A Hungarian Invention, or the Obstacles of Patent Procedures (Interview with the inventor of the airbag jacket)

Source: www.airbagjacket.eu

Károly Tóth (Buny), from the motorcycle magazine Motour.hu: Did the idea of the airbag jacket occur to you while riding a motorbike or was there a certain event that triggered you to think about such a protective device?

Tamás Straub: I got a moped from my mother when I was fifteen, and as most youngsters, I too was riding it quite carelessly; there were some smaller falls and slips. At such an occasion the idea hit me: How good it would be if I could land on something soft instead of the asphalt, like on a well-inflated air mattress...
The idea kept bugging me, I speculated a lot over it until the solution evolved that provides effective protection to motorcyclists (and people doing similar sports e.g. horse riders) in case of falling. The essence of the concept: cells in the motorcycle jacket, a small air tank filled with compressed air, a cartridge, connecting into the cells, an opening mechanism and a wire controlling the opening of such cartridge, where such wire is fixed to the motorcycle and, in case of a fall, it inflates the garment within the fragment of a second when it is basically torn from the opening mechanism. This description totally corresponds with the specification of airbag motorcycle jackets used today.

Motour: You had the idea but what then?

Tamás Straub: I thought it was not enough that an innovative idea was formed in my head but it would be useful to make the idea known in the world and file it as an invention. That was when I started to research the subject in the Patents Archive to find out whether there had been any similar earlier solutions but there had been none. So I decided to submit my idea as an invention. I did not have any help, neither professional nor financial assistance (I was a newly-wed husband with a small child), so I started to study procedural patent law, which is a whole different science.

Motour: Did it become a patent?

Tamás Straub: In the end, I submitted the solution to the Hungarian Patent Office on 30 November 1976; I was 24 years old then. I requested a postponed procedure because I thought it would provide adequate protection to me as when a new solution, invention receives publicity or becomes public otherwise, it has a novelty deteriorating effect, and the solution cannot be submitted as an invention and be patented later. I was wrong but it was only much later that I realised it.

After a brief description, nevertheless including all substantial elements, of the invention was published in the Hungarian Patent Gazette in 1977 I felt reassured and did not even deal with it for a few years. I was studying at the University of Economics in the evenings; I was working and living the usual life of young married people.

Motour: So could you lay back after this?

Tamás Straub: At the end of the 4th year (this is for how long a postponed-research patent application gets protection), I received payment demand from the Patent Office requesting the payment of a sum that seemed very high in my situation at the time for the completion of the full research. As I had received no encouragement until then, and I saw what difficulties and resistance the introduction of helmets came up against, I did not continue the procedure and the protection of my patent application basically ended at the end of 1981.

Motour: What happened to the invention thereafter?

Tamás Straub: The couple of years that passed in the meantime was enough for the copies of the Hungarian Patent Gazette, with the essence of my invention in them, to get around the world, including France. After this, as it happened, a “nice” French gentleman immediately thought that he would invent the airbag motorcycle jacket. His patent application received publicity in the French press of course, then right after in the Hungarian professional press (Autósélet [Motorist life], Autó-motor [Auto-motor]) too.

Motour: Did you react to the publications in the Hungarian press?

Tamás Straub: Said media sources introduced the airbag jacket as a world novelty in 1982. Well, I could not leave it at that, so I wrote to the Autó-motor magazine, and Péter Surányi, a professional journalist specialised in the field of cars and motorbikes, who is a chief editor of a car magazine today, if I am not mistaken, published a whole-page article and introduced my invention.

Motour: I suppose this gave another push towards the utilisation of the idea.

Tamás Straub: After this, I wrote to multiple companies for the purposes of utilising the invention. Such a company was the BMW motorcycle factory, which sent me a negative reply; they did not wish to deal with the issue or me. In addition, I also turned to several Hungarian forums: the Rubik Innovációs Alapítvány [Rubik Innovation Foundation]; the ‘Ablak’ [‘Window’] programme of the TV; Mr. György Pomezansky, the presenter of the ‘Felkínálom’ [‘For Offer’] programme, etc., but the response I received from everywhere was rejection. It was around this time that dr. Zoltán Papp, an employee (or later maybe even the leader) of the Hungarian Emergency Services, published an article analysing motorcycle accidents, with the title: 'The Helmet is not Everything&uuot;. I thought this was in line with my case, so I wrote to him too, but it was in vain...
Well, this is how eventful yet unsuccessful the first third of the eighties went by. Although I had no success in the area of the invention, life made up for it in another fields. I got into a good position, we got an independent apartment, the birth of my daughter in 1983, and the birth of my second son in 1986 brought joy into my life, I also qualified as a tax advisor in 1989, so I was living my own life.

Motour: Did it become quiet after the unsuccessful years or did you try to take the case of the airbag jacket further?

Tamás Straub: No, I did not deal with the issue because nobody encouraged me and saw the complete disinterest about it, and for two decades “I forgot" about my invention. It was already in this century that I heard scattered news that the lives of both everyday motorcyclists and motorbike racers are protected by airbag jackets automatically inflating in case of a fall. I was saying to myself it was alright, my idea, my invention matured. Even though I cannot claim any patent royalties, it is great if the body safety of motorbike riders is protected by as many means as possible. When I heard some remote news about this, I felt a little bit of a pride. I never thought for a second that this novelty could be associated with the name of someone else but mine. Well, I was completely wrong.
Nowadays, in the age of the Internet, a certain issue can be easily researched. About two or three years ago I found out that it was not me who was mentioned as the inventor of this useful device but a Japanese man, who became a millionaire from it. I could not get myself to understand how somebody could have received an inventor’s or patent protection for a thing that had been published, beyond doubt, more than two decades earlier. If viewed from the aspect of results, it does not matter whether this Japanese gentleman was acting in bad faith or just negligently, but it appears from the specification of “invention” that he failed not mention that a Hungarian man had already invented the solution twenty-two years earlier. The Japanese Patent Office granting the patent protection (in 1998), and later, the patent offices of several European countries made a serious mistake because they did not complete an appropriate and thorough novelty research in the course of the registration of the patent.
I also have to mention here that the airbag motorcycle jacket received (through the Japanese “gentleman”) numerous international awards, significant money prizes, such as the 5-Star Award by Auto Plus, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) Awarded Invention Golden Brain Prize, etc. among others.

Motour: Again, somebody else came up with your invention. Did you do anything to have your idea finally recognised?

Tamás Straub: It annoyed me a lot, so I created multilingual website at the www.airbagjacket.eu address, where I published the documents of the original patent application among other things. As the biggest search engine places my website to a good position in the respective topic (the term “airbag jacket”, “Jacke mit Airbag” or its Hungarian equivalent "légzsákos kabát” and so on), I have many readers and visitors from all over the world.

Motour: Haven’t you considered an official legal procedure?

Tamás Straub: In the beginning of 2011, we wrote an official letter with a certified mechanical engineer, who is also a patent attorney working in the field of intellectual property, had it professionally translated it, of course, and sent it by certified mail to the assumed patent holder, the director of the largest manufacturer in Japan but I have received no response so far. I am a little disappointed in Japanese people who are so proud of themselves, I overvalued the Japanese mentality.

Motour: Have you received no response from the Japanese manufacturer at all? The official procedure has been started, have you considered turning to court?

Tamás Straub: I have consulted a lawyer specialised in patents who thinks that I would have a good chance of having this right and the patent of the Japanese "inventor" cancelled but the costs of such procedure add up to an amount of millions, and because of this, it has to be considered very thoroughly. According to the specialist, the airbag jacket is public intellectual property because the protection of my patent application expired in 1981, therefore it can be manufactured freely by anybody since then. This means that every cent paid to the Japanese so-called inventor was basically money down the drain because he could have never received inventor’s and patent rights had there been an adequate professional novelty research and patent procedure conducted.

Motour: Have you said good-bye to the inventor's royalties and income because your idea is defined as public intellectual property and due to the financial challenges of a legal course? What is your objective after all this?

Tamás Straub: Well, I have not completely given up on claiming a part of the money prizes coming with the numerous international awards and the unrightfully received royalties by taking a legal course. However, currently my primary goal is to make as many motorbikers around the world know that the airbag jacket in which their ride their bikes and which effectively protect their lives and body safety in case of falls is the realisation of a Hungarian invention after all. This is why I have created my website and this is why this interview has been so useful, for which I would like to thank you, Buny.