December's patents pick 5 article

Innovation Brewing

When the cold weather sets in, many responsible adults like to retire by a warm fire with a hearty beverage in hand, and sometimes that beverage could consist of three simple ingredients: hops, barley, and water. But what mug hoisters might not stop to consider is the long history of innovation spurred by the production of beer. In fact, archaeologists have theorized that the rise of agriculture and civilization began 13,000 years ago with the Natufian culture, who raised cereal grains in order to make—you guessed it—beer. In modern times we can trace the development of brewing technology by looking at examples from the large body of related patent literature.

Note: This article is part of an ongoing series detailing some of the Inventors Eye staff’s favorite patents. For each article, the writer selects his five favorite patents under a given theme. This list is from Inventors Eye managing editor and home brewing enthusiast Alex Camarota.

U.S. Patent No. 135,245
Brewing Beer and Ale

This is the granddaddy of all beer patents. Louis Pasteur's new method of making beer revolutionized the fermentation process so that beer both tasted better and could be produced in more quantities. Pasteur is of course most famous for his contributions to medicine and microbiology, but his method of beer making detailed in U.S. 135,245 laid down the principles on which all modern day brewing is based. Bonus: Pasteur’s patent attorney, Charles M. Keller, is an important figure in U.S. patent history. Before becoming an attorney, he was the first to hold the official title of “patent examiner,” and helped Senator John Ruggles of Maine write the 1836 Patent Act, on which much patent law is still based.

U.S. Patent No. 1,094,469
Beer Stein

The traditional Bavarian beer mug with its hinged pewter cover and ornate designs, is an iconic symbol for beer worldwide. Steins (from the German steingut, meaning “stoneware”) became popular in 14th century Europe amid the bubonic plague, when covers were added to drinking vessels to keep them sanitary and prevent bugs from entering. The stein detailed in U.S. 1,094,469 featured an improvement that allowed the cover to easily detach and be interchangeable with other mugs.

U.S. Patent No. 6,032,571
Automated Home Beer Brewing Machine and Method

Brewing beer requires multiple containers, tubes, and valves, not to mention all the space to fit them. The idea of a self-contained unit for the home brewer that can sit on the kitchen table and make beer with the push of a button has been around for quite a while, though with limited commercial exposure. Thanks to Improvements in electronics and manufacturing, that is all changing, and such devices are now widely available for sale. The machine detailed in U.S. 6,032,571 may be one of the first to be patented.

U.S Patent No. 6,167,636
Process for Thermally Utilizing Spent Grains

It takes quite a bit of malted grain to make beer, but once the sugars have been extracted to create the wort (unfermented beer), their work is done. So what to do with all that leftover organic matter? Many breweries donate their spent grain for livestock feed or composting, but in Austria, one group of inventors figured that the best way to use all that barley, oats, wheat, and other grains was for, well, making more beer. U.S. 6,167,636 details a method for turning spent grains into fuel that can be burned or gasified to create heat energy, which is necessary to boil liquid for beer.  

U.S. Patent No. 8,584,665
Brewery Plant and Method

Solar power promises to free humanity from finite energy sources. Today, innovations in solar technology have made it possible to capture the sun’s energy in a variety of means and for many different applications. So why not use the heat of the sun to make beer? That’s exactly the idea in U.S. 8,584,665, which describes a method of collecting solar radiation for conversion to thermal energy necessary for brewing. While the system is not completely self-sufficient, it reduces the amount of energy needed to brew, thus improving efficiency and lessening the burden on the planet.

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