Saturday, December 3, 2016

Patently and Exclusively Walt

Between May 26, 1931 and November 25, 1958 the US Patent and Trademark Office awarded Walter Elias Disney eight patents, each of which expresses an element of Walt's vision for the company and the park that bears his name, starting with an ornamental design for the toy figure of a mouse.

USD84233 - March 30, 1931

Her name was Minerva and she first appeared alongside Mickey in Steamboat Willie on November 18, 1928.  The comic strip story Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers introduced her father Marcus, his brother Milton and her grandparents Marshal and Matilda, uncle Mortimer and twin nieces; Millie and Melody. Of course, most of us know her better by her nickname; Minnie.

Walt's next step was to figure a way to synchronize filmed movement and sound, which he did, applying for patent protection for that process in US 1,941,34; Method and Apparatus for Synchronizing Photoplays, filed April 2, 1931.

US 1,941,341- April 2, 1933

This invention may have come out of conversations between Walt and Carl Stalling about whether the animation or the musical score should come first. Among other things, The Silly Symphonies cartoons, which were produced between 1929 and 1939, explored ways to develop musical scores that Walt'a animators could easily coordinate with their animation.

While working with Walt, Carl Stalling pioneered the use of ”bar sheets,“ which allowed musical rhythms to be sketched out simultaneously with the animation storyboards. Stalling left Disney in 1930, the same time as Ub Iwerks. Finding few outlets for his craft in New York, Stalling re-joined Iwerks at his new studio in California, and did freelance work for Disney and others.

Ub Iwerks, Walt Disney and Carl Stalling
On December 30th, 1933, Walt decided to protect a pair of characters that would be the heart of one of the most successful of his early animation efforts. The Three Little Pigs was released on May 27, 1933 by United Artists. Produced by Walt Disney and directed by Burt Gillett, it won the 1934 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The Three Little Pigs cost $22,000 and grossed $250,000. It was later selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

USD 91990 and 91991 - December 30, 1933
Sticking with stories that featured wolfs, Walt next applied to protect the image of a little girl with pudgy hands and a little red cape, who's grandmother needed protecting too. Little Red Riding Hood appeared in both a Laugh-O-Gram and the Silly Symphony titled Big Bad Wolf.

Rather than using animation cels, Red Riding Hood was mostly made by photographing inked lines on paper. In 1980 it was on the American Film Institute's "10 Most Wanted Films for Archival Preservation" list. A print of the film was discovered in a London film library in 1998, and restored.

USD92167S - March 7, 1934

Disney was constantly pushing both his art and the tools to produce it. By 1936 he was working on ways to speed up the filming process - as evidenced by patent 2,201,689 aptly titled Art of Animation.

It describes ways to improve the process of producing animated cartoons and specifically relates to ways of properly and accurately placing images with respect to a background, thereby creating accurate shadows. US2201689A was filed September 1st, 1936, but would't issue until 1940.

The need to speed things up is evident by the number of films Disney had in the works. Thruout 1937, the studio would release a new short film roughly every three weeks. Disney also began story development on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The first animation cells for Snow White would be sent to Ink and Paint in January, and then on to the Camera Department on March 13th. 

On May 30th, Roy Disney concluded negotiations with Bank of America to obtain a loan of $630,000. That would be equal to nearly $11 million dollars today. Roy would be back at Bank of America in September seeking another $327,000. Final animation work on Snow White would be completed on November 11th.

On December 21st, RKO premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Hollywood. It was the industry's first full-length animated movie. The $1.5 million needed to complete the film nearly bankrupted Disney.

US2201689A - September 1, 1936

World War II would rage from September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945. In the midst of that Walt would apply his creativity towards supporting America's troops at home and building relationships abroad. The studio would produce dozens of films for the Department of Defense and a small feature called Saludos Amigos featuring José Carioca, the Brazilian cigar-smoking parrot.

USD13466S - August 11, 1942

Walt had one more South of the Border trick up his sleeve. The Three Caballeros third member is a pistol packing rooster named Panchito Pistoles. Panchito appeared in several Disney comics, including Don Rosa's The Three Caballeros Ride Again and The Magnificent Seven (Minus 4) Caballeros. Panchito did not appear in Saludos Amigos, because Walt hadn't created him yet.

USD136368 - June 15, 1943
Over the next ten years, Walt would shift his focus to much bigger things, culminating in the opening of Disneyland in July of 1955. 

There would be two more individual patents filed before this death. The first was for a ride in a rocket ship.

US 2,861,806 - July 17, 1956.

Next was for a much more down to earth attraction; the Tea Cups, simply referred to as a Passenger Carrying Amusement Device. Arrow development, the prime vendor for several of Disneyland's opening day attractions, would build it and later re-deploy the design at the 1961 Seattle World's Fair as the Space Whirl.

Des 180,585 - July 17, 1956.

Space Whirl - Seattle Worlds Fair

Note that both of these patents were filed one year to the day after the opening of Disneyland. They were also the last patents Walt filed where he was the only listed inventor.



  1. I couldn't find a reference, but I believe that the "one year" is the outside limit for filing a patent after the invention has been disclosed. (I did disclosure readiness reviews for a division of IBM for a time.)

  2. That is correct, under the law at that time a patent had to be applied for within one year of when the item was first offered to the public for sale. I believe that is still the case in the United States.

  3. Great blog post and really helpful and your blog are very interesting midnightinfo


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