The inventor of red-and-white tape
October 23, 2014 9:33 AM   Subscribe

Is it true that the inventor of red-and-white barricade tape patented his invention and made a fortune off it? (My Google-fu is weak today...)

Also: are other "conspicuity"/"hazard" tapes patented?
posted by progosk to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I'm a patent attorney. If you can post some more details of this story, at least the name of the alleged inventor, I'll be glad to do a little research for you.

I'd suspect that the "invention" of an improved tape, where the sole improvement is red-and-white stripes, was not granted a patent, but anything's possible.

Possibly, if this story has any validity, there might have been some other, patentable, improvement in the tape, such as a new plastic material or a new adhesive.

As to your second question, I'd suggest going to Google Patents and plugging in keywords.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:42 PM on October 23, 2014

patented his invention and made a fortune off it

You're talking about two different things here and I want to make sure you distinguish them.

A patent is useful to keep others off your turf. To prevent others from copying something that you have invented. It doesn't guarantee that there is a market for the product, either for you or for your competitors. It doesn't guarantee you'll get a fortune, or any sales at all.

Maybe someone did in fact make a fortune from caution tape. That could have come from great marketing, an attractive new ornamental design, political connections, or just going around teaching police and others about this clever new way of marking off restricted areas. Getting rich doesn't necessarily require a patent, although if there were any competitors, a patent would have helped keep them away for a while. That is, possibly no patent exists, even if someone made a fortune.

So, in your searching, look for patentees for sure, but don't conflate that with your search for tape tycoons. It's not necessarily the same people.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:32 PM on October 23, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, that distinction's clear; but I'm finding neither the tycoon nor the inventor/patent-holder.
The story may in fact have been framed in terms of copyright (rather than patent) - is that even a possibility, that someone could hold/have held a copyright to something like coloured (albeit distinctively coloured) plastic tape?
posted by progosk at 10:24 PM on October 23, 2014

After this post, please take this to MeMail, just for logistical reasons.

A creative color pattern could be copyright-protected, and also (although you didn't ask) could function as a trademark. In this case I doubt the red-and-white stripe pattern would have sufficient creativity for copyright protection, or sufficient distinctiveness for trademark protection. These are merely my doubts, however, not facts, and IANYL and TINLA, and I would be interested in seeing any actual facts you may find about how someone was able to legally protect simple red/white striped tape.

I found US Design Patent Des. 359,699 (1995) misleadingly titled MARKER FOR CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION AND GAME FIELD MARKING. All it discloses is a tape measure with inch and cm markings, connected at its ends to some sort of mounting rings, with flag-like ends of the tape measure sticking out to the sides. The disclosed device might have been intended for measuring first-downs in football, or measurements at a crime scene or anywhere else. I don't see how it would be useful for "marking" a crime scene. It would not have helped a vendor of rolls of red/white striped tape at all, despite the title.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:36 AM on October 24, 2014

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