Our rich history: Kentucky inventors, entrepreneurs, innovations; free workshop at the NKU Grant Center


By John Schlipp
Special at NKyTribune

Kentucky is famous for its bourbon, the Kentucky Derby, horse breeding, and historic tourist sites such as Pleasant Hill’s Shaker Village. Yet the Bluegrass State also brings its fair share of entrepreneurial and inventive business activity. This was recently confirmed by Site selection magazine (Volume 66, Issue 2, March 2021, pages 67, 86), an industry trade publication, which has ranked Kentucky at the top of the South-Central region of the United States for economic development projects by inhabitant and third nationally.

Otherwise, Kentucky Commercialization Ventures (KCV), a collaborative program funded by KY Innovation, works with public institutions of higher education in Kentucky such as the Patent & Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) at the Steely Library at the University of Northern Kentucky. KCV provides advice to stimulate innovations and patents in market-ready products, services and startups. A free business workshop for inventors and entrepreneurs is scheduled on-site at NKU’s Grant County Center in Williamstown on Tuesday, June 15 (details below)

Granville T. Woods. Source: The evening deposit, March 12, 1892, p. 12.

Northern Kentucky and the Bluegrass region have a rich history of inventors and patents, even as early as the pre-war period. According to three official indexes – Patent collection (1790-1839); Register of name and date patents (1790-1836); and Contents Index of Patents for Invention Granted by the United States Patent Office from 1790 to 1873, inclusive, the first Kentuckian to receive a patent was Edward West of Lexington. His US patent X290 was granted for a metal amulet on May 19, 1800. Watchmaker, goldsmith, and steamboat innovator, West obtained four other early patents on July 6, 1802, including X380 for a pistol lock, X381 for a steamboat, and X378 and X379 for cutting nails. You can see more details in Lexington History (1872) by George W. Ranck.

Unfortunately, none of West’s first patents survive yet, as they were destroyed in a Patent Office fire in 1836. Arbitrary patent numbers with the suffix “X” have been assigned by the Patent Office to issued patents from 1790 to 1836 – less than 3,000 – which have been recovered over time, minus their drawings. Today, these recovered patents from the period 1790-1836 are known as “X-Patents”.

Historic US patents document early commercial developments in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The northern Kentucky region, including Covington, Newport, and Maysville, included industries such as cotton mills, rolling mills, and nail factories. The first US “X” patent granted to an inventor in northern Kentucky appears to have been James Wright of Covington, then in Campbell County (1820 US Federal Census). According to historical patent indexes, Wright’s X2744 patent was granted on February 28, 1817 for a unique spinning wheel improvement.

The first listed patent granted to a Kentucky inventor was a resident of Campbell County. Women inventors (1790-1888) The patent index recognizes Charlotte W. Allen of Newport, Kentucky and her US patent 62,800 for an “improved hair straightener holder” on March 12, 1867.

Meanwhile, historically renowned African-American inventor Granville Woods resided in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati during his formative years where he earned the title of “Black Edison.” He acquired 17 of his 35+ US patents in the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky area. Woods studied and experimented with inductive communications, sometimes referred to as “wireless telegraphy”. His most important patent inventions developed in our region included an electrical messaging device (U.S. Patent 315,368) in 1885 – which was purchased by the American Bell Telephone Company of Boston. In 1887, Woods obtained patents for induction telegraphy (U.S. Patent 373,915), also known as multiplex telegraphy, and an improvement in railway telegraphy (U.S. Patent 373,383). Learn more about life in Granville Woods, Kentucky here.

Self-portrait of Thomas Zane Roberts. Source: Anthony W. Frohlich, Timekeeper: Thomas Zane Roberts, A Kentucky Renaissance Man (Union, KY: Enchanted Valley Publishing CO., 2008), p. 56.

Another African-American inventor from our region is Fred McKinley Jones. Jones invented the first successful mobile refrigeration units for trucks and trains, keeping fresh produce and meats from spoiling. His patented invention, Air Conditioner for Vehicles (US Patent 2,303,857) in 1942, replaced the earlier – and less efficient – method of using ice and salt to transport food. This invention dramatically widened the distance for successful food delivery, enabling the availability of fresh produce year round and nationwide. For more on Jones, check out Lois Hamill’s NKyTribune article here.

Agricultural technology is directly linked to the industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, with machines greatly increasing agricultural productivity. Thomas Zane Roberts of Boone County, Ky., Has been described as a “rural genius.” Besides agriculture and horticulture, he was a teacher, poet, musician, artist, astronomer, carpenter and inventor. Roberts is best known for his first solar invention, “The Middle Creek Celestial Clock,” which is on display in a financial banking department in Burlington, Kentucky.

The Roberts family owned a 257 acre “steam mill” in Middle Creek. Roberts graduated from Morgan Academy in Burlington in 1875. Soon he joined the Patrons of Husbandry, a farmer protection society that innovated crop yields after the knock-on effect of depressive crop trends created by the panic of 1873 Well known for his oratory skills as president of the local Farmers’ Barn, some of his poems and short stories have been published in the Boone County Recorder under the pseudonym Zane. Roberts received a Boone County Teaching Certificate in 1878 and taught in local schools and churches until 1902. In addition to farming and milling, his domestic inventions included a cast-in chimney blower. hand, a swivel bed, retractable walls and suspended ceilings.

Besides patents, other intellectual properties to which inventors and entrepreneurs respond include trademarks and copyrights. Trademarks refer to source identifiers used for commercial goods or services, while copyrights protect the creative expression of books, music, photographs, movies, websites, etc.

Trademarks are granted by a government agency such as the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO defines a trademark as any word, name, symbol, device, or combination, used to identify and distinguish the products or services of one vendor supplier from those of others. Trademarks registered with the USPTO are marked with an encircled letter “Ⓡ” while those registered by a state government or common law use are marked with a “TM” after the name or symbol. the brand.

1922 edition of The Everyday Song Book, featuring music and lyrics from the song “Good Morning to All”, with the third verse “Happy Birthday to You”. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Trademarks are perhaps the most visible form of intellectual property, especially associated with online businesses. They differentiate your product and / or service from competitors. When we think of brands, we often think of brand names and logos. Such a brand image influences customer recognition and projects the goodwill of a company. Famous Kentucky brands include the phrase “It’s Finger Lickin ‘Good” from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), the iconic Kentucky Derby horseshoe logo encompassing a stylized rose in the middle above the “KENTUCKY DERBY” wordmark and the University of Kentucky mark consisting of the letters U and K framing its Memorial Hall spire in between.

Copyright examples include two perennial popular songs with Kentucky roots. “Happy Birthday” was introduced as “Hello Everyone” in 1894 and originally published in a book titled Kindergarten song stories, by teacher sisters Mildred and Patty Hill of Louisville. santa claus is coming to town by Haven Gillespie of Covington, was introduced in 1934. Comrade Kentuckian Rosemary Clooney has often performed one of Gillespie’s first arias of 1923, You are in Kentucky (of course you were born). Copyright registration is beneficial for protecting the expression of business brochures, applications, and websites, including source codes.

In addition to researching the historical patents of your ancestors from a long time ago, do you have a great idea for a unique state-of-the-art product or a new business service that could be patented? Do you need to know more about trademarks or copyrights? Consider free community resources specifically designed to help inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. For example, the PTRCs are a nationwide network of libraries that are appointed by the US Patent & Trademark Office to disseminate information on patents and trademarks and to meet the various intellectual property needs of the public.

You are invited to participate Grow your small business, a free business workshop for inventors and entrepreneurs on-site at NKU’s Grant County Center in Williamstown on Tuesday, June 15 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free aperitifs will be served during an hour of outdoor social followed by guest speakers on-site experts discussing innovation, marketing, intellectual property, business research, marketing and legal issues. This seminar helps entrepreneurs who develop a new invention, start a new small business or existing businesses that want to improve their business performance.

This event is presented by the Kentucky Innovation Network, NKU Grant County Center, Steely Library PTRC at NKU, NKU Small Business Development Center, Kentucky Inventor’s Network, Grant County Chamber of Commerce and other. It will be held at NKU Grant County, 390 North Main Street, Williamstown 41097. Registration is FREE here. For questions regarding registration, contact NKU Community Connections at [email protected] or 859-572-5600.

John Schlipp is an Intellectual Property Librarian and Professor of Library Science at the W. Frank Steely Library at Northern Kentucky University (NKU). NKU is an official PTRC (Patent & Trademark Resource Center). John can be contacted at [email protected] or phone (859) 572-5723.


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