By David French
Recent events in the news regarding runaway trains have provided an opportunity to highlight one of the realities of the invention and patenting process: It is not always the original invention that is most important for commercialization. Surprisingly often, it is the follow-up improvements that make the difference. Levering recent events, here are some historical precedents that demonstrate this point.
Recent news articles have disclosed that the incidence of runaway train cars is larger than the statistics reported by the Transportation Safety Board. To be fair, the TSB has posted on the Internet all reports on railway events involving runaway cars. It’s just that their statistical summaries have not been acknowledging runaway events when the cars did not crash or cause any damage. Apparently, more than 300 such lesser events in this category have in occurred in Canada in the last ten years.
This is reminiscent of a situation that existed in the mid-19th century until some very important inventions were made. Runaway trains were a big problem until George Westinghouse came up with his innovations in railway-braking systems. This is an excellent example of progressive inventing.