Monmonier explores advances in mapping under the US patent system

Mark MonmonierMark Monmonier’s newest publication, Patents and Cartographic Inventions: A New Perspective for Map History examines how developments in the U.S. patent system in the nineteenth and early twentieth century have shaped innovations of map use. Monmonier reveals that these devices and techniques introduced during this time period have been largely ignored by map historians.

Monmonier’s inspiration for the book stemmed in part from his experience editing Cartography in the Twentieth Century, a million-word encyclopedia published as Volume Six of the History of Cartography. His subsequent research for Patents and Cartographic Inventions was partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The book has been published by Palgrave Macmillan in the series Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology.

Through his research, Monmonier draws parallels between securing a patent and achieving publication in an academic journal. Though both processes demand rigorous evaluation, Monmonier observes a lack of crossover between these two “parallel literatures.” He notes that the academic community tends to display little interest in the patent process, which he sees as a “philosophical divide between inventors seeking an intellectual property right and researchers seeking improved understanding of how maps work, as well as recognition from fellow scholars.” By introducing the patent system perspective into the academic literature, Monmonier begins to bridge the gap between the two sectors.

Patents and Cartographic Inventions focuses on techniques intended to promote the efficient use of maps and geographic information, techniques such as folding conventions, electric mall maps, and the mechanical precursors to GPS navigation systems. In doing so, Monmonier illuminates the clever but occasionally quirky contributions of patent-seekers to modern cartography.

Monmonier offers his readers an understanding of the role of the U.S. patent system in advancing cartography, including the roles of patent examiners as editors and patent attorneys as ghost writers. He encourages academics to further consider patentees’ contributions, noting that their pursuit of recognition by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office “addresses a shared need for achievement that motivates inventors and scholars alike.”

Mark Monmonier, PhD, is Distinguished Professor of Geography at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. His current research focuses on the history of cartography in the twentieth century, in particular, the patent system as a parallel literature (parallel to the traditional literature of refereed journals) and issues of originality and non-obviousness in map-related inventions patented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has also written extensively on the use of maps for surveillance and as analytical and persuasive tools in environmental science, journalism, politics, and public administration. He teaches classes on map design, environmental cartography, and graduate-level research design.