The most common type is the ratcheting socket wrench, also known as a ratchet. A ratchet has a reversible ratcheting mechanism that allows the user to pivot the tool back and forth to turn its socket rather than remove and reposition a wrench. But did you know that a teenager invented this tool?
Peter Roberts, a teenager, invented a quick-release ratchet. He sold his patent to Sears for $10,000, claiming that the invention was not worth much, and then went on to sell the ratchet for $44 million. He sued them for fraud and received a $10 million settlement.
Peter Roberts, The Part-Time Inventor
Roberts was a teenager when he created the stunningly successful invention, a significant advancement in socket wrenches, that would earn Sears, the undisputed world’s largest retailer, tens of millions of dollars in profits. He filed the patent application that resulted in the issuance of the 318 patent a year later, in 1964. Surprisingly, the printed 318 patent only has one sheet of drawings and one page of specifications and claims.
He filed a lawsuit in December 1969, claiming that Sears defrauded him when it paid him $10,000 for his patent. Sears claimed the patent was “legally worthless.” Although the federal judicial system has provided a partial resolution to the dispute, it has yet to provide complete and final answers 17 years later. (Source: Washington Post)
The Two-Decade-Long Lawsuit Between Peter Roberts and Sears
In 1969, Roberts filed a lawsuit seeking to revoke the agreement by which he assigned the patent to the company. In 1978, a federal jury awarded him $1 million after concluding that Sears obtained the patent fraudulently. Roberts also sought restitution for the 14 million socket wrenches sold after 1977.
He estimated that Sears earned $172 million from wrench sales between 1977 and 1982, but attorneys for the retailer said the profit was closer to $5 million. In April 1982, a federal jury found Sears violated the patent and awarded Roberts $5 million, which the judge later increased to $8.2 million because the infringement was willful. An appeals court overturned that decision in 1983, ordering a new trial. (Source: Washington Post)
Which is Better Quick Release or a Standard Release Ratchet?
You might be confused if you hear someone say that a ratchet has a quick release or see a button on the top of a ratchet’s head. Simply put, pressing that button lets you quickly remove the socket attached to the ratchet. The button releases the socket by triggering a ball detent. Standard ratchets require you to remove the socket without pressing any buttons. For exceptionally tight-fitting sockets, you may need to use a pocket screwdriver or a second hand.
Like everything related to tools, this is a matter of personal preference. Some people don’t like quick-release ratchets for a few reasons, namely the fact that you can accidentally bump your ratchet against something and watch the socket and extension fall to the ground. That isn’t to say quick-release ratchets aren’t helpful: they are. This is entirely up to you. (Source: Washington Post)