The Importance of Intellectual Property

The inventor of the Thermos never received any profits or royalties

The inventor of the Thermos never received any profits or royalties

September 20 was the birthday of Sir James Dewar, who was born in 1842.  The Scottish chemist is noteworthy for inventing the Thermos.  This insulated storage vessel helps keep contents both hot and cool, and is used by everyone from scientists to coffee drinkers to school children.

Notice I did not say that Dewar is famous or even remembered for inventing the Thermos.  In fact, he never received a cent of royalties for his invention.

Dewar was involved in the race to achieve absolute zero.  In 1892, he took two nested chambers and removed the air between them, creating a vacuum.  The inner flask was able to maintain a constant temperature, which helped Dewar become the first person to liquefy hydrogen gas.

Unfortunately, Dewar never patented his discovery.  Instead, two German glassblowers named Burger and Aschenbrenner realized that the invention could be used commercially to keep drinks hot and cold.  They held a contest to name the device and founded Thermos GmbH in 1904. (“Therme” is Greek for “heat.”)  They even licensed trademark rights to three other companies to make and sell the Thermos around the world.

Furious, Dewar sued to regain intellectual property rights.  The court noted that Dewar had never made any previous attempts to exercise patent rights, and the suit was dismissed.  The Thermos Company subsequently made millions in royalty-free profits from Dewar’s invention.

There is an ironic end to this story.  Because there was no patent, other companies also began to make and sell insulated vacuum bottles, even calling them “thermoses.”  The Thermos Company sued, but after a decade of litigation they lost their case.  In 1963, a U.S. judge ruled that the term “thermos” had become so generic it was no longer subject to trademark.

As for Dewar, he was awarded a knighthood and several other honors.  His invention is widely used in science and engineering, where it is still known as a “Dewar.”

As a leading technology innovator, Agilent understands the importance of intellectual property.  Company founder Bill Hewlett based Hewlett-Packard’s first product on an innovation, using a light bulb to stabilize the output of the HP 200 audio oscillator.  Hewlett’s ingenious approach was protected by HP’s first patent, US 2268872 A.

Currently, Agilent’s Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) systems use a modern-day vacuum flask (still called a “Dewar”) to keep the magnet near absolute zero so the wires become superconducting.


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Meet Agilent’s Next CEO, Mike McMullen

Mike McMullen has been named Agilent President and COO

Mike McMullen has been named Agilent President and COO

Agilent has announced that President and CEO Bill Sullivan will retire near the end of 2015.  Agilent Senior Vice President and Chemical Analysis Group President Mike McMullen has been promoted to Agilent President and Chief Operating Officer, effective immediately.  McMullen will become Agilent CEO in March 2015.  Sullivan will remain as an advisor through October 2015.

“By the time I retire I will have spent nearly 40 years in HP/Agilent,” Sullivan said in a message to employees.  “Agilent is a big part of my life, and I am proud of what we have achieved together.”

“It is a real honor to be asked to lead Agilent as we take our next steps into the future,” McMullen said to employees.  “I joined HP/Agilent because it was a technology leader, filled with smart colleagues I could learn from. Most of all, it was a company that made a difference in the world. I feel the same way today, perhaps even more so.”

McMullen joined the company 30 years ago.  He has served in finance, sales and business-group leadership positions.  He introduced the first life sciences channel in the company, and is the architect of Agilent’s growth strategy in China.  The Delaware native will relocate to California for his new role.

“Mike has a remarkable ability to see what’s going on in markets, to sense opportunities and to understand how Agilent can capitalize on them,” Sullivan said.  “I am completely confident in the future of the company under his leadership.”


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You May Be Inhaling More Than You Know

Users of aerosol inhalers may have greater exposure to phthalates

Users of aerosol inhalers may have greater exposure to phthalates

Phthalate esters are man-made substances that are added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency and longevity.  Because they do not actually bond to the plastics, they are easily released into the environment.  Humans can be exposed to phthalates by handling associated products or even from contact with dust around the house.  Phthalate exposure has been linked to hormone level changes, birth defects and cancer in animals.

Previous studies have shown that patients with intravenous (IV) drips are exposed to several phthalates that leach into the solution from the PVC bags.  Now, Chinese scientists have discovered a similar risk from aerosol inhalers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted an increased likelihood of interactions between the packaging and contents of such devices.  Researchers from the Shanghai Institute of Pharmaceutical Industry and the Shanghai Institute for Food and Drug Control studied 21 different phthalate esters.  Results showed the presence of five phthalates in metered dose inhalers.  While levels were well below the recommended daily intake, the research team recommended that manufacturers “should still pay close attention to leachable phthalate esters to ensure quality and safety of their products.”

Scientists used an Agilent 7890 GC, 7000 GC/MS Triple-Quad and J&W DB-5ms column in their research.


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