Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Ten Favorite Stupid Patents

In my last post, I congratulated my EFF colleague Julie Samuels had been awarded the new title of "The Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents."  In honor of that award, here are my ten favorite stupid patents.  

10.  U.S. Patent No. 6,025,810, "Hyper-light-speed antenna."  The abstract reads (boldfacing and underlining added):
A method to transmit and receive electromagnetic waves which comprises generating opposing magnetic fields having a plane of maximum force running perpendicular to a longitudinal axis of the magnetic field; generating a heat source along an axis parallel to the longitudinal axis of the magnetic field; generating an accelerator parallel to and in close proximity to the heat source, thereby creating an input and output port; and generating a communications signal into the input and output port, thereby sending the signal at a speed faster than light.
9.  U.S. Patent No. 5,356,330, "Apparatus for simulating a 'high five.'"  Fig. 4 is here:
8.  U.S. Patent No. 5,564,239, "Horse shaped building with recreational area."  You can't tell from the title that this 1996 patent actually is about . . . a Trojan horse.  Which was what, over 3,000 years ago?
7.  U.S. Patent No. 4,195,707, "Communicating device."  Remember when you were a kid and you used to tie a string between two tin cans to make a "telephone" and talk?  Someone got a patent for this in 1980.
6.  U.S. Patent No. 6,360,693, Animal toy.  The "toy" in question is a stick to throw to a dog . . . patented in 2002.

5.  U.S. Patent No. 6,293,874, "User-operated amusement apparatus for kicking the user's buttocks."  No comment needed other than Fig. 2:

4.  U.S. Patent No. 5,443,036, "Method of exercising a cat."  This is the famous (or infamous) patent on exercising a cat using a hand laser.  It even has its own Wikipedia entry.

3.  U.S. Patent No. 6,004,596, "Sealed crustless sandwich."  Essentially, this 1999 patent covers a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with its crusts cut off.  Fortunately the Patent Office killed this one in 2007.

2.  U.S. Patent No. 6,368,227, "Method of swinging on a swing."  Seven-year-old Steven Olson proudly got this patent in 2002.  (It helps if your dad is a patent lawyer.)  In 2003, the Patent Office killed this one also.

1.  U.S. Patent No. 5,498,162, "Method for demonstrating a lifting technique."  Essentially, this is a 1996 patent on lifting up a box.  I could have sworn this had been done before.
Honorable mention: There are a number of published patent applications that never became patents, meaning that even the Patent Office couldn't see fit to allow a patent (unlike the real patents listed above).  My favorite is U.S. Application No. 2006/0259306, "Business method protecting jokes."  Some representative claims are as follows:
1. The process of protecting a novel joke which comprises filing a patent application defining the novel features of the joke.

10. A joke relating to the unexpected but partial skill of animals (preferably large mammals or birds) in sports involving spheroidal projectiles, characterised in that the punch-line employs alliteration.

22. A process claimed in any of claims 1-7 in which the patent application is filed, or claims priority from an application that is filed, on 1 April.

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