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Super Soaker, sports bra and other inventors join Hall of Fame

Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the Super Soaker

The inventors of laser dermatology, 1-MCP, VoIP and several other important innovations were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame

The US-based National Inventors Hall of Fame brought several important inventors into its ranks at the Annual Induction Ceremony on Thursday, May 5, including the creators of the Super Soaker, the sports bra, VoIP, and the automatic surgical tourniquet.

In its first in-person induction ceremony since 2019, and attended by Managing IP, the NIHF honoured 27 individuals including 16 recent inventors and 11 historical innovators.

The event in Washington DC, which kicked off with an opening speech from new USPTO director Kathi Vidal on the importance of US innovation, was hosted by the actor and mathematics writer Danica McKellar.

The first inventor to be inducted was Margaret Wu, a Taiwan-born industrial chemist who revolutionised the field of synthetic lubricants. Wu thanked her parents, whom she noted believed in her enough to send her to engineering school.

Rox Anderson, who developed laser-based treatments and procedures used in skin care and received patent number 5,995,568, was also honoured. Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the woman who as a girl was famously photographed running naked down a road with her back burned during the Vietnam War, paid special tribute to Anderson in a video presentation.

The inventors of bend-insensitive optical fibre, Dana Bookbinder, Ming-Jun Li and Pushkar Tandon, were inducted too, along with Mick Mountz, Peter Wurman and Raffaello D’Andrea, who created mobile robotic material handling for online fulfilment (patent number 8,649,899).

Marian Croak, who received patent number 7,599,359 for voice over internet protocol in the 1980s, got a special mention. The host McKellar pointed out that without Croak’s innovation, the internet-enabled communication that people used during COVID wouldn’t have been possible.

Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Smith, inventors of the sports bra

James McEwen, the inventor of the automatic surgical tourniquet and recipient of patent number 4,469,099, later took the stage to say he was especially grateful to the USPTO.

“To me, getting that first US patent was the great equaliser that allowed a David to compete with the Goliaths of the world and to help make the world a better place.”

Sylvia Blankenship and Edward Sisler were inducted into the hall of fame for inventing 1-MCP, the novel compound used to significantly extend the freshness and storage life of fruits (patent number 5,518,988). Blankenship said that Sisler, who died in 2016, was the smartest person she had ever met.

Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the Super Soaker (patent number 4,591,071) and another of Friday’s inductees, said he couldn’t thank the NIHF enough.

“The money I got from Super Soaker allowed me to pursue my passion,” he said. “I feel like God has given me a gift and I feel obligated to give back.”

The last three inductees of the night were Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Smith, inventors of the sports bra, for which they got patent number 4,174,717.

“Some say that the invention of the jog bra is as important as fire and the wheel,” joked Miller. “We accept this honour on behalf of all female entrepreneurs, past, present and future.”

Historical inductees of the night included Patricia Bath, who invented laserphaco cataract surgery, Carl Benz, who made the modern automobile, and Edward Bullard, the creator of the hard hat.

The night was sponsored by 33 different organisations, including the USPTO, Qualcomm and Google.

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