Five Fantastic Patent Pranks!

[tweetmeme source=”Intellogist” only_single=false] April Fools Day has evolved from a day of traditional light-hearted pranks to a day of elaborate online hoaxes (which get me every year…I charged up my old Nintendo on Sunday to check the availability of Google Maps).  The broader tech field has embraced the April Fools hoax, but where are the patent-related pranks?  Sure, there are patent applications out there that you really, really hope are pranks, but most inventors can’t afford to file a patent application simply as a joke.

I’ve only found a few examples of patent-related shenanigans, but the patent pranks that have been pulled are pretty epic.  Continue reading to learn about the five best patent pranks!

1. Apple Patents the Rectangle

An article from The Register begins with the serious-sounding title “Apple drops ‘thermonuclear’ patent bombshell.”

Apple’s legal team has now filed a patent-infringement lawsuit that hurls a potentially Edward Teller–level legal challenge at its smartphone and tablet competitors.

You’re on the edge of your seat…what earth shattering patent does Apple have in its arsenal? This must be big news, right?

The patent being asserted by Sewell and his crew is USPTO Patent #1,042,012, first granted to the American Mathematical Society in October 1912, subsequently renewed, then acquired by Apple at an unknown date.

The first entry among the patent’s Claims describes “A quadrilateral having all four interior angles of 90°, opposite sides that are parallel, and congruent diagonals that bisect each other.”

Ok, maybe not.

2. A 5-year-old Patents Swinging

In April 2002, patent attorney Peter Olson was granted a patent for “method of swinging on a swing“, with his five-year-old son Steven listed as the primary inventor. An article in NewScientist from 2002 details the process that Olson went through to obtain the patent:

The patent office initially rejected the application for prior art – citing two earlier patents on swings – but Peter Olson appealed, noting that neither was a method for swinging sideways. The patent was then issued. […] Peter Olson says he was not trying to prove anything, just show his son how inventions and patents work.

3.  An Australian Lawyer Patents the Wheel

Here is another real patent that obviously wasn’t filed for innovation purposes.  Australian patent attorney John Keogh was granted a patent in 2001 for “Circular transportation facilitation device.”  A BBC News article describes why Keogh filed a patent for the wheel:

Melbourne patent lawyer John Keogh said he registered the patent to show flaws in an intellectual property law that came into effect in May, the Australian newspaper The Age reported.
The new law established the “innovation patent” system, which Mr Keogh said did not require sufficient oversight from the patent office.

4. A Business Method Patent for a Joke

I previously labeled “U.S. Pat. Appl. Pub. No. 20060259306:  Business method protecting jokes” as a piece of performance art, but I think that we can also view this patent application as a very obvious prank on the patent community.  The abstract of the application gives the joke away:

Specific jokes to be protected by the process of the invention include stories about animals playing ball-games, in which alliteration is used in the punch-line; a scheme for raising money for charity by providing dogs for carriage by Underground passengers; and the joke that consists in filing a patent application to protect jokes.

5. Groupon Patents April Fools Day

In 2011, the Groupon website made the following announcement:

Now, when you think of Groupon Presents April Fools’ Day™ (the holiday’s officially sanctioned title), you’ll think of Groupon—because you and your favorite corporate entities are barred from creating or participating in any April 1 prank without the express written consent of Groupon. Groupon’s acquisition of the previously unprofitable April Fools’ Day™ gives consumers more choices and better options. You’ll never again be confused by other corporations’ April 1 pranks, since Groupon will be taking friendly, but swift, but hostile, legal actions against any nonlicensed April Fools’ Day™ joke.

Like Apple’s rectangle patent, this April Fools patent isn’t real, so you don’t need to worry (yet) about being sued for patent infringement after an April Fools prank.  You can still check out the fake patent application,  which has some wonderful drawings.

There seems to be two main methods for pulling an excellent patent prank.  You can either file a real patent application for something ridiculous (often with the intention of commenting on the inadequacies of the patent system), or you can write a fake news article or press release on your website announcing that your company has obtained a fictitious patent for an everyday object or concept.

Do you know of any other patent pranks?  Tell us in the comments!

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This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company Landon IP, a major provider of patent searches, trademark searches, technical translations, and information retrieval services.

4 Responses

  1. check out claim 9 of US20040161257!

  2. The Pedrick patents – look for Pedrick as inventor, see for some background.

  3. […] Five Fantastic Patent Pranks! […]

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