“Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.”
In tracing the lineage of perhaps the most popular bromide about the inventive process, I discovered (somewhat to my surprise) that the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” finds its origins in a Socratic dialogue in Plato’s The Republic about the nature of an ideal state.
What started out as a discussion about political structures has become a catch-all description for what often motivates the inventive process.
Like this transmogrified quotation from Plato’s The Republic, much of United States’ patent history in the late 18th and 19th centuries is recounted in nostalgic, patriotic terms. The fondness of our earliest American presidents for our patent system (especially Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) is often duly emphasized.
President Lincoln’s love of inventions is emblematic. His experiences in navigating to and from his homestead on the Sangamon River in Illinois led directly to the inventive work forming the basis for U.S. Patent No. 6,469, entitled “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.”
He states, “Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln . . . have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steamboat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draught of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes . . . .”
Should patent practitioners care about what potential jurors can (or cannot) call to mind about our collective American history of patenting in previous centuries? Or is it just dusty, musty history, best forgotten?
This post examines some of the “mythology” of patents and inventors and how those ideas may subtly impact a jury’s expectations about inventors and inventions. Patent litigators, especially, ignore the inherited mindset of jurors at their peril.