Sunday, July 10, 2016

Oh, patents! The biro

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Have you ever used a biro? Chances are that you have!  And that you have also biroed your way through more than one letter or form!

The biro is a ball point pen, nowadays, especially in England! And, In France, it’s a bic!

Although the British English and French eponyms both have different eponymous origins, a single patent, granted to Laszlo Jozsef Biro in 1941, and then assigned to Marcel Bich, an Italian /French entrepreneur, lays claim to the invention of the ball point pen and matching pasty ink.  

So, what happened?...

 Laszlo Joszef Biro was a Hungarian Jew who fled to Buenos Aires (Argentina) at the onset of World War II. In 1938 he filed a single US patent application from Hungary titled Fountain pen for pulpy ink, granted as US2265055 in 1941. This patent was also divided, and filed from Buenos Aires as two separate US patent applications, granted as US2258841 titled Fountain Pen in 1941, and as US2416145 titled Writing paste, in 1947

These three US patents, in fact, cover the many details of two important, mega-inventions: a new rotating ball point pen design, and a new, high humidity, high viscosity, ink paste formula. Both of these inventions probably appeared inseparable since they were originally filed as a single patent application, granted as US2265055. However, they were eventually unpacked into separate patents.

Indeed, the new ink paste formula and the new design of the rotating ball point each respond separately albeit cooperatively, to the single problematic situation of dry, caked and inoperable ball point tips of the prior art. That is, the prior art of ink paste resulted in a product that tended to dry too fast, while the prior art of ball point pen designs allowed for the ink to accumulate on the surface of the ball and in the gaps between the ball and its contact circles in the ball housing.  As a result, the ink caked in the housing and around the roller ball, where it dried, in turn resulting in an inoperable pen.

Thus, Biro's inventions (in coordination with his brother who was a chemist) respond to the problematic situation by changing both the ink formula and the design of the ball housing. The ink formula was changed to higher humidity and viscosity, and the design of the ball housing was changed by reducing to a minimum the gap between the two contact circles of the ball within the housing. Thus, in the new Biro design, only a very fine coat of ink could be dispensed onto the ball prior to contacting the writing surface, preventing the prior art accumulation and consequent caking of the rotatable ball.

US2258841 further discloses an ink paste reservoir or cartridge, "obtainable separately" as an accessory, and designed to replace a used cartridge or reservoir; novel and more optimum means of expelling the ink paste to the roller ball; a leaf spring within the housing of the ball designed to “urge the ball” in contact with the curled edges of the housing, or to prevent the prior art looseness of the ball, and consequent accumulation, drying and caking of the ink

As for the French Bic®... it could have been a paper clip... but it would become a very cheap, single-use and disposable, fountain pen, still in use to date, initially using the biro ball-point pen design and ink paste. 

Thus, L. J. Biro escaped... and the family name endures, fully eponymized, at least in the ball-point pens of the UK, and by design in all the pulpy ink, ball-point pens of the world! 


Below, figure drawings No. 6 and 7, of the unpacked US2258841 Biro fountain pen patent, are included, with an added and layered key to facilitate comprehension and translation. 

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