Obscure Patent: Inside Out Clothing

Garments having inside out appearance
US Patent No. 7,350,242
Issued April 1, 2008

The issuance of this patent on April Fools Day shows that someone at the Patent Office has a sense of humor.  This patent also reminds me of one of my all-time favorite obscure patents – Disposable boxer shorts – which was patented also on April Fools Day, just 5 years earlier.  

In any event, what we have here is not at all unique.  This particular invention is simply a garment having an inside out appearance.  How in the name of all that is right and proper could something like this be patented?  I have absolutely no idea.

We can all sit here and poke fun at this patent, pointing out the obvious problems, such as the fact that clothing that is turned inside out is not really new or unique.  In fact I would venture to say that during the course of a week we all have at least one article of clothing that is inside out in our hamper or laundry basket.  But poking such fun, which mildly entertaining, is not really enlightening. 

Just over one  year ago the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in the already famous (or perhaps it is better to say infamous) matter of KSR v. Teleflex.  In that case the Supreme Court ostensibly made it more difficult to obtain a patent.  The US Supreme Court decided that the well established and functional bright line rule for obviousness was to rigid.  No longer must there be a teaching, motiviation or suggestion to render an invention unpatentable for obviousness reasons.  Now we go case by case and determine for every invention whether it would be within the common sense knowledge base of someone of skill in the art. 

The real problem with the Supreme Court test is the very real truth that what is considered to be common sense to one may well not be considered to be common sense to another.  The common sense test provides no guidance and give the decision-maker far to much latitude to do whatever they think is proper.  It creates a situation where everyone can have an opinion and everyone should be able to be right, at least in theory.  But how could anyone on any level believe that inside out clothing is anything but obvious?  I don’t even think it is anything new.  I have seen gym shirts purposely sewn so that they appear to be inside out, so inside out clothing is nothing unique in and of itself.  So how can something that is already known to exist, and something that we all create when we throw clothes into our laundry baskets patentable? 

The short answer is that something like this should not be patentable and it is a crying shame that our Patent Office is wasting time on such inventions in the first place while there is an ever growing backlog of cases and it takes at least two years to even have an examiner take up your application.  Something is seriously wrong.  It is this type of nonsense that allows invention scams to be able to say with a straight face that everything can be patented.  Yes, these scam artists prey on the unsuspecting but it is our Patent Office that enables and perpetuates the scam because they continue to issue patents on things like clothing items that are turned inside out.

Before you fall prey to an invention scam or rightly convince yourself that any invention can be awarded a patent you need to ask yourself what you want to accomplish by obtaining a patent and whether the protection that is likely to be obtained is worth the time, money and energy to obtain an issued patents.  Sometimes the answer will be yes, for a variety of legitimate reasons, but sometimes the answer will be no.  Whatever you do, before you waste a lot of time and money trying to patent your invention get a patent search done and talk to a patent professional about what you can reasonably expect to obtain.

Good luck inventing!

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