United States Patent 7,627,935
Issued December 8, 2009
Filed February 5, 2009
This is straight from the “you have to be kidding me” file, and for more reasons than immediately are apparent simply by looking at the invention. This invention is a doll urn, which allows for the storing of a human’s or a pet’s ashes. The invention comprises a doll body, a doll head, a doll top, and a voice recorder for recording or playing a message. Disposed in the doll head is an internal compartment, wherein a secure container for holding the ashes may be inserted into the internal compartment via an aperture on the doll head. The doll top comprises a stopper for fitting into the aperture so as to prevent ashes from spilling out of the internal compartment. In one particular version the name of the deceased is imprinted on one foot and the birth date and date of death are imprinted on the other foot (see Figure 6). As strange as this invention seems, the truly sad aspect is that it was granted in just over 10 months! So while some inventors must wait many years (i.e., 3, 4, 5, 6 or more years) this particular inventor was able to file and obtain a patent on her invention in about 10 months. While I am happy for this particular inventor, allow me to notice that something is dramatically wrong at the Patent Office if this invention can get treatment so quickly and commercially viable inventions that could form the basis for investment and business growth languish for years.
Before I go any further, allow me to address the question that many are probably thinking — how could something like this be patented? We can poke fun at the invention and call it silly, but never forget that is what pretty much everyone said about the pet rock. Now I wouldn’t buy a pet rock, and I wouldn’t buy a doll urn, but perhaps there are some who would. Lets save the question about marketability for a moment though. Whether a patent is granted or not largely comes down to the claims. Yes, there are a lot of other requirements, but the exclusive rights are tied to the claims, so that is where most (if not all) of the focus of the patent examiners is placed. Lets look at the claims in this patent, there are only two:
What is claimed is:
1. A doll urn for storing a human’s or a pet’s ashes, said doll urn comprising: (b) a doll body having a neck, a torso, a right arm, a left arm, a right leg, a left leg, a right foot, a left foot, wherein writing is imprinted on at least one said foot; (a) a doll head attached to the neck of the doll body, said doll head having a top surface and an aperture disposed on the top surface, wherein the aperture is an opening to a hollow internal compartment disposed in the doll head, wherein the internal compartment has a top end, a bottom end, and a nut secured at the bottom end; (c) a doll top having a top surface and a bottom surface, said doll top removably attached to the top surface of the doll head via a stopper disposed on the bottom surface, wherein the stopper is for inserting into the aperture to close the top end of the internal compartment so as to seal off the internal compartment; and (c) a voice recorder disposed on the doll body for recording or playing a message via a speaker; wherein the doll top is removable from the doll head such that a secure cylindrical container holding the ashes is inserted into the internal compartment via the aperture disposed on the top surface of the doll head, said secure cylindrical container having an open top end for inserting the ashes, a closed bottom end, a removable lid that seals off the open top end, and a screw disposed on the closed bottom end wherein the screw disposed on the closed bottom end of the secure cylindrical container is screwed into the nut disposed at the bottom end of the internal compartment to immobilize the secure cylindrical container of ashes in the internal compartment.
2. The doll urn of claim 1, wherein writing includes a name, a birth date, a death date, or a combination thereof.
As you can see, claim 1 is exceptionally detailed, and has some obvious errors. If you actually read claim 1 you will notice that (b) comes before (a) and there are two (c)’s. These types of mistakes, while perhaps embarrassing to the Patent Office and perhaps the inventor, are unfortunately common. I can’t say I have ever seen this before, but these are inconsequential mistakes of a clerical nature, which could be fixed with a Certificate of Correction if desired (see for applicant mistake vs. for Office mistake). But I digress… although I couldn’t resist such a teaching moment!
The truth is that pretty much anything can be patented if you really want a patent. The question is almost never “can you get a patent?” but rather is the patent you can obtain worth obtaining given the time and costs associated with the patent process. I have only half jokingly suggested that if you want to be an inventor all you have to do is take something that has nothing to do with a radio and integrate a radio. There are all kinds of “integrated radio” patents (see The 65 Year Old Integrated Radio Patent Strategy), but the truth is that is would be better to say that if you want a patent just layer on specifics after specifics in the claims and eventually you cannot help but have something that is both new and not obvious. In this claim 1, there are a lot of limitations that cause the exclusive rights to be exceptionally narrow. For example, if you want to copy this invention and just not include a voice recorder it would be impossible for you to infringe because you would not have each and every element in your device.
The real tragedy here is that his particular patent application flew through the Patent Office at break neck speed, and when I look up the file on Public Pair I see nothing to suggest that this patent application was accelerated for any reason. So what gives? I have absolutely no idea. I come across things like this from time to time, but it is never any easier to accept. There are many inventors out there who have been tied up at the Patent Office for many years, inventors who simply cannot get action on an application or who are denied, rejected and then denied and rejected over and over again. Then something like this pops out in 10 months. I don’t know what to do other than just shake my head. Truly astonishing.
Principles of equal protection demand that similarly situated individuals be treated similarly. For the life of me I cannot understand why one inventor should legally be entitled to such extraordinarily quick action while other inventors have to wait many years. Either a patent examiner has taken this case out of order or the patent examiner doesn’t have very much to do, which suggests that they should be reassigned where the backlog is most problematic. I do realize that examiners are not interchangeable parts, but if an examiner can understand this invention there has to be other areas where the backlog is pronounced within the Patent Office where the examiner could help.
Patent applicants who have had their inventions languish at the Patent Office should be outraged, and at some point patent attorneys are going to have to start making Constitutional arguments in briefs or even consider filing writs of mandamus. I realize David Kappos hasn’t been on the job very long and the previous regime created enormous problems that demand attention. I personally cannot think of anything that demands attention more than fixing what is rightly perceived as fundamental unfairness. This type of disparity of treatment is not fair, and it is not legal. Something needs to be done.
I will leave for you all to decide whether this invention is one that should have been patented by the inventor. I will just say that all inventors should ask themselves what they want to accomplish with a patent. If being an inventor is all that matters then go for it! If making money is the goal, which it typically is, make sure you do your homework and consider whether it is a wise financial investment and commitment of time to seek and obtain a patent. I am not sure there are realistic market opportunities here, but then again, I can’t understand why anyone ever bought a pet rock either!