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These folios contain formal patent applications, related legal documents, and correspondence between Edison's attorneys and the U.S. Patent Office. Most of the folios also contain additional items such as notes and drawings by Edison; draft specifications in Edison's hand and other specifications with his notations; patent attorneys' notes and memoranda; communications between Edison and his attorneys; and related correspondence authored by or sent to Edison, his associates, and his companies. Typically, the applications were revised by Edison's lawyers several times over a period of years in response to the Patent Examiner's findings. Some were eventually abandoned because they were ultimately deemed unpatentable. Others were approved by the Patent Office but never became issued patents because Edison declined to pay the final fees, having exhausted the strategic value of letting the application "soak" for several years in the Patent Office to keep the ideas away from his competitors.
During the period 1911-1931 Edison executed 113 successful patent applications relating to primary and storage batteries, business and musical phonographs, disc and cylinder records, the kinetophone (a phonograph and motion picture projector combination), cement, and other subjects. Many of the applications pertain to the Diamond Disc phonograph, which Edison introduced toward the end of 1912. An outline of eighteen patents that he planned to pursue in support of his new phonograph can be found at the beginning of Folio 906. Other technologies for which Edison sought patents, not always successfully, include the use of paraphenylenediamine as condensing agent for shellac (to make phonograph records); chemical processing methods for storage battery components and other products; concrete furniture and other concrete products; projectiles (related to his research for the U.S. Navy during World War I); phonograph reproducers; and automobile electrical systems. Among the thirty-seven patents that he received during the last decade of his life (four others were issued posthumously) are two for rubber processing and one for a radio or telephone receiver based on osmotic action, dubbed the "osmophone" (folio 1231).
Digital images of all of Edison's issued patents can be found on the Thomas A. Edison Papers (TAEP) website. In addition, images of these and other inventors' issued patents, along with a searchable database, are available on the U.S. Patent Office website. A nearly complete set of application files for Edison's U.S. patents can be found in the National Archives (Record Group 241, Records of the Patent Office). Because the formal specifications and Patent Office correspondence in the case files at the National Archives are already available on microfilm, identical material in the case files at the Edison National Historical Park has not been selected. Also not selected are the folios for the numerous patents that Edison received in countries other than the United States. No complete list exists, but the 1910 biography, Edison: His Life and Inventions by Frank L. Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin, contains a compilation of 1,239 non-U.S. patents awarded in thirty-four countries. This list is also available on the TAEP website.
For Edison's successful applications, the selected material consists primarily of notes, drawings, and draft specifications in his hand, along with communications between Edison and his attorneys, including at various times Frank L. Dyer, Delos Holden, Henry Lanahan, and William A. Hardy. The case files for Edison's abandoned applications have been selected in their entirety except for duplicates, printed patents by Edison and other inventors, other printed material, and routine memoranda by Edison's attorneys. It should be noted that most of the folios contain copies of patents by other inventors that were cited by the Examiner as justification for rejecting the claims in Edison's applications.
In addition to Edison's own patents, these folios include applications by members of his laboratory staff, mainly for improvements in products such as the storage battery and the phonograph. These applications were also handled by Edison's patent attorneys. Documents from these folders have been selected only where they show Edison's personal involvement in the inventing or patenting processes. Folios with selected material include applications by Jonas Walter Aylsworth (chemical compounds for phonograph records), Daniel Higham (kinetophone), and Miller Reese Hutchison (storage batteries). Several applications by Thomas A. Edison, Jr., pertaining to internal combustion engines have also been selected, along with another for a vending machine with a phonograph inside it.
The folios are arranged in chronological order according to execution datethe date on which the formal application was signed and witnessed. For Edison's successful applications, the selected documents within each folio appear in chronological order. For his abandoned applications, the specifications, Patent Office correspondence, and other official documents appear in the order they are listed on the folio wrapper, followed by the other selected documents in chronological order.
On the list that follows, each selected folio appears with its execution date; folio number; patent number (for issued patents) or serial number (for abandoned applications); name of the primary applicant; and an abbreviated version of the patent title as it was issued (or, in the case of abandoned files, as found on the folio wrapper). Where the execution date is not available, the date of filing (which generally occurred a few days after execution) is supplied in brackets.
It should be noted that this is not a comprehensive list of Edison's patents for the period 1911-1931, since folios consisting entirely of unselected material do not appear. A complete list of Edison's 1,093 successful U.S. patents can be found on the TAEP website.