Don’t let your idea get left out in the cold.

Tammy Y. Allen, Director, Marketing & Programs, The NIIC

Are you considering securing patents for your invention? Heed this cautionary tale about Scottish scientist Sir James Dewar, inventor of the thermos.

The light bulb moment is just the beginning.

Working at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in 1892, Dewar created the Dewar flask. Better known today as a thermos, the vacuum-jacketed vessel was an excellent insulator, maintaining the temperature of its contents for extended periods.

Initially intended for chemical experiments and a result of Dewar’s research in the field of cryogenics, the vacuum flask was manufactured for commercial use in 1904 as a household item to keep liquids warm or cool.

What you don’t know CAN hurt you.

Reinhold Burger (Dewar’s glass blower), and his business partner Albert Aschenbrenner, created their domesticated version of the vacuum flask—while producing flasks for Dewar.

They immediately pursued a patent for their design, which added a protective metal casing. They claimed the rights to the commercial product and trademarked a new name for the item: “Thermos,” derived from the Greek word therme, meaning heat.

Unfortunately, Dewar never profited from the widespread use of his vacuum flask. He sued Thermos L.L.C. for manufacturing the flask without compensating him. Although he was recognized as the original inventor, he lost because he hadn’t filed a patent.

Thermos L.L.C. was wildly and internationally successful with its insulating flask but soon ran into a patent problem of its own. In the early days, the company strove for the synonymy of thermos and vacuum flask as it was viewed as free advertising. Eventually, as the market grew Thermos L.L.C. tried to protect its trademark, but it was too late. The term thermos became such a generic term for Dewar’s invention that they lost the exclusive rights to the word in 1963.

Keep pursuing your passion!

A dynamic, innovative scientist, Dewar was responsible for many advances in both chemistry and physics. He was the first person to create liquid hydrogen and was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times during his career. Dewar’s simple, elegant design of the vacuum flask remains virtually unchanged and useful to this day.

Engage reliable professionals to fill knowledge gaps.

Inventing a new product is cool. Having someone else realize its potential is not. Don’t let your idea become their idea. The NIIC has helped innovators and business builders launch 444 new products and facilitated nearly $86.8 million in capital investments and grant funding. You can contact us at 260-407-6442 or TheNIIC.Org.


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