I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


27 November 2014

The "patent" for Oreo® cookies

We bought a packet of Oreo® cookies today at the local supermarket, and it made me wonder about the history of the product, a kind of "sandwich cookie."

I had a look on Google (for Oreo + cookies + either history or patented) and found several sites which mentioned the 6 March 1912 as the date of origin, and some which said that it was patented on "March 6, 1912, U.S. Patent No. 0093009." For example, the New York Daily News obituary of Sam Porcello.

The TimeToast timeline for Oreo® cookies also attributes that date to the patenting of the cookie.

According to the Wikipedia article on Oreo cookies,Sam Porcello held five patents relating to the cookie. A 2012 obituary for him in Time magazine was cited for this.

Well, I was surprised. There are a few patents for food products -- Toblerone® and Tabasco® sauce come to mind, as respectively Swiss patent 46708, filed for in 1909 and US patent 107701, filed in 1870. Yet I did wonder what was novel, even then, for the concept of two sweet layers with a creamy layer between them.

As I collect the patent numbers for the first patent for well-known products or processes I began some research. "Patented", in theory, meant the date the rights were granted, and would be the same day as publication.

The 6 March 1912 was a Tuesday, and American patents were at the time only published or "issued" on Wednesdays. So the date couldn't be the issue date.

Could it be the date a patent was applied for ? No apparent patent fitted -- and Sam or Samuel Porcello did indeed have five American patents between 1976 and 1989, mainly for Nabisco, for e.g. filler cream containing soybean oil, but this was obviously far too late for my purposes.

What about the number 0093009 ? It was wrong as a published utility patent number or as a design patent number as the dates would have been published in 1869 or 1934 respectively.

What about it being a filing number ? I wondered if it was a trade mark filing number. I went to my old standby, the free TMQuest database by Minesoft and asked for Oreo as an exact mark and the year 1912. I did not specify filing, registration or publication.

I got the one result, and said to myself "Bingo." US trade mark Registration number 0093009 was applied for on the 14 March 1912 and was registered on the 12 August 1913. The number matched perfectly if not the date.

I can't account for the 6 March 1912 -- perhaps that was the day the name Oreo was chosen to be a trade mark -- but this little saga does show how careful one has to be in carrying out research. Far from being patented (for the cookie itself or how to make it), the product was simply, and quite rightly, given a brand name.

I suspect that people have been innocently repeating the wording without checking further.

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