Were these patents ever used?
October 13, 2021 5:15 PM   Subscribe

I have an ancestor who filed a few different patents. I'd love to know if his patents were ever used by a business.

I've been researching an ancestor for a while now. Since I can't find anything about his parents I'm trying to discover all the details I can about his life. From what I've found he seems like quite a character...bright, eccentric...I wish I could have known him. Anyway, in the late 1800s he found himself in Chicago, listing himself as "an inventor" on the census, and filing patents for various machines that made candy. By 1901 he moved to Racine, WI and died shortly thereafter as an employee of a hardware company.

I'm so curious about his candy machines and I'd love to know if any of them were ever used by real companies. However, I don't even know where or how to start looking. I'd love any ideas on how to track this information down.
posted by christinetheslp to Grab Bag (4 answers total)
Patent attorney here. When you ask whether his patents were ever used by real companies, you are asking whether such a company ever accused a competitor of infringement or sued a competitor for infringement. There are reference sources such as Shepard's Citations where you can look up a patent number and see whether it was ever litigated. These links will give some basic guidance. I'd recommend you visit a big public law library and I'm sure they will be glad to help.

Also try various search strategies including the patent number, the inventor's name, mechanical details, and all the other details you see on the patents.

You also asked whether his machines were used by real companies. Maybe you can Google some/all of the candy companies in Chicago (and the rest of the world if you have time) that were active in the Gay '90s and see if you can track down any descendants of the original owners, and also look for old photos of the factories.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:51 PM on October 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: To phrase the previous (totally correct) answer slightly differently - if your ancestor licensed his patents to a company that did use his designs, this would not ordinarily be reflected in the public record in any way (unless there was litigation resulting from it).
posted by kickingtheground at 8:18 PM on October 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Turn-of-the-century Chicago was a huge confectionery hub: 1905 Historical Sketch of Chicago’s Confectionery Trade
Example: In 1876, Ferdinand Bunte, Gustav A. Bunte, and Charles A. Spoehr started a candy manufactory on State Street in Chicago. By the 1910s, when Bunte Bros. did annual sales of about $2.4 million, the company employed about 1,200 people. Vintage Bunte Bros. caramels boxes, candy tins, history; a landmark legal case (involved caramel assortments).

Your ancestor's candy-cleaning machine was also patented in Canada, if that would make for an easier search. (Btw, all the 'cites' listed at the bottom of his patent pages, linking the later inventions that drew on his work, are so cool.) Also poked around the patent assignee names. Andrew F. Torkilson was a co-filer (with a John U. Torkilson) for the caramel-cutting machine; Theodore W. Bunte, Ferdinand's son and a company employee by age 14, was married to Andrew's sister, Anna.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:48 PM on October 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I didn't notice if the patent documents list owners (just applicant/assignees), so in case this helps: The US0666243 patent has Thomas Kane as an applicant/assignee and has OWERS & COONEY as owner. The US0629785 patent has Andrew Torkilson and John U Torkilson as applicant/assignee (but no owner). The US0630336A patent has Harry Hill as an applicant/assignee and has Harry Kahn as an owner.
posted by blisterpack at 11:58 PM on October 13, 2021

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