Patents and passion

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Valentine’s Day has seen the filing of famous and unusual patents

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Valentine’s Day suggests hearts and flowers rather than legal patents – but one of the most famous patents issued was registered on February 14, 1876, when a lawyer for Alexander Graham Bell filed an application for his telephone invention; an instrument (and its modern day successors) that has played a large role in keeping lovers connected ever since.

Before you dive into a box of Valentine candies, think about the legal paperwork that went into protecting those patents and trademarks.

Monte Falcoff, an attorney with Harness Dickey, a global intellectual property firm in Troy, is familiar with various Valentine-themed patents, including those for designs for chocolates, toys, jewelry, board games, roses, and cards, (whether romantic or risqué), and much more.

“Who doesn’t love receiving heart shaped chocolates and jewelry, especially in patent form,” Falcoff says with a smile. 

“We’re passionate about our patents, especially on Valentine’s Day,” Falcoff adds. “Harness Dickey filed 26 U.S. patents on Valentine’s Day in 2014.  Patents only issue on Tuesdays, and the last time the USPTO issued patents on Valentine’s Day was in 2012 and we had 61 U.S. patents issue that day – that’s certainly a reason to celebrate! But, alas, the 2012 Valentine’s Day issued patents pertained to catheters, computers and software among other technologies, nothing to make the heart go ‘pitter patter’ unless you’re a patent attorney or inventor.”

One well-known patent application in IP lore was the romantic one that law school student Ryan Thomas Grace of Omaha, Neb., wrote in March 2003 – “Method and Instrument for Proposing Marriage to an Individual” – as a unique way of proposing to his girlfriend. Grace submitted it to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and it was published April 7, 2007.

Touted as “a unique method and instrument for proposing to an individual by which the proposer can righteously tout the uniqueness of the proposal,” the invention outlined these steps: meeting someone; exchanging names; dating (not necessary); drafting a government document having a proposal to marry the individual incorporated therein; and showing the government document – preferably a patent application – to the individual.

According to Grace, proposals such as a diamond ring in champagne; airplanes pulling banners; and proposing at an important landmark such as the Eiffel Tower, “lack novelty and innovative effort.”

His “patent application proposal” coaxes an individual into marrying the proposer; is partially related to the proposer’s future profession; and the method is recorded in a government document for all the world to see

Sadly, the patent examiner rejected the application, stating, “A claim may not preempt ideas, laws of nature or natural phenomena,” notes Falcoff.  The patent examiner also asserted the “claim does not produce a real-world result, or beneficial effect.” 

“Then, the patent examiner wrote – presumably with a wry sense of sarcasm – that ‘applicant’s invention is not repeatable or predictable’ and ‘is seeking protection of a life event,’” Falcoff says. “Apparently this patent examiner is not a hopeless romantic.”
 

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