This article is the third in a series on the technology and innovations that came about or were first majorly used during World War II. We will cover a number of incredible inventions in future articles. We also invite you to take a look at our previous articles to learn about microwave ovens and M&M's®.
In the early 1940s, the U.S. military determined that if they were to be pulled into WWII, they would need a new general-purpose vehicle to replace their motorcycles and modified Ford Model-Ts.[i] They reached out to over 100 automakers with a list of the following requirements for the new vehicle.[ii]
· 600-lb. load capacity
· Wheelbase less than 75 inches
· Height less than 36 inches
· Smooth-running engine from 3 to 50 miles per hour
· Rectangular-shaped body
· Four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case
· Fold-down windshield
· Three bucket seats
· Blackout and driving lights
· Gross vehicle weight below 1,300 lbs.[iii]
Only one automaker responded within the time limit that had been set: the American Bantam Car Company.[iv]
Bantam hired car designer Karl Probst to design their prototype, which he did in just two days. Only 49 days after putting the challenge to automakers, Bantam sent the first prototype to the Army.[v] Unfortunately, the original design weighed 1840 pounds, well over the 1300 pounds the Army had requested.[vi] However, the Army quickly realized that the weight requirement had been too low, and they would not be able to get a fully functioning vehicle so lightweight without removing other important aspects.
Interestingly, the Army did commission some models of Bantam's prototype that met the 1300-pound weight limit by removing various elements of the vehicle. These models were sent to England and Russia through the Lend-Lease program.[vii]
The original Jeep patent was issued on April 7, 1942, and entitled “Military vehicle body.”[viii] The patent lists Colonel Byron Q. Jones as the inventor, although inventorship should likely be attributed to Karl Probst. The patent explains that “[o]ne of the principal objects of the invention is to provide a convertible small car body so arranged that a single vehicle may be interchangeably used as a cargo truck, personnel carrier, emergency ambulance, field beds, radio car, trench mortar unit, mobile anti-aircraft machine gun unit, or for other purposes.”[ix]
Soon after receiving Bantam's prototype, the Army chose to provide production contracts and the designs to two additional automakers, Ford and Willys-Overland, partially due to the fear that Bantam would not be able to meet demand as they were a small company at the time.[x] All three automakers improved the original Bantam design and provided new prototypes to the Army.
Notably, Bantam had the lightest and most fuel-efficient model, Ford's had the superior craftsmanship, and the design from Willys-Overland had the strongest engine.[xi] Ford also produced models with a single-piece, stamped slotted grille with round headlights, which Jeep still uses as a logo to this day. The U.S. government awarded contracts to all three automakers to produce their own versions of the vehicle, with Ford and Willys-Overland building the most—over 637,000 between the two companies.[xii]
During the war, these vehicles quickly received the nickname “Jeep.”[xiii] No one knows exactly where the name comes from, but many speculate it is from a slurring of “GP” from the Army's description of the “General Purpose” vehicle.[xiv] Wherever the name came from, the Jeep quickly became popular and gained a reputation for being fast, nimble, and tough. Scripps Howard WWII Reporter Ernie Pyle once said:
"It did everything. It went everywhere. Was as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule, and as agile as a goat. It constantly carried twice what it was designed for and still kept going."[xv]
It is said that one Jeep even received a Purple Heart and was sent home.[xvi] From the beaches of Normandy to the islands of the Pacific, the Jeep hauled everything from anti-tank weapons to wounded soldiers, creating a love for the vehicle that soldiers brought home with them.
The story of the Jeep has some important takeaways for intellectual property.
First, an invention does not have to be in its final form to be patented. The U.S. Army and the three manufacturers of the Jeep made continuous improvements over the course of testing and the war. Had they waited until the Jeep design was completely finished, they would likely still be waiting as the Jeep brand is producing new designs to this day. Instead, they took what they had and realized that was enough to be patentable. Additionally, each improvement to the original patented design might also be patentable, allowing the owners of the patent to begin creating a portfolio of intellectual property protection.
Second, the design of something may also be protectable. For example, the single-piece, stamped slotted grille with round headlights designed by Ford is still used as a logo by Jeep today. This design may be protected by a trademark, a design patent, or both. In this case, the grille design may provide a useful improvement in the way the engine works or the aerodynamics of the vehicle over previous grilles, potentially making it eligible for a utility patent as well.
How Gallium Law Can Help
Navigating the patent system can sometimes be tougher than a Jeep. We are here to help you, whether you are someone who has just created their first prototype or someone who has spent years developing their invention. To get in touch with us, please fill out this online form or call us at 651-256-9480 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.