A lucrative patent or a popular copyright can provide a creator’s heirs with solid streams of revenue for decades. Some great artists and inventors decided that they’d rather give the rights to their best creations to charity, though.
Mental Floss takes a look at a few well-known bits of intellectual property that have found their way into charities’ portfolios.
In 1929 author J.M. Barrie gave the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London. While the play had been a success, newspapers figured that the gift was worth a few thousand pounds a year. Once film took off, though, the rights became much more valuable; over 10 feature films were made from the book before the copyright expired in 2007.
In 1918 Irving Berlin was serving the military by writing a musical for his fellow soldiers to perform. The musical Yip Yip Yaphank eventually made it to Broadway, but Berlin ended up cutting one song from the piece and forgetting all about it–a little ditty called “God Bless America.”
It went unperformed for 20 years until singer Kate Smith’s manager asked Berlin if the composer had a patriotic song that Smith could belt out. Berlin dusted off his forgotten gem, and it quickly became a sort of second national anthem during World War II. Berlin gave all of the royalties from the song to the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, and over the years the groups have made millions from the song.
Sure, as a product name, “Drunk-O-Meter” doesn’t have quite the same understated seriousness of “breathalyzer,” but the Drunk-O-Meter did the same job. In 1931 Indiana University professor Rolla N. Harger created the Drunk-O-Meter as a device to test the sobriety of drivers. Suspected tipplers breathed into a special balloon, and Harger’s device got a reading on how much they’d had to drink. By 1936 Harger had patented his creation, and he eventually signed the invention over to Indiana University. The school’s website describes the gift as a “surprise moneymaker.”
In 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers announcer Myron Cope wanted to come up with a gimmick for fans to bring to games to make home crowds more intimidating. He came up with a beautifully simplistic idea: getting the sea of Steelers fans to all wave gold towels. He named his innovation the Terrible Towel because “it implied wondrous, strange things.” Cope eventually trademarked his Terrible Towel idea, and it became quite a moneymaker.
Cope assigned the trademark to the Allegheny Valley School for the disabled. Cope’s son, Daniel, was born with brain damage and lived at the school. The school must have been delighted to get such a hot trademark in the Pittsburgh area; through the beginning of the 2009 NFL season the school had raked in over $3 million in royalties from Terrible Towel sales.
Photo by post-gazette.com.