Sunday, October 29, 2006

The ballpoint pen patent wars: it began on Oct. 29, 1945

CBS Sunday Morning on Oct. 29, 2006 discussed the introduction of the ballpoint pen in the US. The ballpoint pen was first introduced to the United States on October 29, 1945. The pen, dubbed the Reynold's Rocket, was introduced in New York's Gimbels Department Store, and the whole stock of 10,000 pens was sold out the first day for $12.50 each.

There was a patent issue.

The invention of the pen was in 1938 by two Hungarian inventors, Laszlo Biro and George Biro. The brothers both worked on the pen and applied for patents in 1938 and 1940. The new-formed Eterpen Company in Argentina commercialized the Biro pen. The press hailed the success of this writing tool because it could write for a year without refilling. Eversharp Co. teamed up with Eberhard-Faber to acquire the exclusive rights to Biro Pens of Argentina. The pen was re-branded as the “Eversharp CA” which stood for Capillary Action.

Milton Reynolds, after visiting Argentina, copied the product in four months and sold his product in Gimbel's.

IPBiz poses the question: would Reynolds, who brought the product to commercialization faster than the inventors, be a hero to the patent reformers of the year 2006?

Of course, there is more to the story.

There was a 1888 patent by John Loud that went unnoticed in the litigations. Prior art not found.

Separately, none of the initial products were particularly good. The real winner was the French Baron Bich, who did not have the so-called first (or second) mover advantage, but ended up winning the war with BIC pens.

Although not appreciated in the US, "biro" is the generic name for ballpoint pen in most of the world.


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