Crazy Christmas Patents

There is no end to the things that people think are worth patenting, especially when it comes to Christmas decorations.

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For the past several years, I have been writing a blog that pokes fun at patent applications related to Christmas. It now appears that I am an expert in this subject matter because I received two e-mails during the course of this year. One asked how they should go about getting their Christmas ornament manufactured and marketed. The other asked if I would feature their newly released ornament in an upcoming blog.

I also thought I was perhaps being too restrictive in my focus on one religion and that I should spread out a little to include Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, Yule and others. Alas, this appears to be a Christian thing, and all other religions clearly feel that such incredible inventions are not to be restricted but freely shared with their fellow believers.

2016 patent granted
The good news, if that is indeed the right term, is that the U.S. Patent Office was either not easily fooled this year, or it didn’t actually accomplish much in terms of going through the patent backlog. There were more than 200 applications filed in 2016 and a total of 1 patent issued, so perhaps for that reason alone, I should include it.

US9433057B1 – Resistive protection to prevent reverse voltage breakdown in anti-parallel wired LEDs

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This patent allows your tree to light up in one of two colors, simply by putting two LEDs in each socket but wired in the reverse direction. However, that was clearly not patentable due to prior art, so they had to add a protective resistive component. They describe this as being “electrically connected across each pair of anti-parallel LEDs of the respective LED housing to protect each LED of the pair from reverse voltage breakdown damage in the event of a failure of the other LED in the housing. The protective resistive component also further serves as a shunt to electrically bypass a failed LED to keep the remaining LEDs in the light string fully illuminated.”

I guess that assumes that all LEDs fail by going open circuit, but they never included the fault model and justification as to why that would provide full coverage.

Now on to filings that are a little bit more interesting.

As seen at Christmas
One thing that patents have in common with those “Seen on TV” commercials is how they make a simple task look so difficult or frustrating. We see things that we do every day being done by people who slip, drop, fumble or somehow manage to mess up ever the simplest of tasks. Take this patent as an example.

Most people enjoy decorating their Christmas tree, but clearly not the filer of patent US20160146410A1. He describes putting lights on a tree as follows:

“This task involves tediously wrapping single strands of lights around the tree and constantly repositioning the lights for maximum coverage. Further, wrapping single strands of lights around a Christmas tree can be exceptionally difficult when the tree is placed in the corner of the room or adjacent to a wall. This is also true where the tree is exceptionally large, such as those used in a public space or at a mall.”

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His solution is to place the lights on a collapsible cone that is then put over the tree. Now I guess one has to tediously make sure that all of the branches poke through the holes in the conical mesh. Perhaps that will be next year’s filing.

Tree disposal
Once the holidays are over and it is time to get rid of the tree, some people find this to be a messy process. (This is something that we personally never face because we always buy living trees that get planted in the yard as soon as conditions permit. Each tree is then marked with the year in which it served as our tree. Perhaps I should try to patent that.)

The filer described the removal process thus: “Live Christmas trees shed needles, especially after the tree has been cut and on display for a few weeks during the holiday season. This shedding makes it especially bothersome when a user needs to dismantle the tree from the stand, and dispose of the tree. Needles are spread throughout the area that the tree stood and where it is disassembled. To prevent this, the user may use a tarp to wrap the tree in, if there is one on hand.”

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So you have guessed it, the tarp is secreted into the tree stand. It is labeled 16 in the diagram above. They have also included many other interesting features in this stand that they describe as being “a substantially hollow frusto-conical-like shaped housing with a hinged collar on the top surface.”

I had to admit that I have never heard the term frusto-conical before and had to look that one up. I found the definition on a legal site that says that the term has “been construed six times in five different cases. It has been construed three times as a stand-alone term and three times as part of a phrase. Constructions vary in their wording, but generally describe a cone with the tip.”

Not just the little guys
Many of the items that I choose to feature are from small personal inventors or Chinese companies who somehow think that other Chinese manufacturers are likely to respect their U.S. patents. But I was surprised to find one from Samsung that could actually have been from Amazon, Google or any of the other companies that do voice recognition systems. In patent application US20160308794A1, Samsung talks about a watch and a method to allow a user to decide how they should respond to a message.

They describe “a communication unit configured to receive a question message from another device, a controller configured to determine a category of the question message, a display unit configured to display a user interface (UI) for selecting data to be included in a reply message to the question message, according to the category, and a user input unit configured to receive a user input of selecting data to be included in the reply message through the UI, wherein the communication unit transmits the reply message including the data to the other device.

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So how does this relate to Christmas? According to Samsung “the reply ranker may determine priority of contexts the user thinks important based on a message selected by the user. When a greeting message is received on a Christmas morning, the reply ranker may recommend “good morning” and “Merry Christmas”, and when the user selects “Merry Christmas”, the reply ranker may determine a priority of a holiday or an anniversary higher than that of a time. Upon determining a priority of contexts, the reply ranker may recommend a reply message based on a context having a high priority based on the determined priority.”

So, potentially, Samsung is now the only company whose products can help you determine when you should wish someone Merry Christmas.” Thankfully, I am not using a watch in this blog post, so even if this patent is granted, I don’t think Samsung can stop me from wishing all of you happy holidays.