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"The little-known stories behind well-known inventions"

What kept these inventors from obtaining patents on their own?          By Paul Niemann

[DEC. 7, 2006]  Chelsea Lannon invented a diaper with a pocket to hold a baby wipe and baby powder, but she couldn't get a patent without some help.

The Thompson sisters, Theresa and Mary, invented a solar tepee and called it a "Wigwarm." Pretty clever name, but the sisters weren't able to get a patent on their own.

Suzanna Goodin invented an edible, spoon-shaped cracker. She even won a grand prize for her invention, yet she, too, needed some help to get a patent.

Why couldn't these young women get patents on their own? Was it because property laws prevented women from owning property, including patents, during part of the 1700s and 1800s?

No, because all of the above inventors were born in the 1900s. Besides, inventor Robert Patch had the same problem as the other four inventors. So did Brandon Whale and his brother, Spencer, when they invented separate devices to help hospital patients.

Why, then, couldn't these inventors receive patents on their own?

It was because they weren't even 10 years old yet!

Young Ms. Lannon was only 8 years old when she invented the diaper with a pocket in 1994, and the Thompson sisters were only 8 and 9 when they invented their solar teepee in 1960. Ms. Goodin was only 6 when she invented her prize-winning spoon-shaped cracker.

Robert Patch was only 6 in 1963 when he received a patent for a toy truck that could be changed into different types of trucks.

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Brandon Whale invented the "PaceMate" in 1998 to improve the electrical conductivity of his mother's sensor bracelets after she had an operation for a pacemaker implant. Brandon's brother, Spencer, created a device to attach IVs to the wheeled vehicles that child patients rode in, allowing the IVs to stay in place.

In the end, each of these young inventors, except the Whale brothers, received patents for their great ideas.

By comparison, how old were some of the more famous inventors when they first achieved success?

Thomas Edison was 21 when he received his first patent, which was for a vote counter intended to speed things up in Congress. Despite the benefits it offered, it never made it onto the market.

Margaret Knight was 30 when she invented the machine that makes the square-bottom paper bags in 1871, and that type of bag is still being used today. Alexander Graham Bell was 29 when he invented the telephone in 1876. Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler was 43 years old when she introduced the world to the Barbie doll in 1959.

The U.S. Patent Office does not have an age requirement for receiving a patent. Most inventors, though, whether they're 6 or 60, need the assistance of a patent attorney to either prepare their patent application or at least review it before submitting it to the patent office. And most child inventors need to get some parental assistance when paying for the patent application and attorney fees.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann may be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2006

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