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Kristina Mulina

Assistant to Patent Attorney

15 January 2021

Most Valuable Patents

The patenting of certain technical solutions is no easy matter. However, the result upon obtaining a patent, expressed in monetary terms, may surprise even the patentee itself. After all, a patent sometimes brings enormous profits to its owner. Below are the examples of some of the most valuable patents meant to inspire and motivate inventors to always formalize their rights to intellectual property.

Let’s start with an invention that we all use in our daily lives. It has revolutionized the way liquids are stored in plastic bottles, and it has earned its patentee $13 million. As the reader may have guessed, it is a patent for a cap whose shape prevents upside down liquids from leaking out of the container.

The patent was received by Paul Brown in 1991. As for the premise, while working as a designer and manufacturer in a small store located in Midland, Michigan, Paul Brown had promised a customer that he would develop a valve which would allow shampoo bottles to be stored upside down without leaking. Although he had a pretty good idea of the design, his models, which he worked on all day long, were not working properly. The materials and prototypes were expensive to produce. Realizing the promise of his invention, however, Paul Brown borrowed thousands of dollars from eleven friends and family, including his mother. More than a hundred failed attempts did not stop him from achieving his goal.

Over the next few years, Paul Brown’s patented valve became extremely popular. In addition to the cosmetics industry, many well-known companies from other industries turned to it, for example the baby food manufacturer Gerber started to use it for their drinkers, NASA took it to create cups for astronauts that would not leak into space, Heinz used it so that ketchup lovers could easily use the flip-over bottles. That’s when Paul Brown realized he had really succeeded. Four years later, he sold his company for $13 million. It’s been 25 years since then, but the demand for such caps is still high, and probably every second person, if not every first person, has a ketchup bottle with just such a cap in their refrigerator.

Continuing with the food theme, one can’t help but mention the Italian Ferrero culinary family, led by Michel, one of the major chocolate manufacturers. Every year since 1999, more than a billion dollars’ worth of chocolate Kinder Surprise Eggs have been sold in the world. Today, Ferrero’s is the world’s third-largest company behind chocolate giants like Nestlé and Mars.

It all began in 1941 as a tiny candy store in Italy’s Piedmont region[1]. Thirty-eight years later, the chocolate eggs were on the shelves for the first time, and demand was so great that the first consignment sold out in just an hour. The Ferrero family received another patent for the process of preparing a double-layered chocolate egg, where the filling - a yellow capsule - was made in the shape of a natural egg yolk, inside which small toys were placed. Also, among the inventions of the factory Michele Ferrero and his sons Giovanni and Pietro, besides Kinder-Surprise chocolate eggs, are well-known Nutella nut paste, snow-white Raffaello and Tic Tac. The annual turnover of the Ferrero company exceeds four billion euros.

Another invention, with an interesting history of its creation, and which brought considerable income to its creator is the Velcro Fastener. On a beautiful summer morning in 1941, George de Mestral, after taking his dog for another walk, began to remove the heads of burdock from his animal’s fur and decided to examine the plant under a microscope. When he saw the tiny hooks with which the burdock heads were so easily attached to the animal’s fur, he understood why the burdock clung so strongly. That’s how George de Mestral got the idea for the Velcro Fastener.

A few years later, during which experiments lasted, the Swiss engineer selected the best option which was nylon. In 1955, he patented his creation, the Velcro textile fastener, and began to make a profit. By 1996, sales had reached $177 million. Although that original patent has expired, Velcro Ltd. continues to develop new innovations in Velcro fasteners and protect intellectual property rights. In 2008, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary and earned $298 million[2] for the year.

One day, some $73 million was paid for a water pistol. NASA scientist Lonnie George Johnson invented the Super Soaker water pistol in 1990. Since then, this invention has been one of the best-selling toys across the world. In 1991, Super Soaker sales totaled $200 million. The inventor of the water pistol later discovered that Hasbro was not paying him extra royalties for the Super Soaker and several Nerf toys. In February 2013, Johnson filed a lawsuit against Hasbro, and in November of that year, Johnson received nearly $73 million in royalties from Hasbro Inc. according to the court’s decision. As said by Hasbro, Super Soaker sales are approaching $1 billion[3].

What is the way to turn $5,000 into $1 billion? Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, the billion-dollar self-made inventor of underwear for those wanting to lose weight or simply get in shape, knows the answer. One day she decided to cut off the bottom part of her tights, and realized that the remaining part could support the body well and make the figure slimmer, while keeping the lower part of the legs open.

This idea seemed very promising to Sara, and the girl, having collected all her savings of $5,000, invested it in the initial production. Sarah drove around factories with a handmade prototype, and after many rejections, one of the factory owners agreed to try it, saying that he had daughters who would not let him give up her invention. The first prototype was created within a year, followed by patenting. As of November 2000, Oprah Winfrey named Spanx her favorite product. That same year Spanx tights appeared on the shelves of the most expensive stores. Over the next decade, Spanx products and its turnover multiplied higher[4].

As we can see from the examples above, these people have achieved success through their own work. In my opinion, the money they have earned is a fair payment for the benefit these inventors have brought to all of us. Maybe the road to wealth also goes through patenting. So, if someone would come up with something new, find out if it can be patented, and even if he or she don’t succeed the first time, remember Paul Brown, who didn’t let more than a hundred failed attempts stop him from achieving his goal. Never give up on your goal!


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