This Month in IP: May 2024

Strong, consistent IP protections throughout U.S. history enabled the creation of the innovative and useful technologies that we use regularly today. From communication to transportation, every aspect of our lives has benefited greatly from IP, as shown by these historical examples from the month of May:

  • 1964: On May 19, IBM engineers Louis Stevens, William Goddard, and John Lynott received a patent for the invention of a disk drive system for data storage. In addition to being a central feature of early personal computers – which are now present in about 95% of American households – their invention helped to massively expand the potential of computer technology. Today, humans use about 33 zettabytes of data – over 12 quadrillion times the amount of storage included with the first IBM PC.
  • 1943: On May 4, Igor Sikorsky received a patent for the first mass-produced helicopter, introducing a new form of air travel to the world. Sikorsky’s innovative rotor design is still used in the majority of helicopters today, which have developed diverse uses from emergency services to tourism. His patent paved the way for a market worth nearly $30 billion globally, in addition to a tourism industry estimated at almost $1 billion.
  • 1899: On May 9, John Albert Burr received a patent for the first modern lawnmower, with a rotating blade powered by its wheels. Burr’s invention, informed by his experience as a formerly enslaved field laborer, remains ubiquitous today, with 36 million American homeowners having a walking lawn mower as of 2020. It has also played a part in the growth of the lawn care industry, which generated nearly $100 billion in revenue in 2019.
  • 1809: On May 5, Mary Dixon Kies received a patent for a process for weaving straw with silk, becoming the first female patent holder in the United States. Her invention proved transformative for straw hat-making in New England, an industry that would be worth nearly $5 million in today’s dollars and was key to the region’s economy during the War of 1812. The market for sun hats was valued at $9 billion in 2023, and is forecasted to top $30 billion by 2030.
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