On holidays I frequently try and find a patent or innovation angle and write something cheerful and in keeping with the theme of the day being celebrated. As I sat here trying to figure out what to do for Memorial Day, a day that in my opinion simply cannot be over celebrated, I wondered how I would tastefully weave a patent related theme into what is a very solemn day of remembrance and thanks for the many men and women who have served the United States of America, and particularly for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. I thought about profiling a patent or two where they inventor was a member of the US Armed Services, but that didn’t seem to be enough. I thought maybe it would be interesting to profile the first patent assigned to say the United States Navy.
As I set out down this path I did a Google search and the first patent that came up chronologically was US Patent No. 2,560,132, which according to Google was filed in 1844 and issued in 1951. Obviously, there was a typo there since the inventor, Otto H. Schmitt, was not born until 1913, but I thought maybe I was on to something. I did some research on Schmitt, who was a Professor at the University of Minnesota. During World War II he and his wife worked behind the scenes like so many other scientists, his wife working on the Manhattan Project, and Otto inventing a device to pinpoint the location of enemy submarines.
As I started thinking about this it suddenly hit me. The only proper way to celebrate Memorial Day 2010 with a patent and innovation story would be to pay tribute to Robert H. Rines, a true American hero and a world class inventor.
I had the privilege of knowing Bob Rines, although I cannot claim to have known him well. In addition to being a Hall of Fame inventor who served during World War II as a radar officer, Bob was a patent attorney and the founder of Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire, where I obtained my JD and LL.M. degrees.
Bob joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II and served in both European and Pacific theaters. During this time he invented the microwave modulation and scanning technique that would be the essential building block in the Army’s then top–secret Microwave Early Warning System. After the end of World War II, Rines went to work for the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a patent examiner, while simultaneously earning a law degree from Georgetown University in 1947.
According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, of which Rines was a member – Class of 1994, Rines’ scanning technologies “underlie nearly all the high-definition image-scanning radar used to provide early-warning, weapons fire-control, and some artillery and missile detection radars during the war in the Persian Gulf.” His ultrasound scanning innovations have been used to search for the shipwrecks of the Titanic and the Bismarck. And, yes, he did use these technologies to search for the Loch Ness monster on more than one occasion. Sadly, many know Bob as only the guy who searched for Nessie, but there was far more to him than that, and who can blame him for having fun with his own inventions in such a way? Heck, if I had invented sonar and imaging technologies I would have looked for Nessie too!
In addition to being a decorated inventor and patent attorney, Bob Rines was also a composer. Rines composed scores for more than ten Broadway and off–Broadway shows, including music for the television and later Broadway play, Hiz Honor the Mayor, which earned him a share of an Emmy with playwright Paul Shyre in 1987.
Sadly, Bob’s time with us ended on November 1, 2009, at the age of 87, making this the first Memorial Day since his passing. During his time he served his country, was a prolific inventor with many inventions specifically having military applicability, was an educator and a Renaissance Man if there ever was one. So on this Memorial Day, as we celebrate those who have meant so much to us all it seems fitting to once again give a tip of the hat to a true American hero, Bob Rines.
On a personal note, I would also like to thank my father, Eugene R. Quinn, Sr., who served in the U.S. Army as a radio operator, my father-in-law, Richard Compasso, Sr., who served in MacArthur’s Army in Korea and was wounded in battle. Thanks also to all the brave men and women who so selflessly fight for our freedoms. God bless you, and God bless America.
Happy Memorial Day!