Posts made in August 2012

How Patents Work

An illustration from Thomas Edison’s 1879 patent on an electric light, his first such device. Edison expanded on the ideas in this patent throughout his career, claiming hundreds of patents related to electric lighting.

Image courtesy United States Patent and Trademark Office

By Tom Harris 

When inventors come up with a new device, the first thing they want to do is patent it. Patents are a government’s way of giving an inventor ownership of his or her creation. For a certain period of time, patent-holders are allowed to control how their inventions are used, allowing them to reap the financial rewards of their work. Patents are a palpable, legally-binding manifestation of a person’sgenius and innovation; they allow a person to actually own an idea. Continue reading

How Fingerprinting Works

Forensics Image Gallery

Forensics Image Gallery

Fingerprinting has been used by law enforcement agencies for more than a century. See more forensics pictures.

Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By Stephanie Watson

A woman has been murdered. When the detectives arrive on the scene, the house is in shambles. Clothes are strewn about the floor, lamps are ov­erturned and there’s no sign of the assailant. Then, one of the detectives picks up a glass. On its side is a smudged, bloodythumbprint. He takes it down to the lab, where it’s analyzed and matched to a recorded set of prints. The detectives catch their killer. Continue reading

How Bail Works

If you watch television, you’ve probably seen variations of this scene dozens of times: a judge bangs a gavel and announces, “Bail is set at $100,000.” The defendant looks despondent as he consults with his lawyers. But somehow he ends up free while waiting for his trial to begin. One hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money to come up with — how did he afford it? And what did it mean when the defense attorney claimed his client was not a “flight risk”?

Bail works by releasing a defendant in exchange for money that the court holds until all proceedings and trials surrounding the accused person are complete. The court hopes that the defendant will show up for his or her court dates in order to recover the bail. Continue reading