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.