(part 1 by Paul Vreede)
Back in 2005, the Great Matt Mason Patent Hunt (1) was staged after somebody in the MMM online group found an online shop selling US patent artwork, and somebody else discovered it could be downloaded for free fom the US Patent Office. Provided it could be found, because all pre-1976 patents can only be retrieved by number and nothing else.
So a whole range of search tactics were tried and it was while searching for references to "plastic figures" that I was completely amazed to find a patent for one of my childhood toys - which I'd completely forgotten about as well.
After the chase for MMM patents had run its course, I came back to these figures. The patent was filed in 1967, and stated the name of the inventor, a Parisian by the name of René Ach. What it didn't state of course was a brand name (so useful for finding things on the internet), nor even a manufacturer. Monsieur Ach clearly was an independent inventor.
But he had an uncommon name, and that helped. A google revealed a sculptor in Paris with the same name, whom I figured might be related. And then a phone number. Where somebody answered at the first ring. To have what afterwards may have seemed a somewhat bizarre conversation!
I asked if he was Monsieur Ach. He was. The sculptor? Yes indeed. So I said I was looking for a René Ach living in the Rue de Gobelins in Paris 13ème (arrondissement or 13th district) in 1967 and would he know this person. Sounding somewhat puzzled he said that was him. Which had me rather amazed, for the picture on his website showed the sculptor to be sixty-ish or less - pretty young for somebody inventing toys in the mid-late sixties.
So I explained I found his name on a patent for a toy I had when I was young, and then somewhat at a loss for words, had the wits to thank him for inventing such a wonderful toy. I then learned he had indeed invented these figures very early in life, amongst other ideas he had (some of which I had also found patents for) that weren't (as) successful.
And then came the most important question: what were they called, and who had made them. So I learned they were called Acrobates, made in France by a company called Delacoste (2). And in Germany by somebody sounding like Siemex. A Japanese company also made them, initially without a licence, but was eventually persuaded to better their ways. Monsieur Ach also confirmed the Acrobates came in three sizes.
Next it was my turn to answer a few questions, for Monsieur Ach was curious about how I had found his patent. Turned out he had been looking for a patent a cousin (iirc) had been granted a long time ago, and hadn't had much luck in finding it. With a browser in front of me, and having discovered the EU patent site later on in the MMM Hunt, I asked the name of his cousin (thankfully not a very common name either) and found him the patent while still on the phone. I told him how to retrieve it, we thanked each other and said goodbye.
And then, in what must really be the biggest coincidence ever, I turned to eBay France, typed in Acrobates Delacoste and would you believe it there was a boxed set!
1) if interested, the MMM patents can be found on John Eaton's site.
- Delacoste is best known for its "pouet-pouet" toys - rubber figures that make such a noise when you squeeze them. The giraffe that sometimes pops up from the company logo is called Sophie, their very first such figure from 1961, and quite an icon in France. It even has its own Wikipedia pages in french and english.