The United States Patent and Trademark Office is a no-nonsense place. The 13-step patent submission process not only seems daunting, but also can take years to complete. If you're considering patenting a new invention, don't be discouraged: The U.S. Patent Office has approved some truly strange products before. We've dug into the archives to find some of the nuttier patents on file at the USPTO, with the hope that maybe—just maybe—they'll inspire courage to file your own patent. (Or at least make you smile.)
Tired of cleaning kibble bits out of Fido's ear? This device, developed in the late 70s, provides a way to "protect the ears of long eared animals, especially dogs, from coming into contact with their food or drink while they eat," according to the issued patent. Resembling two plastic paper towel tubes attached to a headgear, the device effectively pigtails each of the dog's ears for complete protection against the onslaught at dinnertime. Just watch out for narrow doorways!
People are easily dazzled by displays of both fire and water, so it's unsurprising that one inventor combined them to create a mega display of elemental art. Intended to be an upgrade from an existing fireplace, this 2002 patent calls for a trough to be installed in front of a firebox for a pool of water. The water circulates through special plumbing and funnels out of the front of the fireplace to create a "fountain-like" effect. Just add fire!
Most hunters and wildlife photographers like to dress in camouflage to blend into the surrounding area to get close to the target animal. But sometimes, that just isn't enough. Enter this 2004 patent for a game bird decoy coat, which "provides a hunter, photographer, or other naturalist close proximity to game birds...while permitting rapid reaction to such birds once proximity access is gained." Complete with feather patterns, a birdlike shape, and detachable tail, the bird will never see the hunter coming. They'll just see a really enormous lumbering bird.
If drinking water upside down or holding your breath aren't enough to soothe your hiccups, this device might just shock them out of you. The 2003 patent's summary explains, "Hiccups lasting longer than 48 hours are called ‘persistent.' Those lasting longer than a month are called 'intractable.'" Thankfully, this device is made to zap hiccups away with a friendly shock of electricity. As the user drinks water, electrodes along a metal rod send an electric current to the vagus and phrenic nerve in an attempt to stop the hiccup "arc."
After a favorite sports team scores a winning point, it's understandable to want to give out high-fives. But, what if no one is there to receive them? Enter the high-five machine, which "allows a user to simulate a 'high-five' in celebration of a positive event, thereby providing the user with a convenient outlet for the release of excitement," according to the 1993 patent. Simply affix the high-five machine to a wall or set it on the table, and improve hand-eye coordination and mood by giving the plastic arm high-fives at your convenience. No friends necessary!
The mysophobe in everyone can cringe at the idea of catching an illness from a well-meaning kiss. Enter the kissing shield, which if handled properly, "will help people who want to do whatever they can while kissing to practice 'preventive medicine,'" according to the 1995 patent. A flexible thin membrane is stretched over a heart-shaped frame, which folds for easy storage and attaches to a handle for quick use. According to the patent, the kissing shield could even "be used especially by a politician who kisses babies."
It's a challenge to have everything handy and available while on the go. It's an even bigger challenge to be productive and have all of your things in order while wearing a neck brace. This carry-all device, a combination neck-wrap and belt holder that attach to one another, has pockets for a cell phone, pencil, a pad of paper, and much more. The two separate wraps connect to each other, creating a whole-body apparatus. The neck brace is only "one embodiment," according to the 2005 patent, so even those without neck problems can store all of their belongings near their head for safekeeping.
Protecting skin from harmful rays is essential, and products like sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat are all necessities when out in the sun. This 2006 patent adds a new device to the sun-defense regimen: the sun mask towel. The standard-sized towel has, "at least one eye slit permitting unobstructed vision through said towel and at least one breathing slit," according to the patent claims. Simply lie down, match up the slits to your eyes and nose, and enjoy all the benefits of having a towel on your face without having to worry about breathing or seeing freely.
Finally, a mode of transportation for the avid bicyclist who is also a die-hard sailing fiend: This wind-harnessing bike relies on the massive sail attached to its back wheel to move forward instead of conventional peddling. According to the summary of this 2004 patent, "no one prior to applicant has succeeded to devising apparatus including a sail attachment connectable to a bicycle for harnessing wind to drive a bicycle forward in a controlled manner." Go figure.
Does this device look familiar? This 2004 patent for a burial structure bears a striking resemblance to the Great Pyramids at Giza, and even employs the same methods that were used thousands of years ago to bury the dead in ornate tombs. However, this patent makes minor changes to the design to "prevent vandalism," according to the patent summary: by building the blocks of the pyramid in a certain order, it can be sealed off entirely rather than have vulnerable spots. And, yes, that was enough differentiation to get a pyramid patented.
High-pressure hoses quickly and efficiently clean the dirt off of a sidewalk or driveway, so why not use it to clean your teeth? This 2002 patent is for a rotating apparatus that connects to any faucet and creates a high-pressure stream to blast away any of that leftover plaque that is found on teeth. Stronger than a regular water pick, the device is also meant to be used to clean the back of the teeth, so the power of a restricted garden hose can cleanse even the most stubborn of molars.
Carnivals and amusement parks are always in the market for a new and unique attraction that can bring in customers. Why not dazzle children with a life-sized interactive bowl of soup? The large bowl includes, "a fog layer at the top of the bowl-shaped member; and an imaging device producing an image," according to the 1999 patent. The soup attraction is designed to fill small children with excitement and delight as they inch near a seemingly full pot of boiling water. The interactive activities of the soup are vague, but the thrill of being close to scalding water…eh, forget it. —Lauren Hockenson