MNESTIC MONDAY: Honoring Yesterday’s Inventors & Innovators

by | Monday, September 17th, 2012

Welcome to RE:INVENTION’s Mnestic Monday. Each Monday we honor business history and heritage, paying homage to yesterday’s inventions, inventors, innovators, and their media stories. Respect for the past helps us shape our future. Heritage leads to innovation stewardship, business reinvention, even future business growth.

mnestic (adj.) pertaining to memory, from Gk. mnestis “remembrance,” related to mnesis “memory.” Alas, mnestic isn’t a valid Scrabble Word. Darn.

This Day in History:

On September 17, 1918, inventor Elmer Ambrose Sperry received a patent (U.S. Patent 1,279,471) for the gyrocompass, an invention that was essential to modern navigation technology. Sperry had originally filed for the patent in 1914 (makes one thankful for the America Invents Act’s “fast track for fat cats” patent examination process, doesn’t it?).


Like many inventors, the inimitable Sperry faced difficulties during his lifetime with intellectual property (IP) protection. When Sperry attempted to sell the gyrocompass to the German navy in 1914, Anschütz-Kaempfe (a German company) sued for patent infringement. In August of that same year, Britain declared war on Germany – World War I had officially begun. Competition between Anschütz and Sperry became heated because of intensive rearmament. The German court in Berlin requested the expert opinion of a relatively unknown professor named Albert Einstein to clarify the technical differences between the Anschütz and Sperry gyrocompasses in the patent dispute. Here is a synopsis of Einstein’s report. The court sided with Einstein’s “expert opinion” and prohibited Sperry from manufacturing and selling gyrocompasses that used Anschütz’s method.

The case resulted in a close friendship between Einstein and Hermann Anschütz-Kaempfe, the owner of Anschütz (now Raytheon). The rest is history. Anschütz-Kaempfe (and the gyrocompass) became trusted resources Einstein drew on in his study of physics.

As for Sperry? Despite his IP challenges, he founded more companies (8 in total) and earned more than 350 patents during his career. After Sperry’s death in 1930, the Navy named the USS Sperry after him. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991. For those of you who are politicos, Sperry was a Republican.

Media Flashback Based on Current News:

In a Wall Street Journal interview this week, Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, sings the praises of Apple design. “Apple taught us that design really matters,” says Ms. Meg Whitman. Yup. RE:INVENTION agrees. We could all take a cue from Apple when it comes to intuitive design. Here’s a hugely popular flashback article (circa February 2010) from DesignShack.net titled, “15 Design Tips to Learn From Apple.” The article generated a whopping 135 reader reactions. Do the 15 tips still resonate as relevant Apple design lessons today? Weigh in with your opinion in REINVENTION blog comments.

Your Mnestic Monday “Lessons Of History” Quote:

“History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” – B. C. Forbes

Until next Monday, thanks for the memory! Cue Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, or Sinatra.

2 comments
Kirsten
Kirsten

Thank you for your witty comment, Ana. You made us laugh outloud. Perhaps Apple will add the word "mnestic" to their iPHONE dictionary if we continue our Mnestic Monday blog series. Stay tuned! ;)

Ana K.
Ana K.

My Apple iPHONE dictionary hasn't a trace of the word "mnestic", even though the word appears in Merriam-Webster. LOL. Perhaps you are right: Apple is great at design and tweaking, rather than true innovation.

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