Read Part 3
Simpson wrote his response to Hyatt’s issues and mailed it on January 6. It arrived at the US Patent Office on January 9 but it was not routed to R. H. Hyatt the previous examiner. Instead, it made its way directly to the desk of Dr. William Wilder Townsend, the Principal Patent Examiner.
William Wilder Townsend was brilliant and he was well aware of that fact. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 6, 1854, he attended the prestigious Rittenhouse Academy in Washington, DC. For the next three years, he was employed at the National Almanac Office performing exacting astronomical calculations as the Assistant Computer for the Transit of Venus Commission. In the evenings he attended lectures in medicine at Howard University Medical School.
In January 1878, he became a resident student at the Freedman’s Hospital, and received his MD in March. He worked for a short period as a resident graduate at the hospital and then went to Boston to enter Harvard Medical School where he received another MD degree in 1879. He practiced medicine until 1881. Then, in an abrupt change of direction, he went to work for the United States Patent Office, where his career saw a meteoric rise from Third Assistant Examiner to Principal Patent Examiner in a little over three years.
Where R. H. Hyatt wrote letters that consisted of multiple pages, Townsend wrote terse letters that were direct and to the point, generally bringing a quick and brutal conclusion to unworthy patent applications. Townsend received Simpson’s letter, and did a thorough examination of Simpson’s new claims and rejected them all based on what he believed was prior art.
Simpson’s new claim one stated:
In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, an elevated target at the rear of said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in front of said target adapted to engage and elevate said projectile in its flight.
For claim one he rejected the claim on the basis of a patent filed by William E. Wise (US Patent 304,286, Aug. 26, 1884) or Kiebitz (German Patent 46,070, Feb. 6, 1889).
US Patent 304,286, Page 1
US Patent 304,286, Page 2
Claim two stated:
In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, a perforated target at the rear of and at the rear of and above said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in front of said target.
and claim five stated:
In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to be rolled, an obstruction for trajecting said projectile, a target having perforations in the line of the projectory of said projectile, pivoted levers arranged in said perforations adapted to be engaged and depressed by the projectile after passing through said perforations, and an indicating device adapted to be operated by the movement of said levers.
For claims two and five, Townsend rejected them on the basis of patents filed by William E. Wise (US Patent 304,286, Aug. 26, 1884) and George Walk (US Patent 797,244, Aug. 15, 1905), stating:
“There would be no invention in mounting a board having perforations at the top of the construction of Wise through which the balls may roll, in view of the perforated target of Walk.”
Claim three stated:
In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a ball is adapted to be rolled, a target at the rear of said board, an obstruction upon said board in front of said target adapted to traject said ball, and an inclined base or floor for returning said ball to the player.
To this claim, Townsend rejected it on the basis of a patents filed by William E. Wise (US Patent 304,286, Aug. 26, 1884) and Charles N. Morgan (US Patent 722,603, March 10, 1903) stating:
“Claim 3 involves no invention over [William E.] Wise or [Charles N.] Morgan; in view of [George] Walk, cited, and is rejected.”
US Patent 722,603, Page 1
US Patent 722,603, Page 2
US Patent 722,603, Page 3
Claim four stated:
In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a ball is adapted to be rolled, an obstruction upon said board in front of a target, said target, and an indicator for showing the part of said target engaged by said ball.
Of claim four Townsend stated simply:
“Claim 4 is substantially anticipated by [William E.] Wise, and is rejected.”
He then signed the letter: W. W. Townsend / Examiner, and mailed it on February 1, 1908. It is clear that Simpson had no idea what was coming his way.
Unbeknownst to Simpson, Townsend was about to become his biggest antagonist in what would become the hard-fought battle for the Skee-Ball patent.
About the author:
Thaddeus Cooper is the co-author of Seeking Redemption: The Real Story of the Beautiful Game of Skee-Ball, a deep dive into the history of the game. You can find more information about Thaddeus, and his co-author, and their book, at: http://www.nomoreboxes.com/.