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For 1st U.S. Patent's Anniversary, 5 Patently Fun Facts About Patents

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

Today marks the anniversary of the first U.S. patent. On July 31, 1790, Samuel Hopkins was issued the first patent, for a procedure for making potash.

Two hundred twenty-four years and over 8 million patents later, here are five patently fun facts you might not know about patents and patent history:

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1. For 90 Years, All Patent Applications Were Accompanied by Working Scale Models.

From 1790 to 1880, the government required every patent application to be accompanied by a working scale model of the invention, no larger than 12 inches on each side. Two hundred thousand little models later, the Patent Office stopped requiring models -- mostly because it was running out of space to store them. The Rothschild Petersen Patent Model Museum in Cazenovia, New York, maintains the largest private collection of patent models, with over 4,000 of them.

2. President Abraham Lincoln Held a Patent.

In 1849, attorney Abraham Lincoln was granted Patent No. 6,469 for a device that could be filled with air to allow a ship to pass through shoals or shallow water. Lincoln remains the only president to hold a patent, although the device was never put to use. According to Abraham Lincoln Online, Lincoln's law partner, William Herndon, wryly observed, "The invention was never applied to any vessel, so far as I ever learned, and the threatened revolution in steamboat architecture and navigation never came to pass."

3. Actress Hedy Lamarr Helped Invent Wi-Fi.

In 1941, the star of films from the 1940s and '50s co-invented a method for rapidly modulating radio frequencies to create a secret code. The patented method was used to guide torpedoes to their targets without the radio signal being intercepted, according to CBS News. Many years later, a similar system was adapted for use in encrypting cell phone and Wi-Fi signals.

4. "Monopoly" Was Based on a Game Patented 30 Years Earlier.

According to Hasbro, a salesman named Charles Darrow invented Monopoly on his own during the Great Depression. In fact, the world's most popular display of capitalism was actually an anti-capitalist game invented in 1903 by Lizzie Magie. Called "The Landlord's Game," the purpose of the game was to demonstrate the evils of private land ownership. Darrow likely played a version of the game in Atlantic City before pitching "Monopoly" to Parker Brothers as his own idea.

5. The Guy With the Most Patents in the World Holds More Than 6,300 of Them.

The Guinness Book of World Records credits Shunpei Yamazaki of Japan with having the most patents: 6,314 in 12 countries as of 2011. Yamazaki's company makes video screens, but he also holds patents on cold fusion. Then again, Yamazaki's company does nothing but invent patentable technology and then license it to others, according to Upstart Business Journal.

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