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I, a few weeks ago, happened to be reading about the invention of the Slinky and was staggered to discover that the original spring that provided the inspiration had been manufactured for the U.S. Navy and that Richard T. James, the inventor, had seen it ‘Slink’ for the first time, at his Navy OFFICE — and that he had taken that government property spring HOME to experiment.
This was 1943. I have NOT checked the details BUT I have a very strong hunch that as a Government scientist/engineer he probably had signed some kind of intellectual property (IP) contract with the government. Basically it would have covered confidentiality and that ANY inventions made at any time, during once employment, BELONGED to the employer. In 1974 I had to sign such a contract with IBM. Basically ANYTHING I came up in terms of IP while I worked for IBM belonged to IBM — or at least I had to given them first option to evaluate whether they wanted it or not. IF I had done what R. T. James did, IBM (albeit more savvy in such matters than the U.S. Government) would have come after me with all guns blazing and as many would know, IBM employed a veritable army of high power IP lawyer.
From what I can see this was not right. I have NOT read anywhere that he sought Government approval to ‘steal’ this invention. I would even content that he misappropriated government property when he took the first spring home!
So how come the Government hasn’t done anything? Yes, maybe the statute of limitation is long gone. But there has got to be SOMETHING that can be done. This, to me, seems wrong. All the profits should BELONG to the U.S. Government — and they could sure do with it.
So a head’s up.