Obscure Patent: Termite Flatulence Detection

By Gene Quinn
May 26, 2009

Subterranean termite detection
US Patent No. 6,526,692
Issued March 4, 2003

Here is an interesting obscure patent from IPWatchdog past, but one too good to miss.  This originally caught my eye while reading the New York Times. The article in the Times is titled: Using Termite Flatulence Against Them. This all seemed like a joke, but it must be true, right? Just the same, and perhaps in light of the time recent past, I decided to verify. It does seem that the United States Patent Office has granted a patent apparatus and method for detecting the presence of wood destroying subterranean termites. Termites can be one of the most damaging pests in the country, according to the information about termites at Orkin.com.  Apparently, when wood destroying termites are present they generate combustible gas, which can be detected by the combustible gas detector. I don’t know enough about the state of the art in flatulence to issue an opinion on whether this is a “true” invention that warrants the mantle of US Patent, but it was just too good to pass up and had to enter the Museum of Obscure Patents.

One paragraph in the Summary of the Invention seems to explain the basics pretty well. The patent itself explains:

The present invention provides an in-ground device and method for monitoring pests, particularly wood-destroying pests, and more particularly subterranean termites. Broadly, the present invention contemplates an open ended chamber, a combustible gas detector, and a monitoring stick, and optionally an additional cellulose structure, such as cardboard which at least partially surrounds a portion of the monitoring stick. The wood destroying pests attacking the monitoring stick and/or the additional cellulose will generate a combustible gas that is trapped by the open ended chamber and detected by the combustible gas detector. This indicates the presence of the wood destroying pests.

Here is what the Patent Abstract says:

Apparatus and method for detecting the presence of wood destroying subterranean termites. The apparatus includes a housing having a hollow chamber with a closed upper portion (top) and an open lower portion (bottom) that is secured to a monitor stick to be inserted in the ground. The hollow chamber top has a peripheral flange that overhangs or extends beyond the perimeter of the chamber. A monitor stick is inserted into and secured in the chamber interior and in the ground. The top is provided with an aperture having a penetrable seal such that a combustible gas detector can be inserted into the chamber to measure the combustible gas in the chamber. When wood destroying termites are present and attacking the monitor stick, they generate combustible gas that becomes trapped in the closed hollow chamber and can be detected by the combustible gas detector. A second material also can be used, e.g., cardboard wrapped around the monitor stick to attract the pests. A plurality of monitors can be used to provide detection for a given structure and allow for detection prior to the structure becoming infested and structurally damaged.

Here are the patent claims:What is claimed is:

1. Apparatus insertable in-ground for monitoring the presence of wood destroying subterranean termites, comprising:

a) a chamber having an interior, a closed upper portion, a lower portion and an open bottom at the lower portion, the upper portion comprising a flange extending outwardly of said chamber;
b) an opening in said upper portion to said chamber interior and a plug inserted in said opening, said plug being penetrable;
c) a combustible gas detector having a probe able to penetrate at least partially through said plug into said chamber; and
d) a wood destroying pest monitor stick connected to said apparatus to be fixedly implanted in the ground in contact with the earth and located at least partially in said chamber.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said chamber interior is cylindrical.

3. The apparatus of claim 2 wherein said chamber has a first length and a diameter of between 2 and 3 inches.

4. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said chamber has a diameter and said flange is circular and is at least two inches greater in diameter than said chamber.

5. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said combustible gas detector comprises a combustible gas leak detector.

6. The apparatus of claim 1 further comprising a cellulose material positioned around said monitor stick.

7. The apparatus of claim 1 wherein said monitor stick is a wood material.

8. A method for detecting wood destroying subterranean termites comprising the steps of placing in the ground a wood destroying subterranean termite monitor containing a chamber and a monitor stick that is fixedly implanted in the ground in contact with the earth when said monitor is so placed, using said monitor stick to attract wood destroying subterranean termites, trapping combustible gas excreted by wood destroying subterranean termites attracted to said monitor stick in said chamber, testing for the presence of combustible gas in said chamber, and determining that said pests are present in response to the determining that combustible gas is present.

9. The method of claim 8 further comprising providing a wooden stick as said monitor in said chamber and inserting said wooden stick in the ground in contact with the earth.

10. The method of claim 8 wherein testing for combustible gas further comprises using a combustible gas leak detector device and inserting a gas leak detector probe in said chamber.

11. A method for constructing a wood destroying subterranean termite monitor comprising the steps of connecting a flange containing an aperture to a hollow chamber with first and second ends, said flange connecting to said first end, and said aperture opening to said hollow chamber; placing a penetrable plug in said aperture; inserting a monitor stick into said second end of said hollow chamber, said monitor stick connected to said monitor to be fixedly implanted in the ground in contact with the earth, and wrapping a second cellulose material around said monitor stick.

12. Apparatus for monitoring the presence of wood destroying subterranean termites, comprising:

a) a chamber having an interior, a closed upper portion, a lower portion and an open bottom at the lower portion, the upper portion comprising a flange extending outwardly of said chamber;
b) an opening in said upper portion to said chamber interior and a plug inserted in said opening, said plug being penetrable; and
c) a wood destroying pest monitor stick adapted to be fixedly implanted in the ground and located at least partially in said chamber, said monitor stick located in said apparatus so as to be in direct contact with the earth when said apparatus is inserted in-ground.

13. The apparatus of claim 12 wherein said plug is penetrable by a combustible gas detector having a probe able to penetrate at least partially through said plug into said chamber.

14. Apparatus for monitoring the presence of wood destroying subterranean termites, comprising:

a) chamber having an interior, a closed upper portion, a lower portion and an open bottom at the lower portion, the upper portion comprising a flange extending outwardly of said chamber;
b) an opening in said upper portion to said chamber interior and a plug inserted in said opening, said plug being penetrable by a combustible gas detector having a probe able to penetrate at least partially through said plug into said chamber; and
c) a wood destroying pest monitor stick located at least partially in said chamber, said monitor located within said apparatus so as to be in direct contact with the earth when said apparatus is inserted in-ground.

15. The apparatus of claim 12 or 14 wherein said chamber interior has a cylindrical cross-section.

16. The apparatus of claim 12 or 14 wherein the chamber interior has a non-cylindrical cross-section.

17. A method of protecting a structure from wood destroying subterranean termites comprising the steps of providing, around at least a portion of said structure to be protected, a plurality of subterranean termite monitors, at least some of said monitors including a chamber having an opening with a penetrable plug inserted therein and a monitor stick connected to said monitor to be fixedly implanted in the ground in contact with the earth.

18. The method of claim 17 including the further step of inserting a combustible gas detector probe at least partially through said plug to test for the presence of combustible gas in said chamber.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

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Discuss this

There are currently 2 Comments comments.

  1. Don May 27, 2009 8:00 am

    This is not a novel idea. Gas detectors have been used commercially for some years. Putting such a detector in a prior-art style bait unit does not add up to novelty.

  2. cheese May 28, 2009 7:22 am

    Isn’t a new use of an old idea still considered novel? I smell a process patent.