C. as part of a program to send 21 Army officers through graduate studies in physics and math. Equipped with this training, he co-invented the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, part of almost every portable electronic device available today. Even now, at 95 years old, he’s still trying to improve his invention and discover the next big battery breakthrough.
As we observe Memorial Day, we thank the servicepeople who have given their lives in the line of duty. We hope that innovators will continue to use their IP to support our armed forces and solve shared global challenges.