Obscure Patent: Bathing Poncho

Bathing Poncho
US Patent No. 7,509,689
Issued: March 31, 2009

I am almost speechless, which does not happen often.  I came across this patent over the weekend.  It was NFL Draft weekend, which means that I was parked in front of the TV all weekend.  Between picks, and while waiting for a pick from the Dallas Cowboys that never came on Saturday, I was flipping through some recently issued patents online.  I found some really interesting inventions, so good patents that I can use to teach with and a handful of patents that just make you want to scratch your head.  Lets just say that this particular patent fell into the last category.  The photograph initially caught my attention, and then the name “Bathing poncho” piqued my interest even further.  Why would anyone want to wear a poncho while bathing?  Thankfully, the patent answered this question in the Description of the Related Art, explaining:

In institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, college dormitories, gyms, and the like, the bathing or showering facilities often lack the privacy to which one is accustomed to at home. Thus, becoming unclad to take a shower or a bath can be somewhat of an unpleasant and embarrassing experience. A covering that would preserve one’s dignity by minimzing exposure while also insuring a thorough cleansing would certainly be a welcome addition in the marketplace.”

I personally cannot believe there is a market for this invention, but that is admittedly something that is not appropriately considered by the Patent Office.  The Patent Office is tasked with determining whether an invention is novel and nonobvious, among other things, but these are the two big inquiries.  The point I am trying to make here is that just because you can get a patent doesn’t mean that anyone is going to buy the invention.  Likewise, the decision to issue a patent by the Patent Office via the Patent Examiner should not be taken as an endorsement, confirmation or ratification of the presence of a marketable invention.  Filing for and obtaining a patent is a critical first step to pursue, but if your invention is not one that people will want to pay for then having a patent is unnecessary.  If the goal is to make money and commercialize your invention you first need to have a product or service that will find acceptance in the marketplace.

Returning to the invention, if you are uncomfortable being naked in front of others while taking a shower in a public place, wouldn’t this invention potentially make things worse?  I would have to believe that the use of this invention would draw far more attention to yourself than would ordinarily be the case.  I suppose if your fear is being naked then having people look at you funny might not be nearly as bad.

So what is the invention exactly?  According to the Summary of the Invention:

The present invention is drawn to disposable garments adapted to be donned while bathing or showering and drying off. The garments take the form of ponchos. As contemplated, the bathing or showering poncho will have a different color than the drying poncho. Also the bathing/showering poncho will have soap and shampoo impregnated therein. Both ponchos will have ties on the sides thereof to secure the poncho and prevent inadvertent exposure.

You just can’t make this stuff up!

What is really sad is that this extremely simple invention, which has one of the shortest specifications I have ever seen, was pending at the Patent Office for 34 months.  What is even more sad is that an invention like this took up resources of the Patent Office.  But what is worst is that this invention, one we probably all look at and find unbelievable on at least some level, was issued and other applications on important technological advances cannot get issued at all.

For the life of me I don’t understand why equal protection isn’t being argued by those who appeal to the Board.  We all know that an equal protection argument would have little or no chance of factoring into a Board decision, but somebody please make the argument exposing the unequal treatement of inventions at the USPTO and preserve it for the record.  We all know that the Patent Office position is that a mistake made in one case doesn’t mean they should perpetuate the mistake the next time, but how is that fair?  How is it fair for inventors and start-up companies to have real technologies held up and forced into the abandoned file while examiners issue patents on a bathing poncho having soap embedded into the fabric and shampoo embedded into the hoodie?  Simply put, it is not fair and it needs to stop.  The only way we are ever going to put a stop to this is to make the arguments and force the Board, the Federal Circuit and maybe even Congress to take notice.

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14 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 29, 2009 01:19 pm

    Jim-

    Thanks for catching that. Thanks also for letting me know in a polite and helpful way. I appreciate the assistance. The edit has been made.

    Thanks for reading IPWatchdog.com.

    -Gene

  • [Avatar for JIm]
    JIm
    April 29, 2009 12:58 pm

    Your interest was piqued, not peeked.

    Carry on.

  • [Avatar for 6]
    6
    April 28, 2009 01:31 pm

    “The law says that an inventor is presumed to be entitled to a patent. It does not say that the presumption of patentability only attaches for ridiculous inventions having little or no marketability. Uniform application of the law is what is required.

    -Gene”

    LOL WUT? The law says nothing of the sort. You have to get past 101 before you get into 102 bucko. And your being qualified for a patent in so far as you are qualified under 102 doesn’t qualify you under the totality of the law as in 151.

    You attorneys with your bogus readings of 102. And some of you guys call me a trickster. I’m certainly no more a trickster than you guys have been for many hundreds of years before I was born.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 28, 2009 11:37 am

    Michael-

    You would be correct if that is what I said or implied, but that is not what I said or implied. What I said was that it is unfair for this invention to be issued when other applications on real technological advances are rejected and not issued. So you can say all you want that I should have mentioned the claims, but that is not what the post was about. Never did I say or imply that this invention should not receive a patent. As a matter of fact, I have said the opposite. I have no problem with this invention being patented, but if that is deemed appropriate then real inventions should be patented as well.

    The law says that an inventor is presumed to be entitled to a patent. It does not say that the presumption of patentability only attaches for ridiculous inventions having little or no marketability. Uniform application of the law is what is required.

    -Gene

  • [Avatar for Michael]
    Michael
    April 28, 2009 10:39 am

    “But what is worst is that this invention, one we probably all look at and find unbelievable on at least some level, was issued and other applications on important technological advances cannot get issued at all.”

    I think its unfair to state that the invention should not have been issued without any mention of the claims.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 28, 2009 08:50 am

    Hill-

    Perhaps that is the case, I don’t know. With an application that is so short and with an invention that is so easy to understand it is curious as to how/why this was able to remain pending for so long.

    -Gene

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 27, 2009 08:31 pm

    Patent Leather-

    Point taken. I have gone back and edited the comment that I think you found derogatory. I have never personally viewed this particular firm in a negative light, but have heard many attorneys make such comments. Because I do not view them negatively I did not make light of the patent itself, nor did I opine that the claims should not have issued. It seems like there is meat enough there for a patent to issue, but I still question whether the inventor should have ever gone down the patent path. Notwithstanding, I am not trying to be disrespectful, or unprofessional.

    I do, however, think that firms like this that offer extremely low prices are catering to a select section of the inventor market. It is good to provide services to independent inventors, but we all know that the more time you spend on an application the better the rights obtained. Everything in life is a trade-off I suppose, but I still wonder whether this particular inventor made the right trade. We all know that this patent cost the inventor at least $5,000 minimum, and I don’t believe that was a good trade.

    -Gene

  • [Avatar for patent leather]
    patent leather
    April 27, 2009 04:03 pm

    “I find this invention to be ridiculous, and it is not surprising that a patent mill is the one who represented the inventor.”

    Gene, I respect and enjoy your blog, which is of course why I stop by and comment from time to time. I have no connection to the law firm that filed the patent (I intentionally omit the name here) other than knowing the owner. I’m not sure exactly what you meant by a “patent mill,” but I take it to be derogatory. I have to disagree with your characterization, they are a fine, honest law firm that caters to independent inventors. Independent inventors have a tough time dealing with large firms as they are too expensive and also don’t want the headaches of dealing with the small inventors. Thus, the firm here is a fine choice for small inventors. Thus, with all due respect, I think such a remark about a fellow firm is unprofessional.

  • [Avatar for Hill]
    Hill
    April 27, 2009 02:36 pm

    Maybe it spent so long in pendency because it was left on the backburner?

  • [Avatar for 6]
    6
    April 27, 2009 01:37 pm

    “other applications on important technological advances cannot get issued at all.”

    NAME ONE. JUST ONE! And make sure before you do that it isn’t a case of where an app “cannot get issued at all” because it “does not appear to be entitled to a patent under the law” or “is waiting in line”.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 27, 2009 01:02 pm

    Alan-

    Excellent questions. For years I have believed that the PTO is complicit with the invention submission companies. Issuing crap to invention submission companies and patent mills only strengthens their business model and ability to draw people in with promises of getting a patent on anything. What is disgusting is that real innovations and technologies are being forced into the abandoned files. I have no problem with issuing patents like this, if the PTO thinks this somehow serves the public and the interest of society, but double standards are insulting and violate equal protection.

    -Gene

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    April 27, 2009 12:59 pm

    Michael-

    Obviously you have an agenda. Why would a patent attorney look to the summary of the invention? Let’s at least try and keep this discussion real if we can. Just because patent examiners ignore the specification doesn’t mean that everyone should ignore the specification.

    It is actually quite humorous that when I focus on the claims people write I didn’t read the specification, and when I mention the specification people write you ignored the claims. The truth is that I do neither. I realize there are some who would like me to make every post thousands of words to take everything into account, but that is just naive, disingenuous, unrealistic, etc. etc. When I write about a patent being one that should never issue then I look at the claims. I did not opine or suggest that this is an invention that should not have issued. I merely opined that this invention is a waste of time and resources, and one that has little or no chance of success in the marketplace. I find this invention to be ridiculous. Perhaps this will make the inventor millions of dollars and I will be wrong, but I suspect the only people making money on this invention will be the patent attorneys and those who the inventor pays for marketing and production assistance.

    But lets actually take a look at claim one, shall we? Here it is:

    “1. Bathing garment, comprising: a rectangular sheet, said sheet fabricated from disposable, biodegradable material, said sheet having edges, a front panel and a rear panel; a quantity of non-rinse soap impregnated in at least one of said front and rear panels; a circular member disposed in said sheet, said circular member having a circumference; an array of perforations formed along said circumference, whereby said circular member is removable to form an opening in said sheet; and a hood attached to said sheet and positioned adjacent said circular member.”

    So much better, right? With that being claim 1 then what I wrote has to be wrong! With an awesome claim that like marketability is ensured! Keep it real. The post was about the backlog, stupid inventions wasting Patent Office time and resources and a double standard at the Office. If you think it is appropriate to grant patents like that then fine, but to grant patents like this and then reject real innovations is objectionable and insulting. I am sure those start-up companies who cannot get patents issued and are losing funding would find this disgusting, and that is all I said, and I stand by that regardless of what you or anyone else thinks.

    By the way, I also suggest you read the post again. I did not criticize the PTO for this patent. I criticized the PTO for double standards, and implicitly criticized the PTO for terrible management.

    -Gene

  • [Avatar for Michael]
    Michael
    April 27, 2009 10:43 am

    “So what is the invention exactly? According to the Summary of the Invention…”

    Why would you, a patent attorney, look to the summary of the invention but ignore the claims when trying to determine what is the invention and criticize the PTO decision to issue a patent? Once you look at the claims, it’s pretty clear there’s more to the invention than you have described.

  • [Avatar for Alan McDonald]
    Alan McDonald
    April 27, 2009 08:14 am

    I know I’ve read in the past that some 90% of patents are never commercialized.

    We all know corporations file patents for defense, for blocking purposes and for trading, which makes up a large portion of this amount.

    How much of the rest is made up of individuals who either a. think they have invented the next best thing since sliced bread and can’t believe that everyone won’t want it or b. have been told this by an invention submission company?