Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ben Franklin, His Stove and Patent Issues

Last month, Good Time Stove Company was contacted by a student writing a paper about Ben Franklin. Below are the questins posed for that interview and the Stove Princess' responses.

1.When David Rittenhouse improved the Franklin Fireplace, would there have been any jealousy involved from Ben Franklin?

I am not familiar with D. Rittenhouse or his improvements but from my understanding of Ben Franklin, the Franklin stove that he invented was intentionally NOT patented so that it was open to and encouraged the development of antique stove innovations leading me to believe that Franklin would have embraced Rittenhouse's contributions.

2. Should have Benjamin Franklin put a patent on the Franklin Stove?

To each his own. Personally I think that this type of openness encourages innovation and creativity that results in advances and progress that patents and other forms of intellectual property right discourage and hinder. Again, this is only my personal opinion, but it seems to me that in many ways the antique stove industry itself flourished under this model.

3. Was the invention a successful or a bad idea? Hugely successful, generated a huge industry and was absolutely integral to the every day function of domestic life for more than 100 years. The Franklin fireplace beget all other stoves in the American stove industry.

4. What would have happened if there was never a Franklin Stove? I personally believe that someone would have stumbled on this creation in due time, probably sooner than later. Fire technology and heating/cooking appliances had been in existence for some time. In the face of increasingly limited resources (trees and coal), the innovation seems inevitable. Given that there were well over 2,000 manufacturers, each claiming his own designs and innovations it seems evident that once the ball was set in motion its momentum would be nearly unstoppable and so the stove and range industry continues to be a huge market today.

5. Would the pamphlet that Franklin created for the fireplaces help a consumer decide which fireplace to buy?
Yes, although often times the pamphlets themselves focused on how the stove function and operates as opposed to how to select the right stove for the consumer or his home. The relied on the prowess of a sales person for this. To this ends many pamphlets were catered to the sales person touting the merits of the manufacturer, foundry, production, etc with less focus on the product itself.

6. Will there be some other fireplace invention like it, but more advanced? Of course!!!

7. Would life have been different without the Franklin Stove in the 1700s? Can you imagine your like without a means of cooking, baking, making food, heating water, staying warm, etc. Life was in no way absent these amenities before 1700, but Ben Franklin's invention represented tremendous progress towards convenience, efficiency and specialization.

8. Why do people still use them today? Cant people invent better than this or is this all it can get? Nostalgia, ambiance, aesthetic, antique authenticity (as opposed to a reproduction), superior cast iron quality (as opposed to the substandard cast iron used in modern stove production), antique artistry in the castings and designs (as opposed to bland cookie-cutter designs of modern models), using an antique stove is more environmentally friendly reducing landfill waste instead restoring a fine antique appliance to its peak performance and efficiency. Antique stove has a demonstrated capacity to function for generations where modern stoves suffer from built in obsolescence and find themselves irreparably broken down within 10-20 years of regular use.

9. If he were to put a patent on the fireplace, how much would have he made? The industry was one of America's largest at its height. Anyone involved could make money, especially those who made and defended patent claims. PD Beckwidth, inventor of the oak or cylinder stove, spent his entire life in litigation defending his claims to this patent and died in its pursuit. Today Round Oak stoves, among the mot widely recognized name in the antique stove industry bears the phrase "from the estate of P D Beckwidth." Ben Franklin's contributions to America, and the stove industry in particular, cannot be measured in mere dollars alone.

10. Could have this invention influenced others to create their own invention? Yes and it did. It was huge industry. So large in fact that at one time that patent office itself had to close due to the shear volume of patents generated by the stove industry at the height of its production.

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