The way George de Mestral, a Swiss mountaineer, tells the story, he was hiking with his dog in 1948 and was frustrated to see all of these burrs covering them both when he returned home. He says he was fascinated by how tough they were to take off and looked at them in a microscope. He saw that they had small hooks that enabled the seed-bearing burr to cling effectively to the small fabric loops on his pants. This was an “aha” moment and he was inspired to design a fastener using the same concept. He called his invention ‘velcro’, combining the French words velour (velvet) and crochet (hook). He predicted: “It will rival the zipper in its ability to fasten.”
The idea was not an immediate success and met with derision by some. He persevered and worked with a weaver from a textile plant in France to develop a nylon type fabric that had the hook and loop fastener concept, patented it in 1955 and trademarked it in 1958. A U.S. patent was filed on May 9, 1958 and awarded on Nov. 21, 1961. The original Velcro® company was formed in 1952 to manufacture this invention and now Velcro® is a multi-million dollar industry.
One interesting note on trademarks: if it becomes a commonly used generic word, then the trademark can be invalidated. Thus Velcro International emphasizes: “Velcro is the name of our companies and is a registered trademark for our products,” the highly protective company says. “It is not the generic name of the product that… is generically known as ‘hook-and-loop fastener’ or ‘touch fasteners’.”
Velcro® is a wonderful example of biologically-inspired design, or biomimicry.
For more information see the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on biomimetic design and trademarks and patents. For related curricular resources, visit the Materials Engineering Education, Materials Engineering Education and the Chemical Engineering Education community sites.