Sunday, May 24, 2015

Oh, patents! Etch A sketch®

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Does anyone remember?...Prior to desktop computers, laptops, cell phones and anything portable (even TVs), drawing for hours on a little red tablet-looking screen, with two dials on each side, called Etch A Sketch® in the US, and L’Écran Magique (brand name Télécran) in France…?

Probably not for anyone less than 75 years old! But perhaps that you have purchased such a game for your kids or grand-kids! Since the Etch A Sketch®  was first marketed in 1960, more than 100 million devices have been produced.

If you have seen the Etch A Sketch®, or tried one, you might have then wondered how it really works. All the user does is to turn knobs for right to left tracing on one side, and for up and down tracing on the other side. It is very easy to use, and much more difficult to master elaborate drawing. The drawing then completely disappears when the whole tablet-looking Magic screen is simply flipped upside down..!

Etch A Sketch® is a patented invention. The patent for this invention FR1242870 titled Dispositif traceur in French (Tracing device in English) was awarded in France, in 1960, to Paul Chaze, who was in fact the investor assisting with filing, and not the real inventor, called André Cassagnes. The invention was then sold to the Ohio Art Company, and produced in the USA, where sales continue to grow!

A couple of years after the original French patent was granted by l’INPI (The French Patent Office), English versions of the patent for this invention were also filed in Great Britain (GB915731 titled A device for producing drawings and the like), the US (US3055113 titled Tracing device) and Canada (CA 601304 titled Tracing device), as well as a few more French versions, in Switzerland and Luxembourg (respectively CH362328 and LU38623 with the same original French title). Interestingly, all of the patents filed and granted mention Paul Chase as applicant and/or inventor, and Arthur Grandjean (as the Canadian inventor…)! The latter appearing in fact to be the accountant responsible for filing all this invention-related “paperwork”…

Still, you might be wondering how the Etch-a-Sketch® works? There are no batteries. It is a compact device with no detachable parts. There is nothing to assemble, and it is very portable….all of which makes it difficult to see what might be going on inside!

The invention recites a fluid-tight container, with a glass or other translucent surface, containing a pulverized metal powder that adheres to the translucent surface, making it opaque after it is tipped upside down. A stylus inside the sealed container is then moved parallel to the surface, using cords, and the two dials on the outside of the device to actuate the cords,. When the stylus is actuated, up or down, to the right or to the left, or in combinations, the user is in fact scraping (or etching) through the powder and removing it, to trace a picture seen from the outside of the device through the translucent surface. The pulverized metal powder recoats the previously etched surface, when the device is flipped upside down, thus erasing the drawing and allowing the user to begin anew.

The inspiration purportedly arises from Cassagnes' job as an electrician in a company called Lincrusta where aluminum powder coating was used... 

Below appears an original French patent drawing of the device and a drawing of the cords actuating the stylus within the fluid-tight container. Above, a marketed Etch A sketch® is included.

I have suggested elsewhere in this blog that the story of vel+cro would make a fabulous patent love story. I believe that the Etch A Sketch® might make another great patent story, a troll (drôle) one, with its star “inve_tor(s)”, and of course the magic of a small screen that continues to fascinate so many millions of people worldwide, in competition now with so many more screens and tablets!

André Cassagne (1926 -2013)
Ohio Art Company
Velcro US2717437 (2) Patents on the soles of your chose - Feb. 16, 2013

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