SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 7

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Simpson mailed his response to Townsend’s rejection letter on March 17. The single page letter made it to Townsend’s desk in Room 312 of Division VII of the United States Patent Office the next day.

This response to Townsend’s letter of March 2 contained an even more restricted set of claims. Simpson’s previous letter had four claims. This letter had only three: the elevated target at the rear of the alley; the ski jump obstruction to launch the ball into the air; and the levers for advancing the score. Simpson clung desperately to what he knew were the most important features of the game. Simpson’s new claims were:

1. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel on an elevated target to the rear of and spaced from said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in front of said target, adapted to ause said ball to leave said board and continue its flight towards said target in the air.

2. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, an apertured target to the rear of and above and spaced from said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in from of said target, adapted to cause said ball to leave said board and continue its flight towards said target in the air.

3. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to be rolled, an obstruction for trajecting said projectile, an apertured target to the rear of and above and spaced from said obstruction, pivoted levers arranged in said apertures adapted to be engaged and operated by the projectile after passing through said apertures, and an indicating device adapted to be operated by the movement of said levers.

Simpson finished the letter stating:

It is believed that the above claims will not conflict with the references of record, none of which show a board furnished with an obstruction and a target to the rear of and spaced from said board and obstruction.

Simpson’s claims, as well as his patience, were getting thinner and thinner.

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/.

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SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 6

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The US Patent Office received Simpson’s reply on February 15, 1908. Again, it came to rest on William Wilder Townsend’s desk.

Simpson had reworked the application by replacing four of the five claims, and had argued vehemently for the claim about the obstruction launching the ball into the air. This was the most important feature of the game and Simpson was not going to let Townsend reject that claim–it was too important.

Townsend read the application, and responded, with his usual terseness, with several editorial changes that he wanted Simpson to make for claims 2, 4, and 5. And then Townsend brought the hammer down once again, stating:

Claims 1 and 3 are anticipated by

Miller, #809,715, Jan. 9, 1906; 

(Games and Toys, Bowling Alleys);

and are rejected.

Claim 4 is substantially anticipated by Wise, of record. It also defines nothing patentable over Miller cited, and is rejected. In the ltter [sic] patent the pins themselves are the indicator.

Townsend’s and Simpson’s game of cat and mouse was not going well for the mouse.

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SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 5

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William Wilder Townsend’s letter was mailed on February 1, 1908 to Joseph Fourestier Simpson, care of his attorney, Charles Rutter. One can only imagine the frustration that Simpson felt after receiving the letter. All of the claims had been rejected, and it was clear from the patents cited that Townsend, though brilliant in his own fields, truly did not understand the invention in front of him.

Simpson took a deep breath. By February 12, 1908 he had formulated a response, which he mailed back to the Patent Office. He first stated that he was replacing  claims 1, 2, 4, and 5 with new claims. However, he refused to replace claim 3, which had to do with the obstruction that launched the ball into the air. He would have more to say later in the letter about the obstruction. The new claims were as follows:

1. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, an elevated target to the read of said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in from of said target, adapted to cause said ball to leave said board and continue its flight towards said target in the air.

2. In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, a perforated target to the read and above of said board, and an obstruction upon said board, in front of said target, adapted to cause said ball to leave said board and continue its flight towards said target in the air.

4. 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 said target, adapted to traject said ball, said target, and an indicator for showing the part of said target engaged by said ball.

5. 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 apertures placed to the read of said obstruction, pivoted levers arranged in said apertures adapted to be engaged and depressed by the projectile after passing through said apertures, and an indicating device adapted to be operated by the moment of said levers.

He then went on to say:

“The claims have been amended for the sake of clearness and it is thought that they do not conflict with the references of record none of which contemplate trajecting the ball, that is causing it to continue its flight from the obstruction to the target through the air.”

And he finished the letter, noting:

“None of the references so far cited have shown a game in which a ball is engaged by an obstruction causing it to rise in and fly through the air towards a target, hence the applicant beleives [sic] that he is entitled to claims covering a game in which the ball passes from the player to a target first along a board and finally through the air. The precise details of applicants game as illustrated and described would be of no value without the main feature upon which, he believes, he is entitled to protection.”

Perhaps this time Townsend would understand that the ball flying through the air to the target was the significant part of the invention. But perhaps not.

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 4

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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).

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.”

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.

1908 townsend-4-100dpi

 

 

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 3

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Simpson’s patent application had had six of the seven claims rejected, and R. H. Hyatt, the patent examiner, asked Simpson to more clearly describe the invention. Hyatt had absolutely no clue as to how revolutionary, original and compelling these features would be, especially the skee-jump and the elevated target. One can only imagine the frustration that Simpson would feel when that letter landed back on his desk.

And it landed on his desk a few days after it was mailed from Washington, DC. Simpson had been through this frustrating process for his ratchet wrench, so he was no stranger to it. Simpson took the next several weeks to redraft his application based on the feedback that he had received from the Patent Office. He methodically addressed each of the criticisms, changing the name of the application, fixing duplicated figure numbering, and providing a more detailed description of the invention and how it worked. He then addressed the issues of the claims by completely rewriting them and asking for his new version to be used. This time instead of seven claims he had only five:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Finally he addressed Hyatt’s list of patents that were used to reject the previous claims attempting to demonstrate that Hyatt misunderstood the invention. He then finished the letter by stating:

“None of these references show the construction claimed by me and therefore favorable action upon my claims is asked.”

He mailed the letter and assumed that this time the Patent Office would better understand his position and things would move along towards the logical conclusion of the patent being granted.

Simpson could not have been more wrong.

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 2

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Joseph Fourestier Simpson mailed his original patent application for Skee-Ball on November 8, 1907 to Washington, DC,. Four days later, after it was routed through the complex maze of mailrooms, clerks and other officials, it finally land on the desk of one R. H. Hyatt, the acting patent examiner. Hyatt reviewed Simpson’s application in detail, and over the course of a month researched his patent claims in depth.

Simpson had filed for seven claims that included:

  • The target that the ball would fall into
  • The ski jump that launched the ball into the air
  • The inclined alley along which the ball would travel
  • The ball return
  • The nets on the side to contain the ball
  • The lever that actuated the scoring device

In the letter that Hyatt wrote back to Simpson on December 18, he began by telling Simpson the title of the patent needed to be changed from “Game” to “Game Apparatus” and continued describing other items that needed to be changed, for example:

“In the 5th line from the bottom of page 1, “Fig. 1″ occurs twice, and correction is required.”

He went on with an entire page about details of the documentation that needed to be fixed. And then, Hyatt rejected six of claims out of hand, and thought that the seventh might be allowable, with additional work.

In rejecting the other six claims Hyatt referenced other patents including: Bush #836,561; Rollert #660,460; Kary #754,456; Fahl #787,161 and Griebel #768,600. A close read of Hyatt’s letter shows that in Hyatt’s mind even if Simpson did fix the minor problems, the pre-existing patents invalidated his claims, therefore Simpson had no patentable invention.

Hyatt had absolutely no clue as to how revolutionary, original and compelling these features would be, especially the skee-jump and the elevated target.  One can only imagine the frustration that Simpson would feel when that letter landed back on his desk.

 

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Published

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On December 8, 1908, Joseph Fourestier Simpson’s patent for Skee-Ball was finally published, and his patent protection began. After arguing for months with the US Patent office over the broad claims he wanted protection for, he finally acquiesced, and accepted that he was only going to get two of the claims through. The first was for the ski-jump that launched the ball into the air, and the second was for the lever that actuated the scoring device. But these were enough to get the ball rolling.

He gave one half interest in the patent to William Nice Jr. a wealthy retired lumberman in exchange for his financial backing. Nice and John W. Harper started the Skee-Ball Alley Company in Philadelphia to build and market the game.

Simpson had no idea what the game of Skee-Ball was really going to cost him.

 

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 1

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On November 8, 1907, a little known inventor finished a patent application for “Game,” and it was notarized and sent to the United States Patent Office in Washington, DC for consideration. A few days later it began its journey across the desks of clerks, examiners and reviewers. That patent application described the very first game of Skee-Ball, and the applicant was Joseph Fourestier Simpson.

Simpson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 31, 1852, to a merchant class family. His father sold cotton duck fabric for sails, work clothes and tarpaulins right up to the end of the Civil War, when the southern sources for cheap cotton dried up. He passed away soon after that, leaving Simpson fatherless at age 17, just as the young man was getting ready to make his way in the world. Simpson was an exceptional young man, meticulous, highly observant, curious and tenacious when ideas caught his attention. And unlike his merchant father, he had a passionate desire to invent.

Starting as a railway clerk, Simpson worked hard, and within a few years, he started his own lumber planing business. And he started inventing. While running the mill, he patented an ingenious over-center trunk latch, which allowed an overfilled travel trunk to be closed easily. Although it was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition and commended for “utility and low cost,” he was unable to find a manufacturing and sales outlet for his invention. He closed his planing business and worked with his cousin to develop and patent a ratchet wrench, but ran into the same problem in finding manufacturing and sales. In 1890 he and his family moved to Vineland, New Jersey. He continued to struggle with ups and downs of the industrial economy, reinventing himself as a manager, an attorney working in real estate, an investor and broker for mining and railway projects, and a manufacturer of knitted goods.  Simpson was working tirelessly to advance himself on his own merit in an unforgiving economy that treated those without independent family wealth harshly.

In his middle years around the turn of the century, Simpson became even more creative, with a plethora of innovations and inventions. He still had a problem attracting capital and businessmen to manage and promote his innovations, and one by one, they fizzled.

Finally, Simpson developed the most successful and groundbreaking invention of his career: the game of Skee-Ball. And he began his more than twelve month journey to getting a patent for the game. He and his attorney, Charles Rutter, outlined seven claims in the patent application. These seven features were what Simpson knew made the game unique. But there was one feature that made the game different than any other game that has come before it, or since. The skee jump that launched the ball into the air, much like a ski-jumper. It was the first claim of the patent and stated:

“In a game apparatus, in combination, a board along which a projectile is adapted to travel, an obstruction upon said board for causing said projectile to be projected into the air in a direction which will be a continuation of its original movement, and a target in the line of the trajectory of said projectile. ”

Over the next thirteen months Simpson, Rutter and the patent office would fight it out in a frustrating, grueling battle of claims and counters before Simpson’s patent was finally granted.

Happy Thanksgiving!

MudgeThanksgiving

Once a year in the United States families all over the country sit down at the dinner table to enjoy a repast with family and friends and celebrate Thanksgiving. During that meal almost every household will also go around the table and ask everyone what they are thankful for. This year Kevin and I would like to take just a moment to say that we are so thankful for all of the friends that the book has created for us. We’ve met wonderful people that started as colleagues and casual acquaintances and have become friends that we look forward to seeing whenever we can. Those friends come from Vineland, Philadelphia, Austin, San Francisco, New Orleans and may other places. To all of our friends and their families we’d just like to say, Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours! Enjoy the day.

SR Author Travels | Austin Wrap-up

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It was a great four days in Austin, Texas at the end of October for The BEEB! For the uninitiated, “BEEB” is short for the Brewskee-Ball National Championship Skee-Ball Tournament.

Kicking it off on Thursday, October 26, Thaddeus Cooper hosted a Facebook Live Event which was a great success, featuring Joey The Cat (three-time national champion), and Eric Schadrie from Bay Tek Games, which took over Skee-Ball manufacturing and sales last year. Not only did listeners get insight into the upcoming tournament, but also a sneak peek into the features on Bay Tek’s brand new alleys! Following the Facebook Live event was a Seeking Redemption’s author Meet-and-Greet at the beautiful rooftop bar of The Westin Downtown, complete with a swimming pool and a panoramic view of downtown Austin. This was also a chance to observe the October 31st birthday of Joseph Fourestier Simpson, the inventor of Skee-Ball. The event included a special cake to celebrate Simpson’s 165th birthday, and a memorable toast to him and his beloved invention.

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Friday, Saturday and Sunday were busy days. Thaddeus was selling books at The BEEB as well as attending events and the competitions. Seeking Redemption was a great hit with all of those in attendance and Thaddeus read an excerpt from the book, the memorable story of the very first Skee-Ball National Championship games in 1932, at the closing Storytime on Sunday evening.

This year was a year for firsts, including the introduction of a brand new Skee-Ball alley, custom-designed by Bay Tek Games for the National Skee-Ball League. These alleys are outfitted with two cameras, to capture exciting real time video of the roller, the play field, and the score, enabling players at opposite ends of the country to “play together” in real time. The alleys are also fitted with a large video screen above the target, which showed the classic marquee displaying the score during game play, and a variety of images between games. With the installation of the new bank of alleys at the Full Circle Bar in Austin, someone had to roll the first ball. Eric Pavony, Skee-E-O of the Brewskee-Ball League, told us he debated long and hard on who that should be. Finally he decided that since Thaddeus Cooper had chronicled the first 108 years of the game, it was fitting he should roll the first ball, launching the next 100 years of Skee-Ball. Thaddeus was stunned by the honor, and happily rolled out the first ball, to cheers from the crowd that had gathered for the event on Thursday afternoon.

Saturday started with the MUG team competition, including teams from Austin, Texas; Brooklyn, New York; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; and Wilmington, North Carolina, sporting their team T-Shirts. Team Skeesar Chavez of Austin won Saturday’s very intense competition. For the rest of the competition, many enthusiastic rollers showed up in costume, since the games were so close to Halloween this year, or simply wearing their usual, colorful Skee-Ball performance attire.

Sunday was dedicated to individual roller competition. The big news that evening was two roll-offs of note. The first was between Sarah O and Joey The Cat.  Sarah was on fire that night, scoring a victory over Joey, with a score of 358 to 346. The final roll-off was between Skeevi Strauss and Sarah O, with Skeevi finally winning first place, and the coveted Cream Jacket for this year’s tournament.

This year’s BEEB was a rockin’ good time! And it was a great time to re-connect with old friends and make some new ones, to see Skee-Ball history in the making, and to get a first look at the exciting future of national Skee-Ball tournaments.