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Easter Patents

People who are “invention-oriented” like to come up with solutions to problems. Another way of saying this is that inventors, at some point, come up with an idea that satisfies a need. But coming up with an idea isn’t enough to keep that idea yours because intellectual property laws, which include copyright, trademarks and patents, don’t protect ideas in and of themselves. IP protects the particular physical manifestation of that idea. In copyright, the physical manifestation is the order of the words. With trademarks, it’s a particular graphic design. With patents, it’s the design for a physical thing.
The great thing about holidays is that by their very existence, they create needs. If it’s Christmas, you need Christmas Trees. If it’s Valentine’s day, you need bon-bons and flowers. If it’s Easter, you need bunny rabbits, chickens and Easter eggs. Where there is a need, there is a business opportunity. Opportunities suggest ideas but since ideas aren’t enough you need to invest time, energy and money into translating those ideas into physical solutions. Then, because you want some legal redress in case someone steals your solution, you’re going to want to get a patent. Patents are all about protecting investments.
Here are some “solutions” to the “problem” of Easter that inventors considered important enough to want to protect with patents. This makes sense because the Easter industry is literally worth billions of dollars in sales every year. The ideas might be whimsical, but the money and business interests at stake certainly aren’t.
Marshmallow Peeps are a multi-million dollar institution in the United States. They’re basically coloured and flavoured marshmallows. Originally they were in the shape of chicks – hence the name – but they now come in a variety of other shapes, including the inevitable bunnies. Peeps were the invention of a Russian-born candy making genius called Sam Born, who was about as close to a real-life Willy Wonka as there ever was. Born started his business in 1910 and invented (and patented) techniques for creating chocolate sprinkles, coating ice-cream bars in hard chocolate and for mechanically inserting sticks into lollipops but his Peeps were hand-made, requiring a total of 27 hours per Peep. It wasn’t until the mid 1950s that his company devised ways of automating the process. Incredibly, Marshmallow Peeps weren’t trademarked until 1980, which is probably a comment on increasing competition from “look-alike” imports from countries that have looser interpretations of IP and the need to protect the brand.

With millions of eggs being decorated in schools all over the western world it was inevitable that someone would come up with some way of automating the process. US4573586A from 1986 (now expired) was for an Easter Egg dyeing and drying device that was meant to address the problem of messiness. As the “Background of the Invention” in the patent application states:
“Each year hundreds of thousands of kids in the United States and other countries participate in Easter egg dyeing festivities. While the kids love it, the parents or teachers hate it, because egg dyeing is a messy art. The children, usually of age 3 to 11, spill the dye on the table or on themselves.”

easter patents image 1

An earlier patent US3848564 from 1973 (now expired) took a slightly more mechanical approach.


But not all solutions have to be complicated, and just because a design seems simple doesn’t mean it isn’t worth protecting. US Patent US4121435A from 1978 (now also expired) described a hinged plastic egg, which could, no doubt contain other eggs or candies or toys.


You’ve no doubt encountered dozens of these eggs in your life without ever realising that the original was protected by a patent.
Given recent advances in technology, it’s still possible for some enterprising someone out there to find a new, merchantable and exploitable take on Easter. All it requires is a little imagination and maybe a hint of creative madness in the nicest possible meaning of the word.

Patents in the World of Cricket

Cricket is one of those sports that are totally associated with a particular culture, but have still managed to find new homes in unexpected places. Baseball, for example is the sport of the USA but has a strong following in Japan. Golf is inarguably Scottish, but it has spread far and wide. Cricket is fundamentally English and yet it has fans (in the truest sense of the word as ‘fanatics’) in many countries that were once part of the British Empire (now downgraded to the Commonwealth) including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and the West Indies. And yet this most quintessential of British games probably started its life in the middle ages in Flanders. The clue is in its name which might derive from the Middle Dutch – met de krikket sen (chase with the stick) – which also implies that cricket is in some way related to hockey though how we came from a game where the stick chases a ball to a game where a ball chases a stick is lost to history. Someone hundreds of years ago must have thought it up, after all, games are inventions too.

And it’s because games are inventions that they lend themselves to further invention. The challenge to creating patents in cricket is to develop ideas that are novel but that still conform to the strict rules that standardize the game for playing internationally.

The rule of novelty is crucial whether you’re making patents in Sydney or Australia or anywhere else in the world.

And, of course, in order to keep the game fair at an international level then irrespective of whether its Australian inventions around cricket or Indian inventions around cricket an inventor can’t simply invent a bat that exceeds approved dimensions (the Mongoose Bat – WO2009144491 notwithstanding), or a ball that violates rules of weight.

Nevertheless dedicated fans and even more dedicated corporations have managed to come up with a few patentable innovations within the limits specified by the International Cricket Council.

Australian Patent AU-665151-B1 is one of several patents that protects Channel 9’s Stump Cam that lets television viewers watch a cricket game from a viewpoint available to no human being. Stump cams have literally become a game changer, in as much as they’ve been crucial to many decisions of umpires when they’ve had to make a call on close catching positions,  run-outs and stumping. Similar patents protect stump microphones which have provided interesting insights into conversations between umpires and players that were previously unheard by spectators.

Patent AU-582809-B1 protects Rooney and Bye Australia Pty Ltd’s portable cricket pitch, allowing players to play in places that weren’t expressly designed for cricket.

“Bouncers” are bowls that can cause tremendous controversy, not the least of which is because they are potentially lethal. Umpires have discretionary intervention about bouncers, but seldom exercise it. Indian patent 1009/DEL/2003 protects a cricket pitch which makes it impossible to bowl bouncers.

Even the Americans have gotten in on the act. US1624822 is for a cricket ball that maintains its properties even in the rain. US

Cricket-related inventions are not limited to the actual game. There are also many patents protecting devices like cricket ball throwing machines and electronic game simulators. In 2008, Australian inventors Adam Dubrich and Leigh Warren were granted patent 2008318301 to protect their Cricket Cooler – a 33-litre very flash, strong bodied esky on wheels. The patent runs to 21 pages and is worded in such a way as to allow protection for related inventions in other sports. The care that Dubrich and Warren have taken to protect their invention has paid off with commercial success. Obviously, this level of care could only have happened with the help of a qualified IP specialist.

So the good news is that in spite of the restrictions, there’s still some room for inventive cricket fanatics to develop new ideas for the game and to protect those ideas through patents and trademarks with the help of a IP attorney who will share your vision.


The Twelve Patents of Christmas

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Christmas has over the centuries attracted inventors and innovators hoping to make it more fun. Christmas patents are dominated by American inventors, but the principles involved in sound patenting apply just as much to Australian patent registration too.
Here then, are twelve patents that represent innovations created in the spirit of Christmas.

Number 12, 11 and 10 – Artificial Christmas Trees

While natural Christmas Trees look and smell great they have several disadvantages, the most apparent of which is that they shed needles and create a huge mess and even worse, they’re not reusable, so artificial Christmas trees always had considerable commercial potential. Early Christmas artificial tree patents date from the first years of the 20th Century. Aesthetically, they had varying degrees of success.
US Patent 994 248 from 1911 looks like a drying rack.
US Patent 1 577 207 from 1926 is made from a set of pre-cut plywood pieces that gives it a sort of proto-Ikea look. It was designed for display windows in department stores and had shelves that you could put sale items on.
It wasn’t until 1927 that somebody came up with something that at least pays some lip-service to looking “natural”. Like all modern Christmas trees, it had another advantage that real ones don’t have. It was collapsible for ease of storage.

Number 9, 8 and 7 – Christmas Tree Decorations

US Patent 1 791 533 from 1931 takes advantage of a greater confidence in the then-new practice of making things from plastic and using them in electrical devices. This is basically a small plastic Christmas Tree with lights. It was also, supposedly, water proof.
Then there is, of course, tinsel. You’ve probably never wondered until now how tinsel is made, and no, the answer isn’t “elves”. There are actually specialised machines that make it and this patent, Number 2 031 566 from 1936 is one such device.
US Patent Number 2 110 353 from 1938 might look boring, but it’s historically significant as the first application of using a set of cords deliberately as Christmas tree lights. It’s also the origin of millions of lost hours devoted to finding blown lights because, when lights are arranged in a series, when one light blows, all the other lights go out too.

Number 6, 5 and 4 – The Mistletoe Theme

The origins of “kissing under the mistletoe” for luck are lost to history. All we can say for sure is that the parasitic plant was sacred to the Druids and might have played some part in their Winter Solstice Celebration. Inventions along this theme seem are frivolous, but the inventors must have seen at least some commercial potential.
US Patent 4 488 316 from 1983 is a “Mistletoe Supporting Headband” for the man who wants to do some mobile Christmas stalking.
US Patent Application 2002 012 6506 from 2002 is for a Hanging “mistletoe” ornament that incorporates a motion sensor to detect someone who’s under it and then puts on a light show and plays music.
US Patent D 407 189 is an example of a design patent (referred to a registered design in Australia). Usually, when we think of patents, we think of protecting the way an inventor has solved a problem, so the emphasis is on how something works. With a design patent, the emphasis is on how something looks, which, as any fashion designer will tell you, can have huge commercial value, which is probably what was in the mind of the inventor of the “Kiss Me” cap.

Number 3, 2 and 1 – Toys

Where would Christmas be without kids and their toys? You could fill volumes with the records of toy patents and if you’re an inventor who’s seriously interested in commercial potential then toys are the way to go. If you have a truly brilliant toy idea you will have to protect that invention with a patent registered with the help of a qualified patent attorney to insure, as much as possible, that your invention is safe from commercial theft. The potential rewards are enormous, as these top three Christmas patents show. Intriguingly, all these toys demonstrate that an invention doesn’t have to be complicated to work, it just has to be original and attractive.
US patent 2 415 012 1947, The Slinky, remains one of the most popular toys ever.
Californian company Wham-O hit gold with US Patent 3 079 728 from 1958 when it sold 25 million units of the Hula Hoop in its first four months of release.
And Wham-O hit gold again in 1967 with patent 3 359 678. The Frisbee was an aerodynamic (and safety) improvement on the pie tin lids people used to throw at each other (and still do sometimes).


Presidents, Inventions and Their Patents

The vast majority of politicians aren’t generally known for their intellectual accomplishments. It’s not because politicians aren’t very bright – like every other profession, politics comprises individuals who run the gamut of “genius level” to “too stupid to be alive” with average minds making up the majority. However, politicians tend to focus their brainpower on matters devoted to acquiring power, winning the great popularity contest known as “democracy”, and, if successful influencing social and economic development and surviving in an environment that’s so cut-throat that one false move might be your last. Politics, especially as it’s practised nowadays, really isn’t an environment conducive to creativity. Politics is also incredibly time consuming and politicians, especially the successful ones, are politicians 24/7/365.
Inventors on the other hand, who are make up the vast majority of people who are looking for patent protection, focus their brainpower into solving problems and coming up with solutions. They generally also either have a lot of time on their hands, or they’re so good with time management that they can make the time. Inventors often also work alone or in very small teams of people who are focused on helping each other out, rather than stabbing each other in the back, so they don’t have to waste valuable mental and emotional resources on looking over their shoulders constantly.
Since politics and invention exists in such different realms, it’s a wonder that they ever meet at all in the same person, but it has happened, albeit rarely.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), who as a “founding father”, was arguably one of the co-inventors of the United States of America, but before his involvement with politics he already had a long track record in invention. In 1741 he invented the “Franklin Stove”, designed to get more heat with less wood. The result was sub-par and it was only when a later inventor, David Rittenhouse (1732 – 1796), solved many of the problems of the original stove, that the stove finally fulfilled its promise. Unfortunately, fame being the fickle thing that it is, Rittenhouse’s improved device is still called “The Franklin Stove”. Franklin’s other inventions were more successful: The Lightning Rod (1750), The Kite (1752), The Glass Harmonica (1761), Bifocals (1783) and a “Long Arm”. – a device for reaching books off high shelves. And while Benjamin Franklin was too old to make it to President of the United States, he was President of Pennsylvania from 1785 to 1788, drawing his inventing days to a close.
One inventor who did make it to the Oval Office, (before there was such a thing as the actual Oval Office) was the USA’s second president, Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826). Although he’s often credited for inventions like a device for extruding macaroni and a spherical sundial, the one thing we know of that he invented for certain was a Moldboard Plow (1788 – 1798), designed to cut through soil with the least possible resistance. Although he never sought to patent the plough, it did win him a gold medal from the French Society of Agriculture.
Both Jefferson and Franklin were polymaths during the tail end of the “Age of Enlightenment”, a time when men (and unfortunately, not too many women) were valued for their broad minds, and a time when men (and unfortunately, no women at all) could participate in politics on the basis of their intellects, rather than for their telegenic appeal.
The one man who did make it to POTUS and who was also an inventor and who managed to get around to patenting his invention was Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865). With the sort of face, physical presence and tendency toward clinical depression (or “melancholia” as it used to be called) that would practically guarantee that he wouldn’t be elected today, the man who is generally acknowledged to be the greatest POTUS ever had a humble past as the owner of a general store before he went into politics, eventually serving as the Whig Representative for Illinois (1847 – 1849).
During those years he came up with a solution of how to release boats that had gotten stuck on shoals, a problem that had probably been vexing him since he was 22, when he worked as a bowhand on flatboat and narrowly saved it from sinking. His solution was to mount two sets of bags to the side of the boat that could be inflated by bellows, increase the buoyancy of the boat and decrease the boat’s draft (the part of the boat below the water line), so that the boat could float over underlying rocks that might run it aground. Patent Number 6469 was granted on 22 May 1949. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s solution was more ingenious in the concept than in the reality. The added weight of the device increased the draft thus making it more likely that the boat would run aground in the first place, which is why Lincoln is remembered more today for his political career than for his contribution to naval architecture.
If patenting had been more developed in Lincoln’s day he might have done an IP patent search and worked with a registered patent agent to ascertain if his invention was even worth patenting in the first place, but that was then and this is now, so at least contemporary inventors have more resources at their disposal to protect, and even develop, their intellectual property.