The taste, the look, the intellectual property! On St. Patrick’s Day, Guinness® draught beer will be enjoyed in over 150 countries around the world. Happy beer drinkers will toast to each other’s health, they may even thank Arthur Guinness himself for signing a 9000-year lease on a dilapidated brewery at St. James’s Gate, but only a select few will raise their glasses to the inventor of the “Widget”, a method and means of dispensing accurately carbonated beer from cans and bottles.
John Lunn was the actual inventor of the technology, yet Seward Harold Hildebrand and John Anthony Carey on behalf of the Arthur Guinness Son & Company were granted the patent. The problem they were trying to fix resulted from the unique characteristics of stout beer – a thicker, creamier, less-fizzy type of brew. Normally, a beer is carbonated with CO2 which resides both in the beer itself and at the top of an unopened can or bottle. Once the can or bottle is opened, the change of pressure and agitation caused by pouring the beer stirs up some of that CO2 causing it to fizzle out of the beer and form an inch or so layer of head at the top of a poured beer.
Guinness doesn’t contain as much dissolved CO2, so it needs an extra little jolt to provide that signature creamy layer of head you expect from a pint poured from the tap.
Enter the Widget!
The Widget is a small plastic ball that bears a striking resemblance to a ping-pong ball except that the Widget has a tiny little hole in it that allows compressed Nitrogen to infuse the beer once a change in pressure occurs as the bottle or can is cracked open. At this time, I’d like to thank chemistry, Irish brewers and of course the investors of this spherical ball of gas.
Patent law in general also deserves a toast this Saturday. The fundamental tenets of patent law are such that inventors are granted a time-based monopoly, (20 years in Canada) for disclosing a novel and useful invention. By providing a detailed specification with respect the invention itself, other inventors are able to apply the invention for their own purposes once the monopoly has expired. This allows a form of technology transfer while ensuring that the inventors themselves are properly compensated for their ingenuity. Now that the Widget patent has expired, it can be found in both Guinness-branded beers and other non-Guinness beers.
So, in honour of Arthur Guinness himself, here is Limerick to celebrate the beer that brought us delicious canned Stout:
There once was a brewer named Arthur
Who brewed a beer that looked much darker
Than the see-through ale
All tasteless and stale
That many dumped into the harbour!