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Wacky Inventions

I’ve got a great thought
Is it too wild to patent?
Have you looked online!?!

Half a million patents were applied for last year in the United States alone. With these numbers, it is expected that some nonsensical patents will make it through the system, particularly with examiners overextended often spending less than 20 hours on the entirety of a patent application, from the First Action to the Final Disposition.

The patent examiners at the USPTO are not the only ones to let colorful patents slip through the cracks. Often times clients who should otherwise carefully review the documents drafted on their behalf, fail to do so.

For example, US Patent Application 20040161257, an otherwise benign sounding application: “Display control apparatus for image forming apparatus“ However, claim 9 stands out in its choice of words:

9. The method of providing user interface displays in an image forming apparatus which is really a bogus claim included amongst real claims, and which should be removed before filing; wherein the claim is included to determine if the inventor actually read the claims and the inventor should instruct the attorneys to remove the claim.

Some applications may reflect the mood or mental state of the applicant. In the case of US Patent Application 20070035812, entitled “Godly Powers”, the applicant, Christopher Roller, may either be playing an expensive practical joke, or may be somewhat delusional. The abstract reads:

Christopher Anthony Roller is a godly entity. “Granters” had been given my powers (acquired my powers) (via God probably). These “granters” have been receiving financial gain from godly powers. These “granters” may be using their powers without morals. Chris Roller wants exclusive right to the ethical use and financial gain in the use of godly powers on planet Earth. The design of godly-products have no constraints, just like any other invention, but the ethnic consideration of it’s use will likely be based on a majority vote of a group, similar to law creation. The commission I require could range from 0-100% of product price, depending on the product’s value and use.

Considering that somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of all patent applications eventually become full-fledged patents, it is understandable that of the more than 8 million patents granted, some might seem a little off.

Consider for example the “Motorized Ice Cream Cone” (U.S. Patent No. 5,971,829) described by the inventor as a “previously unexploited type of device for consuming an individual portion of ice cream or similar food. A hand-held motorized cup spinner provides an entertaining alternative to traditional methods of eating such foods and expands the typical act of eating an ice cream cone to include numerous playful and creative possibilities including the sculpting and carving of channels with one’s tongue to form interesting shapes and patterns on the outer surface of an ice cream portion. “

Notably, patents are a right to exclude, not a right to actually practice the described invention. Often times we are lucky that this is the case. The Apparatus for facilitating the birth of a child by centrifugal force, United States Patent 3216423, would likely be perceived by many as a dangerous machine, one better off not being built.

Others may be useful inventions, but some might think twice before adding their name to the invention, including: US Patent No. 4536889, a face and nose wiper holding device for skiers; US Patent No. 5901666, Pet display clothing or US Patent No. 3774241, a loincloth spreader.

Patentable subject matter has been a topic of great interest to the current Supreme Court. Not so long ago they considered business method patents, although they didn’t consider this one: Method of exercising a cat, United States Patent 5443036, which describes a method that consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct.

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