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Reading is educational. Reading comic books even more so. In the 1960s, Danish inventor Karl Krøyer was thwarted in his attempt to file a patent by none other than Donald Duck.

The date is September 14, 1964. A freighter loaded with 5,000 sheep capsizes in Kuwait harbor. A horror scenario for the insurance company, as the animal carcasses threaten to contaminate the water in the harbor. An exciting challenge for Danish inventor Karl Krøyer. The insurance company commissions him to find an inexpensive technical solution. His idea: air-filled polystyrene balls pumped into the sunken ship’s hull via a hose. The balls would displace the water in the ship and, by filling it with air, make it buoyant. The plan works. With reportedly 27 million of these balls, the ship can be salvaged.

The idea also buoyed up the inventor himself: Karl Krøyer promptly applied for a patent for his invention on November 4, 1964, first in Denmark and then in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the USA. But his attempt failed. A Dutch patent examiner had conducted a rather unusual prior art search and had come across a comic book from 1949 in which Donald Duck and his three clever nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie used ping pong balls to salvage a yacht. Krøyer’s technique was therefore already known and could not be patented.

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