Obscure Patent: Carry-out food container
|Written by Gene Quinn
Patent Attorney & Founder of IPWatchdog
Zies, Widerman & Malek
Follow Gene on Twitter @IPWatchdog
Posted: Dec 1, 2008 @ 6:30 am
Carry-out food container
US Patent No. 7,451,889
Issued November 18, 2008
Did you know that on Tuesday, November 18, 2008, a carry out food container was patented? I discussed this patent in a post last week titled Unequal Treatment at the US Patent Office, where I discussed the unfair and inequal treatment that seems to be plaguing the Patent Office. After all, how could the USPTO, which is always congratulating itself for quality, issue a patent like this and refuse to issue patents to commercially relevant inventions? I don’t know and I hope someone does something about it, but I am not holding my breath. In any event, I just couldn’t leave this only mentioned in the aforementioned post, but rather I had to add it to the Museum of Obscure Patents.
It is offensive beyond words that the US Patent Office would issue a patent on a trivial device like a carry out food container when there are so many inventions that just sit and languish. The patent itself summarizes the invention best in the Background of the Invention, which is odd enough. The Background of the Invention is supposed to be the part of the application where the deficiencies of the prior art are discussed, not the invention that is the subject of the patent application. In fact, in all the years I have taught patent application drafting I have always stressed to students that they should never ever discuss the present invention in the Background. Those that don’t heed this simple requirement are never satisfied with the grade they receive, but that is not what the Background is intended for and there is absolutely no reason to run the risk of defining your invention in light of the prior art in the Background. This should lead to the examiners to rightfully believe that the problems with the prior art define the solution, which ought to make the solution presented by the invention obvious, particularly given that since the Supreme Court decided KSR v. Teleflex the obviousness determination is about whether the inventive contribution is considered to be common sense. Now I don’t think for a moment that the Supreme Court decided KSR correctly, and a common sense test for obviousness ought to mean that virtually no inventions are patentable, but that is the law and how this particular invention could be considered anything other than obvious, particularly in light of how the patent application was written, is beyond me.
In any event, here is what the patent itself says about the invention and the problem:
Restaurant employees that use wax paper for take-out orders still run into problems. The process of finding the wax paper and making sure it is placed neatly over the food can be time-consuming and inconvenient. At times, a restaurant employee may need to go back and forth throughout the kitchen to find wax paper. He or she may even run out of wax paper and have to go to the stock room to get some more. These become significant problems when the restaurant gets busy. The present invention addresses these problems by providing a carry-out container where the wax paper is already attached. This saves the employee time, and it can save the restaurant wax paper or aluminum foil costs. It can also serve as a way for an employee to pay closer attention to the amount of food that is placed in the container, which can also save costs. Furthermore, it increases the likelihood of an employee making sure that all items that need to come with a take-out order are there. The process of covering the food becomes more effective, and the overall appearance of the carry-out container is enhanced. These factors create a situation where the customer is satisfied and will likely come back. Overall, the invention makes the take-out process more smooth and efficient, and all restaurants can really benefit from it.
With over 1.2 million patent applications pending at the end of fiscal year 2008, applications that the United States Patent Office cannot seem to get around to because they are to busy, it is insulting that the Patent Office found it appropriate to issue a patent on a typical carry-out food container that has a piece of wax paper attached thereto.
To see other obscure patents go to the Museum of Obscure Patents.
About the Author
Gene Quinn is a US Patent Attorney, law professor and the founder of IPWatchdog.com. He is also a principal lecturer in the top patent bar review course in the nation, which helps aspiring patent attorneys and patent agents prepare themselves to pass the patent bar exam. Gene started the widely popular intellectual property website IPWatchdog.com in 1999, and since that time the site has had many millions of unique visitors. Gene has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the LA Times, USA Today, CNN Money, NPR and various other newspapers and magazines worldwide. He represents individuals, small businesses and start-up corporations. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.