It is that time of year again-back to school time. Whether your student is excited or dreadful of this time of year, one thing is for certain, school supplies are a necessity.

A standard item, guaranteed to appear on almost all back to school lists, is the pencil. While the pencil has been around for a long time, one of the first-used pencils required a loaf of bread to erase the graphite material. In an attempt to improve upon the bread-eraser technique, Hymen Lipman developed a new pencil design and was granted the patent for it on March 30, 1868 (U.S. Patent No. 19,783).  It was believed, at the time, that Lipman’s pencil was the first wood-cased pencil with an attached rubber eraser. The patent for this pencil was later purchased by Joseph Reckendorfer. Unfortunately, for Mr. Reckendorfer, the Supreme Court revoked this patent in 1875 after the German company Faber-Castell proved they created the first pencil equipped with a rubber eraser attached by a metal ferrule (i.e., a ring or cap). Since Lipman simply combined a pencil and an eraser and did not create/invent either of those items the patent was invalidated.

Another item seen on many back to school lists is Crayola crayons. Crayola, originally Binney & Smith, was started by founders Edwin Binney and Harold Smith.  Binney and Smith started out producing carbon black from natural gas.  In 1891, Binney was granted a patent for an “Apparatus for the Manufacture of Carbon Black” that allowed for the mass production of carbon black (U.S. Patent No. 453,140). This invention enabled the company to become one of the largest manufacturers of pigment. They began to manufacture slate pencils and entered into the school industry with the creation of their An-Du-Septic Dustless Chalk and the Staonal Marking Crayon made with carbon black and oilfield paraffin. Teachers loved the crayons but had a hard time letting the children use them, as they were not safe for excessive use. Binney and Smith eventually got the formula right, and in 1903, the first box of eight Crayola crayons was born.  It contained red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, and black sticks and sold for a nickel. Edwin Binney’s wife Alice is credited with naming the brand, “craie,” the French word for chalk, and “ola,” from “oléagineux,” which means oily. Since the creation of the crayon, Crayola has gone on to make countless school-related items, including colored pencils, markers and Silly Putty to name a few.

With all the back to school items a student needs, having a place to keep everything is also essential. In 1976, the Mead Corporation gifted the world with Trapper Keeper Notebooks (U.S. Patent No. 3,968,546).  The well-known Trapper Keeper Notebook was not released to the public until 1978.  In doing so, Mead Corporation created “one of the most recognized school brands of all time,” says Jessica Hodges, Director of School Marketing for ACCO Brands, who acquired Mead in 2012. It is also a prominent pop culture hallmark: Trapper Keepers have been featured on Family Guy, Dawson’s Creek, South Park, Full House, and Napoleon Dynamite.” The Grammy winning artist John Mayer has also commented on Trapper Keepers referring to them as “the genesis of OCD for my generation.”

In addition to back to school supplies, it is always wise to think about cold and flu season and how easily germs can spread in a classroom. Classrooms around the country are stocked with the well-known facial tissue brand, Kleenex.   The Kleenex brand has been around since 1914, but their origin predates their production of facial tissues, which made their brand a household name.  The Kimberly-Clark Corporation originally used their cellucotton material for gas mask filters and dressing for wounds during World War I. When the war ended, Kimberly-Clark needed a new market for the cellucotton, and in 1924, the Kleenex name was trademarked (Registration No. 0191941) and launched. The facial tissue was originally used to remove cold creams and makeup from women’s faces. Kleenex even had celebrity endorsements from Helen Hayes and Jean Harlow. By 1926, the company was being flooded with correspondence letting them know people have stopped using their handkerchiefs and have started using the facial tissue as a “disposable handkerchief”.

As you can see, many common school supplies have an interesting history in the intellectual property world.  So as you are making your way through the school supplies aisle, just think of all of the patents and trademarks that have been filed for all the products you will find!


Published first by Suiter


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