Viewing posts tagged Patent

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.

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.

Celebrity Patents—OR How Not to Let a Little Thing Like Fame Get in the Way of Being a Smart Inventor with Business Sense

Whether you’re living in Outer Mongolia or in Sydney Australia, every now and then inspiration hits somebody and they think, “Oh! An idea!” And for some reason this idea takes hold of an imagination and it gets developed into some sort of invention that somehow finds its way into a patent registry. A patentable idea can hit anyone at any time, and there’s no reason to believe that celebrities can’t come up with them too, just like everybody else. Strangely enough, among celebrities, it seems that musicians seem to come up with more patents than anyone else, often because the necessities of performance turn out to be the mothers of invention.
Rock star Eddie van Halen likes to strum his guitars using all ten fingers simultaneously, the trouble is that it’s tricky to do this and hold on to a fretboard at the same time (try it, it’s virtually impossible). So in 1985 he patented a device that attaches to the back of a guitar to give it more stability in a horizontal position, turning the guitar, almost, into some sort of zither.
The late Prince invented a keytar – a portable piano that you wear like a guitar and that looks like a saw.
Pop singer and dancer Paula Abdul patented a mike on a hemispherical concrete stand that looks like a cross between a pogo stick and the base of one of those inflatable clowns that you punch and then rights itself. The point being that you can hold the mike and swivel around without fear of falling over. It probably still takes some practice to use without looking like a complete idiot.
And a more famous singer known for his dance moves also got in on the patenting act. The late Michael Jackson (and two ghost co-inventors) patented specially designed shoes that could seamlessly click into the floor of a stage to allow the performer to lean at an impossible angle. You can see this effect, briefly, in the film clip for “Smooth Criminal” at the 7:04 mark.
But musicians don’t limit themselves to things that help their stage work. In 1953 old-school band leader Lawrence patented a design for an amazingly ugly ashtray in the shape of an accordion, although why he would bother is anyone’s guess. Neil Young patented a remote-control device to make his hobby of model trains even more fun.
Even amateur musicians have gotten in on the act. Drum enthusiast Marlon Brando held several patents for devices that improved drum playing.
But not all celebrity patents are frivolous. Some show considerable ingenuity and turned out to be actually useful.
Zeppo Marx, one of the non-funny Marx brothers, was a co-inventor of a cardiac pulse monitor, patented in 1969.
Also in 1969, Steve McQueen, who spent a lot of time in cars, patented an improved design for a bucket seat. And, staying on the theme of ergonomics, science popularizer Bill Nye has patented a design for ballet shoe designed to lessen the possibility of injury to dancers.
Jamie Leigh Curtis has also improved a classic design with her patent for a diaper with a pocket that holds baby wipes. But she has refused to license her 1987 design until diaper companies create biodegradable products.
Some patents even go into the realm of high tech. In 1989 James Cameron and his brother Mark patented an improved propeller-driven dolly for filming underwater sequences.
And challenging the stereotype that beautiful women can’t think, supermodel Christie Brinkley patented an educational toy in 1991 to help kids learn the alphabet.
Even more impressive, in 1942 screen siren and fashion icon Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil patented a remote-control device using carrier waves of different frequencies. The idea was so far ahead of its time that by the time the technology existed to make it work twenty years had passed and the patent had expired.
And, as a sort of reverse Lamarr, Albert Einstein, who held patents for inventions as wide-ranging as hearing aids and refrigerators, patented an “improved blouse” in 1936. Who would have thought it, Albert Einstein, fashionista!
There’s no shortage of ideas in the world. Most of them are bad, lots of them are unworkable, quite a few are underdeveloped. But there are also a minority of good ideas, that are workable and could be made into viable products and businesses that you can monetize – even if you aren’t a celebrity. These ideas are worth protecting, and the sensible way of protecting these ideas in Australia is with a patent, with the help of a qualified Australian intellectual property attorney. And, if you want to be extra-safe, you can register a trademark too, thus protecting not only the invention itself, but the marketing as well. After all, if registering a patent is sensible enough for Albert Einstein, it’s probably sensible enough for you too.