Christmas is upon us, and most of the world celebrating this holiday have either settled into a comfortable state of waiting for Jolly Old Saint Nicolas (a.k.a. Kris Kingle) to arrive, or are growing ever more anxious to find the last few stocking stuffers, Christmas gifts or dinner items they need. Roast Beast anyone?
Although the snow and ice come and go every year, as the tale of Frosty the Snowman reminds us, the radio always seems to play the same, familiar music every Christmas. While much of the Christmas season is familiar and clad with tradition, every new Christmas season will have its own series of hot new gifts, especially toys for the littlest members of the family.
Since America’s earliest days, there have been a lot of fun toys that have come through the consumer marketplace in the United States and globally. Many of these have become so iconic that their brands have become household names and have become synonymous with a moment in time for America’s youth. Some of the most popular of these eternal toy brands continue to show up year after year under Christmas trees.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a traditional Christmas at IPWatchdog unless we spent some time profiling some cool innovations that relate to the holiday season. So today, with Christmas firmly in mind, we want to take a look at the importance that utility and design patents have held for the toy industry. With the hours winding down before Santa Claus makes his way down chimneys across the world, join us as we take a look back at some of the most popular children’s toys of all time, as well as the intellectual property behind them all. Our journey includes iconic toys such as the Hoola Hoop, Slinky, Play-Doh, Easy Bake Oven, Game-Boy, the Frisbee, YoYo, Lego blocks, the Magic 8 Ball and the Etch A Sketch.
For our other holiday articles from Christmases past please see:
- Christmases Past: Lighting Decoration Patents 1927 – 1938
- Christmases Past: Sleigh Patents of the1880s & 1890s
- Merry Christmas: Christmas Tree Patents
- Merry Christmas: Christmas and Santa Patents 2009
- Merry Christmas: Santa Patents
- Last Minute Christmas Gifts for the Geek in Your Life
Compact Hand-Held Video Game System
U.S. Patent No. 5184830
Nintendo’s Game Boy hand-held video gaming system was a pioneer gadget in the video game industry, defining an entire portable gaming market for more than 20 years. In it’s initial 1989 release in Japan, the 300,000 Game Boy units manufactured for the launch sold out within two weeks. During it’s American launch later that year, 40,000 units were purchased on the Game Boy’s first day on the market.
This patent, issued in February 1993 by the USPTO to the Nintendo Company Limited of Kyoto, Japan, protects the manufacture of the hand-held electronic gaming device known as the Game Boy. As the patent’s description states, the device was designed to be “sandwiched” by a user’s hands during game play. Images attached to the issued patent clearly show the iconic design of the grey brick with buttons, directional pad and dot-matrix LCD screen panel.
Toy Building Brick
U.S. Patent No. 3005282
Since its founding in 1932, the Danish corporation The Lego Group has been primarily involved in the creation of toys and playthings over the years. Despite some critical voices on the use of plastics instead of natural wood for children’s playthings, Lego began manufacturing plastic toys by the end of the 1940s. However, the interlocking plastic block the company released in 1958 and named the Lego exploded in popularity, eventually earning the honor of being chosen the “Toy of the Century” by both the British Toy Retailers Association as well as Fortune.
Lego received the USPTO patent protecting the design and manufacture of their toy building brick in October 1961. As the patent states, the blocks are designed to connect through projections extending away from the block which can engage with protrusions on adjacent blocks. This design, also known as a stud-and-tube coupling system, allows children to create thousands of unique works with even just a few blocks.
U.S. Patent No. 59745
The yo-yo is a toy that predates any single company, and evidence of similar toys can be found dating back as far as 500 B.C. The American craze for the spinning toy can be traced back to the late 1920s, with the founding of the Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company by Pedro Flores, but the USPTO had been issuing patents to protect the manufacture and design of many yo-yos, whirligigs and “bandalores” for years.
The term bandalore is used to describe the toy protected by this USPTO patent, issued in November 1866 to James L. Haven and Charles Hettrick, both of Cincinnati, OH. The invention is designed as two metal disks held together at the center by a clutch and rivet; the string is attached to holes found on either one or both of the metal disks. The patent discusses how this design enables the use of metal in the design, resulting in a higher degree of speed and momentum.
U.S. Patent No. 3359678
The popularity of the Frisbee also extends further back than the company that helped make it famous, although the toy’s name has remained very similar the entire time. Pie tins manufactured by the Frisbie Pie Company of New Haven, CT, became an interesting toy for nearby Yale University students who would throw the tins at unsuspecting students on campus. One of the precursors to the modern Frisbee would come in the late 1950s, when Walter Frederick Morrison began developing the toy from plastic.
This patent, issued in December 1967 to the Wham-O Manufacturing Company of San Gabriel, CA, protects the manufacture of a flying toy designed to reduce aerodynamic drag to be used in throwing games. The toy is designed to be held by a player with his thumb on the convex side of the disc and other fingers on the concave side. Force can be transferred to the disc when the user uncoils the arm holding the Frisbee and then snaps the wrist, causing it to fly.
Liquid Filled Die Agitator Containing a Die Having Raised Indicia on the Facets Thereof
U.S. Patent No. 3119621
In 1946, American inventor Abe Bookman invented the design of a toy device known as the Magic 8 Ball. The design was conceived by Bookman’s brother-in-law, Albert Carter, who had the idea of creating and selling a fortune telling craft device. Interestingly, an 8-ball had been used to tell fortunes as a gag in the Three Stooges short film You Nazty Spy, which came out at least 5 years before Bookman and Carter developed their prototype.
This patent, issued to Bookman in January 1964, is among the first patents issued to protect the design and manufacture of the fortune telling toy. This patent describes a toy containing liquid in which a buoyant indicator rises to a top window with a minimum of surface tension. This lower surface tension improves the visibility of the die and reduces its ability to stick against the internal walls of the 8-ball. Bookman went on to perfect the device in later years, as is evidenced by further patents he had received to protect Magic 8 Ball innovations.
Toy and Process of Use
U.S. Patent No. 2415012
The Slinky is one of the most popular toys of the past 100 years, but its use as a children’s plaything was entirely accidental. Richard James, a mechanical engineer, had created a type of sensitive spring that could keep fragile equipment from breaking on a ship or ocean vessel. One day, James knocked a spring from its shelf and watched it walk down onto the floor. When he demonstrated this effect for customers of Philadelphia’s Gimbels department store, he sold hundreds of toys in minutes.
The USPTO issued this patent in January 1947 to Richard James, protecting a helical spring toy that can walk down an inclined plane or flight of steps without the application of external energy. The toy was designed to have a low natural frequency between 10 cycles and 100 cycles per minute. The patent also describes the importance of coiling the spring steel without substantial compression or lateral force tension to support the free movement of the spring.
U.S. Patent No. 3368063
In its two decades as a private company, before being bought by General Mills in 1967, Kenner Products succeeded because of a corporate culture that focused on developing its own ideas rather than improving other toys on the market. Unlike many of its competitors, Kenner tended to create toys that mimicked the appliances that children would see their parents using. This culture led directly to the creation of the Easy-Bake Oven, one of the most popular children’s toys of all time. In the Easy-Bake Oven’s first year of existence, 1963, 500,000 units were sold to American consumers.
This patent was issued by the USPTO to Kenner Products in February 1968, protecting their innovatively designed toy oven. The original construction included a heating chamber and a cooling chamber situated side-by-side, as well as a passageway between those chambers. This passageway was fitted with tracks so that a baking pan could slide easily between the chambers. As the patent’s description states, the oven was designed to bake food that is “‘just like mother’s’ but on a much reduced scale.”
U.S. Patent No. 3055113
In 1959, a French mechanic named Arthur Granjean exhibited a new toy that he had developed at the International Toy Fair in the German city of Nuremberg. He called his invention the L’Ecran Magique, or “The Magic Screen”. When no European investors lined up for his creation, he went to America where he was able to interest the Ohio Art Company in his design. After adding a few knobs to Granjean’s design, Ohio Art released the Etch A Sketch to much fanfare in 1960, a year in which this toy became a must-have as a children’s Christmas present.
The original USPTO patent for this device, issued to Granjean in September 1962, protects a device on which a user can trace any number of designs and then wipe them out immediately whenever they choose. The toy consists of a fluid-tight case with a translucent screen situated on one side. An internal tracing stylus is controlled by a user through the knobs, scraping a metallic material away from the screen so as to create a traced image.
U.S. Patent No. 3079728
The Hula-Hoop is one of the great “flash in the pan” toy stories of the past 50 years; after sweeping quickly to worldwide popularity, the novelty of this invention wore off for most within months, although the hoop does have its share of fanatics to this day. Another Wham-O product, the Hula-Hoop sold about 25 million units worldwide within the first four months of production in 1958.
This patent, assigned to Wham-O co-founder Arthur K. Melin by the USTPO in March 1963, protects the manufacture of a hoop toy that a user swivels around his or her body. The weight and the diameter of the toy must be properly proportioned in order to maintain proper movement through coordinated action by a user. Along with its recreational potential, the health benefits of Hula-Hoop use because of constant motion and gyration are also noted in the patent document.
Plastic Modeling Composition of a Soft, Pliable Working Consistency
U.S. Patent No. 3167440
In another case of unintended product use, a wallpaper cleaner developed by Kutol Products of Cincinnati, OH, went on to become one of the most beloved ways for children to express themselves artistically. In the early 1950s, Joe McVicker, a Kutol employee, shipped some of the cleaning compound to local schools after he found that it served as a good substitute for modeling clay. In 1956, McVicker decided to call the new toy product Play-Doh, and since its creation children have played with nearly 700 million pounds of the substance.
The USPTO issued this patent to Joe and his uncle, Noah McVicker, in January of 1965. There is no illustration in this patent, which is unusual perhaps but not unheard of. The claims are directed to a “smooth and velvety composition of matter.” With compositions of matter (sometimes referred to as compounds) illustrations are not required.
This patent protects a slow-drying plastic modeling compound which is clean, non-toxic, non-sticky and non-staining. In its earliest days, Play-Doh was concocted of mixtures consisting mainly of tap water and grain flour mixed in equal portions, with about a fair amount of common salt added as well. On top of this basic formula, a very tiny amount of chemicals would be added, which could include borax, iron free aluminum sulphate or deodorized kerosene.