Fun in the Sun Patent Style: Lifeguard Patents

By Steve Brachmann
July 26, 2013

With droves of people flocking to the beach, the role of the beach lifeguard becomes much more important. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, which certifies open water lifeguards, USLA lifeguards completed a total of 69,070 rescues during 2012, about half of which were rip current rescues. USLA lifeguards also completed a total of 307,893 medical aids during that year.

Today in IPWatchdog’s 2013 Summer Fun series, we’re taking a look at patents that recognize the importance of safety at the pool or beach. A number of patent applications and issued patents published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that we feature in today’s column describe systems and tools to aid lifeguards in their work. One patent application explains a buoy system that can wrangle multiple distressed swimmers and provide them with a flotation line. One issued patent protects a rescue tube with a recessed extension strap for safer use. A second issued patent protects a system of detecting rip tides through computer analysis of video.

Two other documents we’re discussing here create safety systems for swimmers when there are no lifeguards present, or if a lifeguard can’t detect a problem. One issued patent is for an alarm system that sounds if it detects that a swimmer is in danger. Finally, one last issued patent discusses an emergency contact system for putting poolside rescuers who aren’t trained to react to emergencies in touch with emergency personnel.

[Patent-Watch]

Beach Lifesaving System and Method of Deployment
U.S. Patent Application No. 20110207377

Beach lifeguards observe an area of water typically outlined by flags. When a swimmer is having difficulty, or is carried away by a rip tide, the lifeguard sounds an alarm to alert rescuers. This patent application, filed by Australian inventor Frederick William George Hawthorne of Queensland, outlines a beach lifesaving system that prevents against rescuer fatigue or time wasted when retrieving many distressed swimmers. The system uses floating lines and sinking lines attached to a buoy at the swimming area’s perimeter, as well as anchors on the beach. A swimmer carried by a rip tide could seize the floating lines, or lifeguards could pull in the floating and sinking lines to bring multiple distressed swimmers to shore.

In September 2012, the USPTO issued a non-final rejection of Claims 1 through 15 of this patent application. The examiner found that certain aspects of the invention, including the buoy, floating and sinking lines, beach tethers and pulley assembly, were anticipated by a prior patent, U.S. Patent No. 3063402, Boat Beaching and Anchoring Techniques and Mechanisms. Several other patents were also cited in the USPTO’s rejection based on obviousness.

Claim 1 of this patent application was written to protect:

“A beach lifesaving system including:— i. at least one floating line; ii. at least one sinking line; iii. a buoy attached to a seabed wherein said at least one floating line and said at least one sinking line form a continuous loop whereby said continuous loop is rotatably attached to the buoy at one end and to a tethering point on a beach at another end.”

Automated Rip Tide Detection System
U.S. Patent No. 6931144

Rip tides, or fast waves which move perpendicular across a beach shore instead of against it, are dangerous to swimmers as they can swiftly pull a body far out into a body of water. Lifeguards are trained to notice various aspects of an oncoming rip tide in order to warn swimmers. Besides the wave’s perpendicular travel, a person can spot if the wave is darker in color and has the textured rippling indicative of a rip tide.

This patent, issued to Gregory Perrier of Dix Hills, NY, protects a system of computer analysis of water patterns to help lifeguards track rip tides. In this system, digital cameras capture video of surrounding waters. Software analysis of this video can quickly detect color differences, texture and movement patterns that indicate an oncoming rip tide.

As Claim 1 explains, Mr. Perrier has been awarded the right to protect:

“A system for detecting rip tides in the vicinity of a seashore by identifying a number of telltale traits, wherein rip tides strike the shore directly and bounce back sharply as opposed to normal waves which hit the shore obliquely and dissipate their energy before bouncing back, and wherein rip tide waters have different color characteristics than normal seashore waves, and have a different surface texture than normal seashore waves; said system comprising: a camera providing video images; a computer analyzing said images to detect the presence of rip tides, said analysis involving image pre-filtering enhancing the telltale signs of typical rip tides, and converting said images into digital data processed for classification as NORMAL or RIP TIDE.”

[Patent-Watch]

Emergency Telecommunication Device
U.S. Patent No. 6765991

Private pools, as well as pools at motels and hotels, often operate without a lifeguard. In some cases, this can lead to tragic results if individuals have to react to an emergency situation without any proper knowledge of lifesaving techniques. This inability to react properly to a dangerous situation is exacerbated by the fact that quick action is needed to save a distressed swimmer from drowning.

The USPTO recently issued this patent for an emergency telecommunications system, marketed as “Lifeguard,” to a trio of inventors: Michael Hanuschak and Joseph Finley, Jr. of Delray Beach, FL; and Michael Quigley of Spotsylvania, VA. This system uses a pull or push activation mechanism to connect to local emergency medical services (EMS), and a built-in microphone and speaker combination helps users interact with EMS professionals.

Claim 1 of this USPTO patent gives the inventors the right to protect:

“A weather resistant emergency call device for establishing a communications session with a trained emergency response personnel to aid a rescuer on a scene with a victim of an accident, the device comprising: an electronic telecommunications circuit comprising: a network interface using internet protocol (IP) to a telecommunications line to enable multiple simultaneous communications to at least two emergency call devices; a single button for seizing control of the telecommunication line with a dialer for dialing a pre-programmed telephone number of emergency response personnel and for establishing a connection therewith; a speaker with an amplifier coupled to the interface for reproducing one or more voice instructions coming from the emergency response personnel; a microphone coupled to the interface, the microphone including at least two automatic gain amplifier circuits for amplifying the signal received so as to allow communications from a rescue personnel aiding a victim of an accident at a distance greater than fifteen feet; and a weather-proof chassis for holding the electronic communication circuitry.”

Rescue Tube with Retractable Shoulder Strap
U.S. Patent 6042440

Lifeguards often use rescue tubes to save distressed swimmers. Rescue tubes are usually comprised of a flotation device connected to a shoulder strap measuring several feet. This long strap allows a lifeguard to throw the flotation device to a swimmer so that the strap is tethered around the lifeguard’s shoulder and neck. However, this strap can sometimes get caught on a lifeguard’s chair or other items, posing a hazard risk for lifeguards and impacting their emergency response time.

The UPSTO patent for this rescue tube was issued in March 2000 to Jay Ettl of Muncie, IN. In Ettl’s design, the shoulder strap is connected to an extension strap that can be mechanically coiled by a slack eliminator. The slack eliminator and the extension strap are recessed into the flotation device, until a lifeguard begins to pull and uncoil the extension strap.

Claim 1 of this USPTO patent protects:

“A water rescue device, comprising:

a floatation member;

a shoulder strap;

an extension strap, connecting said flotation member and said shoulder strap; and

a slack eliminator, which is connected to said extension strap, and mechanically coils any slack extension strap between said flotation member and said shoulder strap.”

 

Lifeguard Alarm System for a Swimming Pool
U.S. Patent No. 8022830

Lifeguards often have to watch over large groups of people at public pools or other bodies of water. In some cases, there may be too many people to notice that an individual is having problems, especially if they’ve slipped below the water’s surface. Swimmers may also have pre-existing conditions that put them at risk for a medical issue while swimming, but they might not let a lifeguard know about it.

This patent, issued to inventor Ping-hsun Yang of Sihu Township, Taiwan, uses a sensing device and multiple detection mechanisms to determine if an individual is in a “predetermined dangerous state.” For instance, a swimmer might remain motionless underwater for a short period. If the detection mechanisms and a fail-safe mechanism all determine that the user is in a predetermined dangerous state, it will sound an alarm located near the pool.

Claim 1 of this patent gives the Taiwanese inventor full rights to:

“A lifeguard alarm system for a swimming pool comprising: a sensing device configured for attachment to a user and to wirelessly transmit a warning signal; at least one electromagnetic wave receiver configured to receive the warning signal; and a host coupled to the at least one electromagnetic wave receiver and configured to generate an alarm in response to the warning signal; wherein the sensing device comprises: an acceleration sensor configured to measure speed of the user; a state sensor configured to measure an angular position of the user; a water sensor configured to detect whether the sensing device is in water and to calculate a submersion time therein; first, second and third detecting mechanisms for detecting a dangerous state from mutually different conditions selected from (i) an internal angle between the sensing device and a vertical line during a predetermined time period being greater than a predetermined angle, (ii) an accumulated horizontal distance during a predetermined time period being less than a predetermined value and (iii) an absolute accumulated angular change differing from a predetermined condition; a fail-safe mechanism configured to detect whether a submersion time of the sensing device exceeds a predetermined time period or the user has abnormal vital signs; and a microprocessor configured to repetitively: determine whether the dangerous state as detected by the first, second and third detecting mechanisms using mutually different conditions exceeds a predetermined time period; transmit the warning signal if the dangerous state exceeds the predetermined time period; utilize the fail-safe mechanism if the dangerous state does not exceed the predetermined time period; and transmit the warning signal if the fail-safe mechanism detects that the submersion time of the sensing device is excessive or the user has abnormal vital signs.”

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

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