Saturday, 9 May 2009

How Inventive! (No. 15)

Horses run, right?  That means they move in three dimensions.  In 1891, William Cronin and Cyril Adams of Philadelphia patented an improved merry-go-round that incorporates this three-dimensional movement into a classical children's play apparatus.  U.S. Patent 445,134 claims a merry-go-round in "which the animals, in addition to their movement of rotation about the axis of the machine, will be given a movement perpendicular to the floor of the machine. … The animals carried by platform A have not only a movement around this platform, but are also given a vertical movement, so as to have the appearance of running."

Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 445,134:
Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 445,134

Figure 2 from U.S. Patent 445,134:
Figure 2 from U.S. Patent 445,134

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Sunday, 3 May 2009

How Inventive! (No. 14)

The Egptian Pharaohs famously wanted to preserve their bodies forever, after death.  If only Joseph Karwowski had lived 3,000 years earlier!  In 1903, this inventive Russian received U.S. Patent No. 748,284, entitled "Method Of Preserving The Dead".  Preserving a body by mummification requires laborious preparation and drying of the body, then entombment and isolation in a favorable environment.  Mr. Karwowski had a simplier idea: "a corpse may be hermetically incased within a block of transparent glass, whereby being effectually excluded from the air[,] the corpse will be maintained for an indefinite period in a perfect life-like condition, so that it will be prevented from decay and will at all times present a life-like appearance."  If the whole body is too big, just the head will do — perfect for displaying your favorite relative on the mantle!

Figure 3 from U.S. Patent 748,284:
Figure 3 from U.S. Patent 748,284

Via Futility Closet

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How Inventive! (No. 13)

When was the helicopter invented?  Setting aside the classic example of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings (because he apparently never attempted to make a working device?), how long ago was the helicopter patented?  In 1907, J.N. Williams applied for his "Flying Machine" patent, U.S. Patent 1,023,233.  The following year, the venerable Thomas Edison applied for U.S. Patent 970,616, also titled "Flying Machine".

Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 1,023,233:
Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 1,023,233

Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 970,616:
Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 970,616

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Sunday, 23 March 2008

How Inventive! (No. 12)

Do domestic chickens naturally see clearly? Probably, so these patented spectacles are purely defensive weapons — "designed for fowls, so that they may be protected from other fowls that might attempt to peck at them … [but] will not interfere with the sight of the fowl."

Figures 1 and 2 from U.S. Patent 730,918

We have Andrew Jackson to thank for this patent, U.S. Patent No. 730,918. No, not the former President. So far as I know, Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. President who is the inventor on a U.S. Patent (No. 6,469).

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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

How Inventive! (No. 11)

Lots o' love for the lotto!  If you've ever played a lottery scratch-off game, you know how annoying it can be to use a fingernail to scratch off the gunk that covers the playing field.  The gunk gets caught under the nail or little bits get all over the place.  Most of us solve this problem by scratching it off with a penny, or whatever else is handy.  But not Ronald Smith of Long Beach, California.  In U.S. Patent 4,646,382, he claims a dedicated scraping device for lottery tickets.  The unusual thing about this patent is the introduction to its written description — which reads like the introduction to a master's thesis in world history.


This invention relates to gambling generally, and more specifically the invention relates to lottery and lottery tickets. Still more specific, the invention relates to a device for scraping lottery tickets.


Human history is cyclic.  Civilizations rise from primitive cultures or previously decadent and crushed civilizations, often after a long period of darkness.  As civilizations begin a birth, or the rebirth, moral values of the group, and ultimately of the individual rise and become dominate.  The wealth of civilizations is often first enjoyed only by a small, select few, sometimes determined by heredity and sometimes by ability.  The recognition of moral values, the integrity of the individual, the responsibility of each individual to look after his own needs and to care his own rises as a civilization grows toward maturity.  Gradually, the oppressed and the less fortunate begin to partake of the feast of civilization and the conscience of society is turned toward taking care of those who are unable to care for themselves.

Those who have wealth and power are the first to gain education.  Education, at first, is a means of enjoying the beauties of the earth, creating beauty, setting standards and values.  As education progresses, it becomes more oriented toward occupations and trades and professions and means of earning livelihood.  A strong desire for an educated population becomes a dominate drive of a maturing civilization, and the resources of the economy are focused toward educating and preparing those who will assume leadership in the future to assume that leadership is a responsible and ethical manner.  As civilization reaches its crowning glory where all who have the drive and the will have the opportunity for education, all have the opportunity for work, and all have the opportunity for individual expression and growth and development, there creeps into civilization a growing proportion of hedonistic cultures whose goal in life is the profligate dissipation of life in sensualistic ritual and a subculture of torpid, shiftless and indolent individuals who live from the charity of others, either through the individual charity of those individuals who have wealth or through government taxation.  This later subculture is generally at a very much lower economic status than the majority who have developed civilization to the point of individual responsibility and individual initiative and growth.  As these two subcultures continue to grow and develop, they sap the industry and ingenuity of society to the point where a majority of society looks to the minority for its economic support, and a very small minority of society seek only for pleasure.

At this point, the importance of education continues to receive lip service, and the importance of the traditional social and economic values of individual integrity and responsibility continue to be the subject of rhetoric, but the values of society have so shifted that no segment of society desires to pay the price for quality education, but opiate their minds in the vast wastelands of gambling and television.  Taxes have been increased to a confiscatory level, and society is unwilling to bear the burden of additional taxes.  Demands upon government, as more individual payments are made and social benefits increase bring chaos and dependency.  Deficit spending becomes the mode of financial planning, and alternatives to taxation are sought for.

There has existed in this society, from its beginning a small group of business men and others who thrive upon the weaknesses of individuals and of society, making their living through the pedaling of pornography, providing gambling parlors and casinos, and providing an endless train of mindless trivia which passes for entertainment.  This group, seeing the opportunity to wedge itself into society through governmental power, persuades the people that they can waste their lives in indolence, attain wealth and solve society's problems through gambling sponsored by the government, bait their trap with a promise of better education for all.  Society, thus, succumbs to its lowest elements, and government abandons its rule as a model of integrity and reliability.  Thus, the state lottery is born.

With the state lottery comes one of the greatest artistic and wealth-creating inventions of all times, the Lottery Ticket!  With the lottery ticket, however, comes a great problem which burdens society.  Many lottery tickets include a backing of cardboard or other rigid stock material, printed indicia thereupon, and an opaque coating over some or all of the indicia.  The lottery ticket, of this type, is utilized by the purchaser paying money into the state in the hope that by by scraping the ticket he will regain more money than he paid in.  The promise is made is that someone will win millions of dollars.  The state, however, is careful to minimize the odds against winning any substantial amount are several million to one.  Not withstanding, these enormous odds against winning, the population flocks to the grocery store, the service station, the department store, the all-night liquor store, the drug store, and every other conceivable kind of merchandising operation wherein lottery sales have become a major source of activity.  As the frantic lottery ticket purchaser grasps his ticket to instant wealth, he is confronted with a virtually insoluble dilemma — how to scrape the lottery ticket!  First of all, one must have an object with a sharp edge.  Coins are sometimes used, but these have a rounded edge and are most unsatisfactory.  Pocket knives are sometimes used, but these tend to cut through the ticket, as well as fingers and thumbs, and destroy it.  Nail files, credit card edges, razor blades and virtually every other conceivable kind of device with a sharp edge is used in the frantic race to scrape the opaque covering of the lottery ticket so as to become instantly rich.  Most or all of these methods are only moderately satisfactory.  One great hazard of most of these methods, lies in the fact that in some kinds of lottery tickets, if the number of the ticket, which is covered by the opaque covering, is disclosed by removing the opaque covering in that area, the lottery ticket is valid.  Thus, sadly, the dream of instant wealth is cut asunder by a careless scrape!

The present invention solves this dilemma and frees oppressed society from the risk of destroying the validity of the lottery ticket, and provides a simple, efficient and effective means for scraping lottery tickets.

Figures 1, 2, and 3 from U.S. Patent No. 4,646,382

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How Inventive! (No. 10)

Birds can be messy pets.  When they're caged, it's relatively easy to clean up after them.  But when you let them out to exercise and play, you never know where they'll drop a mess.  Fortunately, we have a solution — the bird diaper disclosed in U.S. Patent 5,934,226:

A bird diaper for an uncaged pet bird to wear, featuring an enclosed pouch for receiving and containing excrement, and apertures to accommodate both the wings and the tail of the bird.  Elastic straps and hook and loop fastener components (e.g., VELCRO) secure the diaper onto the body of the pet bird without restricting movement.  The bird diaper is fabricated from spandex (e.g., LYCRA) or another stretchable, lightweight material, allowing absorption of bird excrement to prevent leaks and facilitating easy cleaning using soap and water.  The bird diaper can incorporate decorative designs, bright colors and is available in different sizes.  The bird diaper also has a leash which is insertable within the hook and loop fasteners.  The leash serves to restrain or limit the bird's area of free flight.

Figure 1 From U.S. Patent No. 5,934,226

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How Inventive! (No. 9)

Who hasn't needed a pat on the back at some point?  In case you don't have a friend handy, Ralph Piro invented a device that helps you pat yourself on the back.  U.S. Patent 4,608,967 describes a "self-congratulatory apparatus having a simulated human hand carried on a pivoting arm suspended form shoulder supported member.  The hand is manually swingable into and out of contact with the user's back to give an amusing or an important pat-on-the-back."

Figure 1 From U.S. Patent No. 4,608,967

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Saturday, 22 December 2007

How Inventive! (No. 8)

Losing a loved one is hard. How to keep the memories alive? Last week, Mary Rydberg and Sharon Robinson received U.S. Patent No. 7,308,741 for a huggable cremated remains storage system. The invention uses a "plush container", such as a stuffed animal, and ornamental symbols characteristics of the person whose remains are inside. Think: teddy bear with golf clubs. The invention is marketed under the name EternaHugs, with several bear, pet, and pillow variations.

Figure 1 from U.S. Patent No. 7,308,741

Figure 13 from U.S. Patent No. 7,308,741

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Saturday, 15 December 2007

How Inventive! (No. 7)

Who hasn't had to lift a heavy object at some point? In 1996, Michael Schaefer patented a method for demonstrating his "Powerlift" technique (U.S. Patent No. 5,498,162). The technique requires no tools and assertedly prevents back injuries.

Interestingly, the claims don't cover a technique for lifting an object. Rather, they cover a method of demonstrating the lifting technique. Assume for a moment that the patent satisfies 35 U.S.C. § 112 and its specification teaches how to use the lifting technique. Who would ever have to infringe the patent by demonstrating the technique that's already been taught?

Figure 1 from U.S. Patent No. 5,498,162

Figure 5 from U.S. Patent No. 5,498,162

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Wednesday, 21 November 2007

How Inventive! (No. 6)

Everyone knows the feeling of regret — of wanting to kick one's self in the behind. Thanks to Joe Armstrong, now you don't have to! His invention will kick your butt for you. U.S. Patent 6,293,874 ("User-operated amusement apparatus for kicking the user's buttocks") claims an apparatus that delivers kicks for you.

[W]hereby as the user bends forward while grasping said crank, the user bends at his waist to predominantly present his buttocks toward said outboard end on each of said plurality of rotating arms, and the user operates said crank to engage said drive train and to rotate said plurality of rotating arms, causing each respective outboard end on each of said plurality of rotating arms to sequentially strike the user's buttocks.

Patent 6,293,874 figure 2

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Wednesday, 7 November 2007

How Inventive! (No. 5)

Who doesn't fear being buried alive? Fortunately, Franz Vester came up with a solution, way back in 1868. (The basic idea of "safety coffins" goes back further, however — at least to the 1820s.) In U.S. Patent No. 81,437, he claimed an apparatus comprising coffin with a string extending to a bell located above ground. If you're buried alive, jingle the bell to alert help. He even illustrated his invention with Abraham Lincoln in the coffin.

Patent 0,081,437 figure 4

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Sunday, 7 October 2007

How Inventive! (No. 4)

What would patents be like if professional comic-book artists drew the figures? Like U.S. Patent 3,398,406, probably. This Bouyant Bulletproof Combat Uniform is fit for G.I. Joe.

Patent 3398406 figure 14

Patent 3398406 figure 15

Patent 3398406 figure 18, 19, and 20

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Thursday, 13 September 2007

How Inventive! (No. 3)

Can an old dog learn new tricks? Can pigs fly? Can elephants climb trees? Maybe so. U.S. Patent 461,449 claims a "Performing Platform For Animals" — an artificial tree that is specially-shaped to allow an elephant to climb it.

Patent 461,449 figure 1

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Monday, 13 August 2007

How Inventive! (No. 2)

US Patent 6,025,810
Hyper-light-speed antenna
Invented by David Strom

The ansible — a long-time staple of science fiction — was been patented on February 15, 2000. This patent claims a device capable of communication at faster-than-light speed.

1. A method to transmit and receive electromagnetic waves comprising:
   generating opposing magnetic fields each having a plane of maximum force running perpendicular to a longitudinal axis of the respective magnetic field;
   generating heat from 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 electromagnetic injection point; and
   generating a communication signal into the electromagnetic injection point, thereby sending and receiving the communication signal at a speed faster than a known speed of light.

Images from U.S. Patent 6,025,810

Images from U.S. Patent 6,025,810

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Saturday, 11 August 2007

How Inventive! (No. 1)

This is the first in an occassional series of posts on interesting, dubious, or fun patents. (Or my second, depending whether this counts.) Three recent emails asked if my blog was defunct because I hadn't posted in a while. Two of those asked about my patent collection. Since I have little time for "real" blogging now, I'll post on some of the patents in my collection from time to time.

US Patent 7,114,465
Pet operated ball thrower
Invented by Dana S. Winter

Yes, the invention is what the title sounds like. This really is a pet-powered self-exercise device:

A pet operated ball thrower including a base, a fulcrum post attached at its lower end to the base, a throw arm pivotally attached to the upper end of the fulcrum post, a ball receiving receptacle attached to the throw arm adjacent its outer end, a treadle pivotally attached at its lower end to the base, and an attachment member pivotally attached at its lower end to the treadle and pivotally attached at its upper end to the throw arm. A pet is trained to jump on the treadle to cause the outer end of the throw arm and attached ball receiving receptacle to be rapidly moved upwardly, thereby tossing the ball from the receptacle into the air for retrieval. The pet is trained to replace the retrieved ball into the receptacle, thereby allowing repeated tossing and retrieving of the ball by the pet.

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