A conversation seen on Twitter the other week got me thinking about prior art originating from strange places. We’re all used to receiving patent literature or conference papers as prior art. Sometimes if you’ve “pitched the invention wrong” you might even receive a Wikipedia page as prior art but what’s the oddest prior art you’ve seen in a patent or other IP related case?
How about 2001: A Space Odyssey? Or The Beano? Or a Donald Duck comic? Believe it or not, these are actual sources of prior art as we’ll see below.
2001: A Space Odyssey
The most recent example dates from 2011 when Apple and Samsung were deep in the middle of their multi-jurisdiction patent and design spat. FIling its opposition to Apple’s preliminary injunction against four Samsung products, Samsung went deep with its prior art search. Into deep space that is with a reference to the film 2001 and in particular a still image of crew members Bowman and Poole eating while watching two “iPad” like devices. The relevant clip is below and the actual opposition brief can be seen here (see page 12 of the PDF for the still from the film).
An official document on this story eludes me but the story revolves around Danish inventor Karl Krøyer who filed patent applications relating to a method of raising a sunken ship by filling it with buoyant bodies fed through a tube.
Patent applications were filed in the UK (GB 1070600), Germany (DE1247893) and the Netherlands (NL 6514306) but the story goes that although the UK and Germany allowed the patents, the Dutch patent office raised an objection based on a Donald Duck comic strip from 1949 called The Sunken Yacht. In the story a ship is raised by filling it with ping pong balls. The panel in question from the comic can be seen here. [Update: IPcopy reader Giuseppe Colucci has contacted us and provided a copy of an article he wrote a while ago on this subject that includes an extended version of the comic panel in question. This article, which is in Italian, can be accessed here.]
Back to the UK for our last example and a patent application from 1983 for “an entry signal system for pets” (GB2117179).
During prosecution of this application the Examiner cited The Beano No. 2015, page 1 after allegedly seeing his son reading the comic book at the breakfast table! The front page of the issue in question can be seen here (look at the top right panel and then compare it to the Figure above).
In this case the reference to the Beano actually appears on the front page of the published patent application!
However, it seems that the Beano citation was either not used by the Examiner or successfully argued against by the Application as this patent granted!
Has anyone seen any other examples of prior art that have come out of left field? I seem to recall hearing a story about a patent application for aircraft carrier launch ramps that attracted some odd prior art but I can’t find any reference to it online.
Mark Richardson 12 February 2015