Firm History

No Michigan Firm Has Done It Longer Than We Have—Protecting Innovation Since 1865

  • In 1865, a returning Civil War Colonel, Thomas S. Sprague, opened the first patent practice in Michigan.
  • In 1887, after the Colonel’s passing, the firm was acquired by one of Sprague’s associates, Adolph Barthel, who partnered with James Whittemore from Chicago and hired Prescott Hulbert.
  • In 1898, Barthel sold his interest to Whittemore, who hired his brother Laurence Whittemore and retained Hulbert.
  • In 1906, the firm changed its name to Whittemore Hulbert & Whittemore. The members of the firm co-founded the Michigan Patent Law Association, now known as the Michigan Intellectual Property Law Association (MIPLA).
  • In 1922, the firm was renamed Whittemore, Hulbert, Whittemore & Belknap.
  • In 1982, the Whittemore firm merged with another long established firm in Detroit, Barnes Kisselle Raisch & Choate. The Barnes Kisselle firm included Stuart Barnes who was another co-founder of MIPLA.
  • The merged firm retained the Barnes Kisselle name and continued to provide quality service to long standing clients like General Motors, TI Automotive, and Owens-Illinois.
  • In 1999, the Barnes Kisselle firm merged with Reising Ethington.

The history of our firm is more than dates and names to us, it is our heritage. It is the continuous overlap of careers of hundreds of professionals who have passed down the patent craft from generation–to–generation for 150 years.

The firm represented many famous inventors at the turn of the last century:


Elijah J. McCoy

  • Famous inventor Elijah J. McCoy, whose oil drip cups were called “the real McCoy” and for whom the USPTO’s Detroit satellite office is named.
  • Automotive pioneers:
      • Ransom E. Olds, whose patents covered motor vehicles and engines for the Olds Motor and REO Motor Car companies;
      • David D. Buick, who founded the Buick Motor Co., which the firm also represented, and which gave rise to General Motors in 1908;
      • The Fisher Brothers, who founded Fisher Body which was purchased by General Motors in 1919.


    Fisher Body

    • Glass master Michael J. Owens, whose inventions revolutionized glass manufacturing. He was a founder of Owens-Illinois.
      • The firm also represented Mr. Owens’ Toledo Glass Company.

    Today, we still represent successors and namesakes of some of these storied companies and inventors.

    Reising Ethington is proud to carry on our long tradition of providing services and advice to
    clients regarding all aspects of intellectual property law.


    Michael J. Owens