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10 millionth US patent reflects advance of technology

"You've come a long way, baby." That was the slogan Phillip Morris used to market Virginia Slims, the first cigarette brand marketed specifically to women. Like any legitimate intellectual property, that phrase is trademarked. But another event this week in Washington would seem to deserve some recognition with the phrase. On June 19, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued the country's 10 millionth patent.

The distinction, one that will surely go down in the annals of history, goes to inventor Joseph Marron. The firm that owns the patent is Raytheon Co. And if you want to claim your own measure of distinction, try saying the name of the idea out loud. If you can do it easily once, try doing it three times fast.

Coherent Ladar Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection

If that tripped lightly off your tongue, you might be emboldened to read the text of the whole patent.

For our purposes, it is enough to observe that the expressed purpose of the technology is to improve detecting and ranging efforts with the use of lasers. And according to reports it is expected to have applications in medical imaging, military defense, underwater and outer space exploration and, perhaps most notably, in the development of autonomous vehicles.

As experienced attorneys dedicated to protecting creators and their ideas, we also find it interesting to gauge this 10 millionth patent in the context of the first U.S. patent issued. Depending on how you choose to count, that is either Samuel Hopkins's patent for a better way to make "pot ash and pearl ash," or John Ruggles's patent for a new traction system for railroad locomotives.

George Washington signed Hopkins's patent in 1790. Ruggles's earned patent no. 1 in 1836, just after the Patent Act of that year became law and reset the numbering system. Ruggles also happened to write the law.

Making potash and driving steam locomotives were important things in their day. Likewise, the push into the age of self-driving cars is big today. At every step of the way, intellectual property law has ensured that those with new ideas get the first crack at reaping the financial benefits.

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