Patently Pointless?

Our Guest Blogger, Jennifer Lane, has lived in an array of places, from a monastery in the Himalayas to the "Entertainment Capital of the World."  She currently works as an attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada. She wanted to share the fun side of patents with the readers of

Here's her article: 

* * * * *

A patent issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gives an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling his or her invention. Acquiring a patent requires the paying of a patent filing fee, a patent search fee, and a patent examination fee, in addition to (possibly) paying the cost of patent post-allowance fees, patent maintenance fees, processing fees, post issuance fees, excessive claims fees, application size fees, provisional application fees, surcharges, patent attorney's fees, etc... Not only must an aspiring patent holder prepare to pay numerous fees to safeguard his or her invention, the would-be patent holder must languish in anticipation of dealing with the forms and policies of the Department of Commerce, a.k.a. the U.S. federal government.

After successfully navigating through the rigmarole of the application process, the newly bestowed patent holder may proudly proclaim the sacred right to claim his or her invention as his own. Nobody else may make it. Nobody else can use it. Nobody else can sell it, or even try to sell it. What an honor! This begs the question however - why, oh why, would anybody want to secure the rights to some of the inventions that have received the hallowed protection of the honorable U.S. federal government?

Eye Protector for ChickensEye Protector for ChickensFor example, when was the last time you jolted awake at night fretting over the prospect that Clucky the Chicken will go blind for lack of eye protection? Apparently the inventor of the Eye Protector for Chickens did, and his chicken must have been Federal Reserve green, because he has preserved his chicken's eye protector with the lofty seal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (Unfortunately, the patron saint of Clucky's eyesight was color blind, and didn't realize his patent would put him in the red.)

Clucky's eye protector patent holder is not alone. His patently pointless peers include the maker of the chewing gum locket, the anti-eating face mask, the motorized ice cream cone, the child birth centrifuge, the duck shield, the butt cleavage pants, the life expectancy watch, the snake walker, the portable nuclear shelter, and the awe-inspiring toilet snorkel. Or is that "ew"-inspiring?

So why patent a wacky idea? It has been reported that Hasbro, Inc. bought the rights to the Koosh ball - that colorful porcupine-like ball made of rubber bands - for $166 million. Likewise, Bandai sold 40 million Tamagotchis in 1996 - the virtual pet chicken "raised" from birth to death in a plastic, portable, computerized egg. And the figures on sales of the eight-track, then the cassette tape, and finally the CD must be astounding.

Unfortunately for the 350,000 people who apply for U.S. patents every year, most inventions will not take flight. But, you never know, your invention may be the next Koosh ball, ... or it could be the next toilet snorkel.

Jennifer Lane
Guest Blogger