SB History | The History of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 10

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Simpson’s letter of April 7 arrived at the US Patent office and as usual wended its way through the mailroom, then down the majestic columned halls of the Patent Office until it came to rest in the pile of patent applications on Senior Patent Examiner, William Wilder Townsend’s desk.

Townsend had shown no sense of humor with respect to Simpson’s application for a mere game. It is possible that he thought games were beneath him, and the Patent Office, especially when there were so many more important patents to be granted.

He did however go through Simpson’s response and wrote one of the shortest responses ever to Simpson, possibly showing that he may actually have had a sense of humor. On April 20th he wrote:

Applicant’s statement that claim 1 has not been amended as suggested is not understood, unless it refers to the retention of the comma in line 4 of the claim, which could not possibly define a distinction over the references. The claim is still held to be substantially met in Miller, of record, and is again rejected.

For want of a comma a patent was almost lost!

One would hope that Simpson would see the humor in the rejection, however slight that might be.

Letter from William Wilder Townsend to Joseph Fourestier Simpson, April 20, 1908.

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 History of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 9

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In what had to be one of the quickest turn-arounds possible, Simpson received the letter that Townsend had written on April 4 and responded on April 7, 1908. Simpson was either incredibly well prepared for what he knew was coming or more likely spent several long days drafting and finalizing his response.

In an attempt to not antagonize Townsend too much he made all of the changes to claims two and three and one of the suggested changes to claim 1, and responded to Townsend:

1st. by striking out word “to” line 3 – claim 1, and by substituting at.

2nd. by striking out in line 3 – claim 2 words “to” and by substituting word at, and by striking out in same line and claim words “and spaced from”,

3rd. by inserting in front of words “said target”, line 4 – claim 2 words and spaced from,

4th. By inserting in front of word “apertured” line 3 – claim 3 word elevated.

5th. by striking out word “to” line 3, claim 3 and by substituting word at,

6th. by striking out in line 4, claim 3, words “and above”.

He goes on to say:

…claim 1 has not been amended as suggested as it is believed that to do so would clearly put the claim in shape to be met by Miller, of record.

Attention is called to the fact that in Miller the targets, which are ordinary ten pins, are carried upon a board that is not spaced from the ball track but which is a continuation of this track.

In the Miller game the pins are not “elevated targets”, in the sense that my target is elevated, they are carried by the pin table and the ball is adapted to strike their tops so that it may not be impeded by the pins and the cords attached thereto. In my case the target is separate and distinct from the table or board along which the balls are rolled. Broadly speaking this target might not be perforated but it should be elevated above the leve of the ball table and entirely separate therefrom and it is this construction that I claim.

An exhausted Simpson sent the letter, hoping this time would be the final time–again–and that Townsend would finally understand that the ski obstruction and the elevated target were the key and uniquely related features of the game. Something that up until 1908 no one else had done, and something that would fascinate the players and be timeless. Something anyone who has played the game today knows, as do all of the imitators of the game.

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/.

SB History | The Story of the Skee-Ball Patent • Part 8

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It took a little less than three weeks for Townsend to read, research, and respond to Simpson’s letter of March 17, 1908. On April 4, 1908 he rendered his decision, following his usual format of first giving guidance about wording changes that he wanted Simpson to make.

He gave Simpson detailed changes to all three claims:

In claim 1, line 3, at should be substituted for “to” and the words “and spaced from”, canceled; line 4, the comma between “board” and “in” should be canceled and the words and spaced from inserted after “front of”.

In claim 2, line 3, at should be substituted for “to”, and the words “and spaced from”, canceled, and the words and spaced from, should be inserted before “said target”.

In claim 3, line 3, elevated, should be inserted before “apertured”; and, line 4, “and above” should be canceled.

Simpson had rewritten claim 1 to read:

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 cause said ball to leave said board and continue its flight towards said target in the air.

After the nit-picking about the wording of the claim, Townsend delivered what could only be considered bad news for Simpson, rejecting the claim for the elevated target:

Claim 1 defines no invention over and is substantially anticipated by Miller, of record. Claim 1 is accordingly rejected.

There was a glimmer of hope for claims two and three. For those Townsend stated:

Claims 2 and 3, if amended as indicated, may, as at present advised, be allowed.

While it was still an uphill battle, it was possible that Simpson and Townsend were finally coming to some agreement about the claims for the patent. The ball was squarely in Simpson’s court. The question was, could he convince the irascible Townsend of their merits even if he made the changes?

Letter from William Wilder Townsend to Joseph Fourestier Simpson, April 4, 1908.


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/.

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/.

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.

1908 Townsend-3

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/.

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

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Figure 3-700PXWide

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.

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/.

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

 

 

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/.

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

Read Part 2

Figure 3-700PXWide

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.

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/.

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

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Figure 3-700PXWide

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.

 

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/.

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.

 

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/.