Who Invented Modern Ceramic Charcoal Cookers?

Ceramic cookers as we know them today are descendants of a number of ancient cookers including the Indian tandoor and the Japanese mushikamado. Although they are loosely called "ceramic" cookers, different brands are made from a variety of materials. Big Green Egg cookers are made from ceramics. Komodo Kamado cookers are made from refractory materials. Imperial Kamado cookers are made from clay earthenware. Kamado cookers, until very recently, were made from portland cement and crushed lava rock.

And much the same as modern ceramic charcoal cookers are loosely called "ceramic cookers", they are all also loosely called "kamado-style cookers." There is a misconception in some quarters that Richard Johnson, owner/founder of Kamado, invented the word "kamado". You can read about the actual history of this word at the Imperial Kamado website and at our webpage, The Word "Kamado". In actuality, the word "kamado" has been in use since perhaps 300 A.D. We doubt anyone alive today was around then to invent the word!

But how did the modern ceramic cooker come to America? There is another common misconception that today's ceramic charcoal cookers were also invented by Richard Johnson. Kamado makes this claim in their advertising and in postings on their company's online forum. People often point to a patent he obtained, Des. 201,937 (or D201937) issued in 1965, as proof that he invented the modern ceramic charcoal cooker. So it is not hard to understand why many think he is indeed the original inventor.

In fact, however, the patent that everyone refers to is actually nothing more than a design patent, not a utility patent. Note
Design vs. Utility: An Example

We asked our resident patent expert for an example of this difference between utility and design patents, and he provided the following: Someone at some point in history figured out that they can make a bottle out of glass by heating the glass and forming it into a bottle shape. They then applied for and were granted a utility patent on the glass bottle. They have invented the glass bottle.

Later, someone named Coca Cola came along and came up with a distinctive shape for a glass bottle they wanted to use to sell a product. Coca Cola applied for and was granted a design patent to protect the shape of their bottle. It has nothing to do with the invention of the glass bottle; it just protects the appearance of their bottles so someone else, say Pepsi Cola, can't sell soda in a bottle just like theirs. (In fact, Coca Cola did apply for and was granted Design Patent No. 48,160 for the original design of their bottles. You can view it by clicking here.)

the "Des." or "D" that precedes the patent number indicating that it is a design patent. (You can view a copy of Richard Johnson's design patent by clicking here). So what exactly is the difference between a utility patent and a design patent? It is a very important distinction, so let's take the time to explain:

A utility patent is what everyone thinks of when they think of an inventor getting a patent for a new idea. It protects the basic idea behind an invention. The holder of a utility patent on a device is generally considered to be the inventor of that device. A design patent, on the other hand, merely protects the appearance of an item, not the function it performs. According to Wikipedia,

"In the United States, a design patent is a patent granted on the ornamental design of a functional item. Design patents are a type of industrial design right. Ornamental designs of jewelry, furniture, beverage containers (see Fig. 1) and computer icons are examples of objects that are covered by design patents."
The design patent issued to Richard Johnson only protected what his cookers looked like, but it did not grant him any rights to the design of the actual function of a ceramic charcoal cooker. Richard Johnson may have invented the appearance of his specific cooker, but Richard Johnson did not invent the ceramic charcoal cooker.

So, who was awarded the utility patent for the first ceramic charcoal cooker? It turns out that two years before Richard Johnson was awarded his design patent, a man named Farhad Sazegar applied for a utility patent on the ceramic charcoal cooker. This patent, 3,276,440 (note that there is no "Des." or "D" preceeding the number), was issued in 1966. (You can view a copy of the actual utility patent issued to Farhad Sazegar by clicking here.) It is also interesting to note that Farhad Sazegar obtained a design patent on his cooker which also predates Richard Johnson's design patent by almost two months. (View Farhad Sazegar's design patent by clicking here.)

So who is Farhad Sazegar? Well, he was a flight engineer for Flying Tigers back in the 1960's. His main route back then was to Japan where he first saw the ceramic cookers. He started importing the clay from Japan and designed and developed the cooker that he named the "Casa-Q". (You can see an example of a Casa-Q cooker in the photo at left.) He was awarded the actual utility patent for his cooker and soon after he started a manufacturing company called SAZCO. Farhad Sazegar also went on to design and patent many other products after the Casa-Q including a landing gear for Cessna, The American Pedicab, bicycle racks (Bike Rack Corporation), a ski rack and skateboard wheels (True Glide).

So it turns out that we have a man named Farhad to thank for our present day ceramic charcoal cookers!

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