Many consider Labor Day the unofficial end of summer, so let's take a look back at some patented products the Gallium Law team used this season.
1.U.S. Patent No. 8,197,000 – Chair structure having auxiliary backrest leg and accommodating backrest pockets
This is the beach chair to end all beach chairs. It has backpack straps for easy carrying and, as the title of the patent suggests, backrest pockets (plural!), including a larger upper pocket (see element 25 in the figure below) that can fit—in my experience—a beach towel, book, and sunscreen, and a smaller (but insulated) lower pocket (see element 26 in the figure below) for snacks and drinks.
As stated in the patent title, the chair also has an “auxiliary backrest leg” (see element 41 in the figure below) that can fold flat against the chair when not in use or extend perpendicular from the back of the chair. When the backrest leg is extended and the chair is in an upright position, the backrest leg serves as a towel bar. When the chair is moved to a reclined position, the backrest leg allows the chair to rest in a horizontal position for tanning, napping, and general relaxation.
This chair is actually the subject of several utility and design patents that each claim different elements or design features of the chair, demonstrating how a single product can easily lead to an extensive patent portfolio.
2. U.S. Patent No. D725,424 – Canopy for a folding chair
When lounging in the sun, protecting yourself from UV rays is important. So, the canopy claimed in the ‘424 patent perfectly complements the beach chair. The ‘424 patent credits the same inventor as the first patent in our list – Warren Cohen, the President and CEO of Rio Brands, which includes the Tommy Bahama brand of beach products. The canopy clips onto the chair's frame and folds flat against the back of the chair, right over the aforementioned pockets and auxiliary backrest leg.
Because this is a design patent rather than a utility patent, only the ornamental appearance of the canopy is protected, and not any of the functional elements. For example, the canopy includes two pivoting mechanisms that allow a user to tilt the canopy to a desired position. However, these features (and any other functional features, including the folding mechanisms) are not eligible for protection in a design patent.
It doesn't appear that a utility patent application was filed for this chair canopy, which could be due to any number of reasons, including the possible existence of prior art that would prevent the issuance of a utility patent.
- “Prior art” refers to any preexisting references, including issued patents, published patent applications, and non-patent literature, that either disclose or “make obvious,” as defined in 35 U.S.C. 103, the element(s) claimed in a patent application.
- For example, a canopy with a different appearance but similar function (e.g., clips to fit a chair frame, pivoting mechanisms, and the ability to collapse and fold down flat) may have existed before Cohen designed his chair canopy, so he could not pursue utility patent protection.
However, as demonstrated by the design patent grant, Cohen devised a novel ornamental appearance for a canopy.
3. U.S. Patent No. 9,320,343 – Multiple-loop support strap and method for hanging a hammock
Many people go camping during the summer and bring tents, sleeping bags, and… what for it – hammocks! And who doesn't like pretending to be a sloth now and then by hanging from a tree? Hammocks are great; they're light, easy to pack, and yes, oh so comfortable!
However, achieving the perfect hammock setup can be hard when you have to depend on ideal spacing between trees. Luckily for hammock enthusiasts everywhere, the inventors at Eagles Nest Outfitters, Inc. (also known as ENO) designed a “support strap” with multiple attachment points (“loops”) to enable greater flexibility in setting up a hammock. A user simply wraps each strap around a tree and selects the desired loop on each strap for each end of the hammock to achieve the desired hammock height, as shown in the figure below.
The hammock straps claimed in this patent are the subject of at least four patents, including two utility patents and two design patents. When a product is the subject of multiple patents, it can be interesting to look at each patent and identify what changes were made to the product, as these are often reflected in the figures and language of the patents. Most obviously, the two design patents (U.S. D573,381 and U.S. D666,896) show that the design evolved substantially regarding the number of loops on each strap and how the loops are attached to the strap.
4. U.S. Patent No. 11,278,139 – Lid for a container
This utility patent for a water bottle lid includes two openings within a spout – one opening (see element 32 in the figure below) connected to a straw that extends down into the bottle and one opening (see element 30 in the figure below) that leads directly into the bottle, allowing for a traditional drinking method if the user doesn't want to use the straw. The claims of this patent focus not just on the lid as a whole but more specifically on the spout and the drinking openings.
The '139 patent is only the latest in an extensive patent family dating back (at least in the U.S.) to 2014. In fact, this specific lid style is the subject of dozens of U.S. and foreign utility and design patents. The vast patent protection available for something as seemingly “simple” as a water bottle lid is an excellent example of how nearly anything can be patented, so even if you aren't sure if your idea is eligible for patent protection, it might be worth it to consult an IP professional.
[Note: I realize that this isn't specifically a “summer” product, but my Owala water bottle with this lid did manage to keep water cold (with ice still frozen!) after sitting in my car for two hours on the top deck of a parking garage when it was 110 degrees outside, so I think that merits inclusion as a summer MVP.]
5. U.S. Patent No. D897522 – Ear plug
This patent protects the ornamental design of earplugs sold by Loop, which feature the distinctive circular element (or loop) that rests against the user's ear and is visible while the earplugs are worn. At the time of writing this article, Loop sells three main types of earplugs that offer different levels of noise reduction. Every kind of earplug sold by Loop uses the same overall design claimed in their design patent.
This IP strategy has benefits and drawbacks. While only one patent application had to be drafted, filed, and prosecuted to secure protection for nearly all of their products, thereby greatly reducing costs, Loop's IP portfolio is small and relatively vulnerable – think having all of your eggs in one (patented) basket. This is not to say that Loop doesn't have more IP protection planned or already in the works. Still, it is generally advisable to keep patent families “open” by keeping at least one application pending at all times to preserve your rights to pursue patent protection on product developments.
[Note (again): While not necessarily a “summer” product, I did purchase these earplugs for the highlight of my summer – attending the Eras Tour. Did I take them off after the opening acts because I was worried about missing out on even a fraction of experiencing Taylor's performance? Yes. However, they did work well while I was wearing them, and I plan to use them again!]
How Gallium Law Can Help
We hope this article demonstrated that even seemingly “simple” designs and product features can be claimed in both utility and design patents. If you have an idea for an invention, even if it's not a consumer product like those included in this article, and would like to discuss your options for IP protection, please fill out this online form or call us at 651-256-9480 to schedule a consultation.
*The information in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied on. The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is meant as a starting point in your search for answers to your legal questions.