The US steelpan patent that rocked Trinidad and Tobago 20 years ago has lapsed on “fee-related” grounds and the patent is now listed for official expiration on June 23.
The status of the patent granted to Americans George Whitmyre and Harvey J. Price for their “Production of a Caribbean Steelpan” is posted online at Google Patents.
Filed on June 23rd 1999 and approved on April 10th 2001, the patent became the object of national outrage and anger when the news finally broke here in 2002.
In reality, the Whitmyre-Price application was for a mechanised manufacturing process, different from the hand-crafting method which had given birth to Trinidad and Tobago’s steelpan, the first musical instrument of the kind in the world.
Their process used a mould in the quest for mass production of the full range of steelpans at a faster rate and lower cost.
The Whitmyre-Price method has not borne commercial fruit. According to Michael Cooper whose Laventille company, Panland, tuned some of the pans, one problem encountered was the difficulty in getting the stainless steel material from which the pans were made, to hold the notes for a sustained period of time.
Before the hydroforming method was patented in the US, scientists at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies and CARIRI had done substantial research on it but had not applied for a patent.
No one holds a patent for the steelpan that originated in Trinidad in the early 1940s from the talents of many individuals, not all of whom may even be known.
However, in January 2013, the Trinidad and Tobago government was granted a patent for the G-Pan with UWI engineer Dr Brian Copeland recognised as its inventor. The application described the G-Pan as an innovation on the traditional acoustic pan which improved on several areas including an extension of note range across the assemblage of G-Pans, a substantial reduction in the number of steelpans required to effectively cover the steelpan musical range.
Sunity Maharaj ♦ Photo: Maria Nunes