by Audrey Millemann
The IP Law Blog
Every year about this time, I search the PTO database for any new patents on inventions related to Christmas. This year turned up several. Interestingly, most of the ones I looked at issued at October and November of this year. (Maybe the PTO wanted to give the owners an early Christmas present!)
There are lots of patents for Christmas tree stands. This year produced two worth mentioning. The first is U.S. patent no. 10,117,537. This tree stand has an inner container to hold the tree and the water, and an outer, cube-shaped container that fits around the inner container. The inner container has a spike at the bottom for the tree trunk and clamps around the top to hold the tree upright. The outer cube is supposed to protect the floor from water leaks. The patent says that the cube shape is intended to solve a problem of existing tree stands: people trip over the legs of the stand. This doesn’t quite make sense to me, however, as it’s pretty hard to trip over the legs of a tree stand when the branches of the tree extend well past the stand.
The second tree stand patent is U.S. patent no. 10,123,646. This tree stand includes a tarp inside it so that the tree can be tipped out of the stand onto the tarp when the tree is ready to be discarded. It’s a combination of a tree stand and a tarp, so it takes two perfectly useful things and turns them into one not so useful thing. It looks way too complicated to be practical: it has a hinged, pivoting collar, spurs, a rotating wheel and cylinder, baffles, a cable, restraints, screws, a foot pedal, and a rolled-up tarp. All of this makes the tree stand far more difficult than necessary. I think the simplest way to take down a Christmas tree is just to take it out of its stand and carry it outside.
Another patent that seems to take an ordinary task and make it more complicated is U.S. patent no. 10,121,127, entitled “System and Method for Processing Group Gift Cards.” This is software that can be used to manage the purchase of a group gift. For example, when you and your friends want to chip in to buy another friend a birthday present, someone collects the money from the others and buys the gift. I don’t know what is so time-consuming or complicated about this, and I don’t find it to be a problem. But the inventors of this invention came up with a solution, so they must think there is a problem. So, instead of using the old-fashioned method, you can use their software, which is shown in 30 figures and described in 78 columns of text. Perfectly simple.
One more overly complicated patent is for a pie baking dish. This is a pie plate that allows you to make a pie with horizontal layers instead of vertical layers. Standard pie plates can be used to make a vertically layered pie, such as a cheesecake. All you do is place one layer of ingredients on top of another layer. A pie with horizontal layers is a pie with concentric circles of ingredients. It is much harder to make this kind of pie. Gravity works against horizontal layers. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pie with horizontal layers. But, in case you want to try making one, these inventors have designed a pie plate to help make it easier. The pie plate has inner walls to keep the horizontal layers separate, and inner heating channels with vents to cook all of the layers evenly. I’m not sure how many of us would use this kind of pie plate, but it might be fun to try.
There are some patents that do not describe complicated inventions. One such patent is a design patent for an artificial Christmas tree. I’m not a fan of artificial Christmas trees, unless they are used as decorations in addition to a real Christmas tree. U.S. design patent no. D 832,133 shows a geometrical tree. U.S. design patent no. D 832,133 shows a geometrical tree that has a central pole and layers of horizontal slats around the pole arranged as branches. The problem with this patent is that it would be fairly easy to design around, by changing the arrangement of the layers or the number of the slats. Design patents only protect the specific design shown in the drawings; as such, they provide less protection than utility patents. But, design patents can be very valuable if the specific design is likely to be copied.
Another patent covers a smartphone app connected to a toy telephone system. The system allows a parent to set up a phone call to their child from Santa, an elf, a reindeer, or another Christmas character. The app can be used all year long to send personal phone calls to the child. According to the patent, the system helps parents “create the illusion that Santa and his elves are watching [the children] from the North Pole.” The system is described as a “behavior modification tool which will promote positive behavior in children.” That sounds pretty serious for a toy telephone system!
I hope you find some fun and interesting gifts to buy this year!
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