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Top 10 Creepiest | USPTO's "Creepy IP"

Amrusha Chati

Amrusha Chati

31 October 20237 min read

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USPTO's "Creepy IP"

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    We all love Halloween, don't we? Proof of this is the $12.2 billion worth of Halloween spending expected in 2023. It's not that shocking, given that the thrills and chills of this night are enjoyed by children and adults alike.

    Well, the people making you bite your nails over your trademark or patent application are no exception. But don't worry; they won't send you an office action for your intellectual property application just to scare you!

    The folks at the US Patent and Trademark Office like to have a bit of fun around Halloween, and we love that about them. A few years ago, the USPTO decided to take a look at the lighter side of intellectual property.

    So, every year, they do a social media series called "Creepy IP." For this, they dig through archives of more than two centuries' worth of USPTO public records to find the most creepy inventions ever registered and share them with the world as #CreepyIP!

    Some of them are interesting, harmless, and cute, like a mechanism to scare trick-or-treaters or a witch hat tea light holder. And some of them are downright spooky! Nevertheless, they're all interesting inventions. Read on to see some of the most creepy patents and weirdest trademarks ever filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

    10. This new take on the Ouija Board from 1921.

    An Ouija board supposedly allows people to communicate with "spirits" from the afterlife. And we love ourselves a good communication device! But as patents go, this one for a new style of Ouija Board is definitely creepy.

    What's creepy about it is not the design. In fact, this one certainly has an interesting streamlined design. But it begs the question: Who is talking to spirits so often that the old board wasn't efficient enough?

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    9. This enclosure to protect from killer bees from 1996.

    This one looks like it could be straight out of an M. Night Shyamalan movie. We're not sure if the inventor was predicting some kind of world takeover by bees, but with this invention, they're definitely going to survive the bee-pocalypse.

    And don't worry about breathing. The application specifies, "A mesh is positioned in the aperture for allowing a user inside the enclosure to see therethrough and to breathe therethrough." Maybe we all need one, just in case the bees take over.

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    8. This ventriloquist's dummy from 1938.

    It would be adorable if it didn't also feel like something that might kill you in your sleep. Martha McCown received a patent for this ventriloquist's dummy in 1938. Her USPTO application claims, "One of the objects of my invention is to provide a toy which shall be durable in construction, and which can be manufactured and assembled at low cost."

    The inventor also says, "The eyes can turn freely in all directions." Now that's the stuff nightmares are made of.

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    7. This clown doll from 1949.

    Coulrophobia, or "the fear of someone who walks on stilts," is also used to describe the fear of clowns. Some of us are scared of clowns even when they look happy, but why is this one so angry it has a wrinkled brow?! And it's still smiling...very unsettling…

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    6. This "Corpse Cooler" from 1862.

    Maybe if they just hadn't called it a cooler, it wouldn't be creepy IP. That's a term that, for many of us, means an icebox with festive beverages inside! You won't find any fun summer treats inside this one, though.

    The invention was made to preserve the corpse for a few days until the funeral, and the inventor specifically designed the apparatus to offer easy access "if it is desired to look at the features of the deceased from time to time."

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    5. This falling alarm clock from 1882.

    Need a new alarm clock? We would advise you to think twice (or a hundred times) before getting this one. "Indicating the time by other means or by combined means in alarm clocks" is what his application says. But what are these "other means" exactly?

    Patented in 1882, it was designed to hang over the head of the sleeper & permitted to fall onto their face.

    According to inventor Samuel Applegate's application, "Ordinary bell or rattle alarms are not at all times effective for their intended purpose, as a person in time becomes so accustomed to the noise that sleep is not disturbed when the alarm is sounded."

    To fix this problem, he made a device in which he claims, "I suspend a light frame in such a position that it will hang directly over the head of the sleeper, the suspending-cord being combined with automatic releasing devices, whereby the frame is at the proper time permitted to fall into the sleepers face."

    What a wonderful way to start your day.

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    4. This "Coffin Torpedo" from 1878.

    The inventor, Philip Clover, created this coffin torpedo to "prevent the unauthorized resurrection of dead bodies."

    The application describes the process vividly. The torpedoes are attached to the coffin and the body "in such a manner that any attempt to remove the body after burial will cause the discharge of the cartridge contained in the torpedo and injury or death of the desecrator of the grave."

    Looks like he intended to ensure that the dead, well and truly, rest in peace.

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    3. This doll urn from 2009.

    This invention is described as "a doll urn for storing ashes comprising a body, a head, a top, and a voice recorder for recording and/or playing a message, wherein ashes in a secure container may be inserted into the doll head." Yeah, you read that right.

    But that's not all. The doll is also customizable to look like the deceased, has the birth and death date written on the bottom of the feet, and includes a speaker and voice recorder to play a message. That's certainly some way to deliver a message from the beyond.

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    2. This terrifying form of criminal interrogation from 1930.

    Let's hope law enforcement never picks this one up.

    The patent application lists this as an "Apparatus for obtaining criminal confessions and photographically recording them." But how does it do that?

    This apparatus was designed "for the creation of illusory effects calculated to impress the subject with their being of a supernatural character" and to record the confessions obtained to try to discount retractions later. Maybe, in this case, what's more terrifying than the skeletal apparitions they're using are the dubious ethics involved.

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    1. This grave signal from 1894.

    It's hard to pick a winner with all of these "#CreepyIP" posts. But the need for this invention paints a truly scary picture. Deveau's Grave Signal was designed to detect life from inside the grave.

    "In case the victim revives and moves," this device "operates to attract attention so the buried individual may be rescued." Were they burying people without checking if they were alive? Or were they expecting the dead to come back to life? Do we really want to know?

    Image acquired from the USPTO archives via Google Patents.

    Using "Creepy IP" to engage with innovators

    "Creepy IP" is a fun and timely way for the US Patent and Trademark Office to engage with the general public. It's also a good reminder that intellectual property law protects even weird trademarks and bizarre inventions. Clearly, there are countless examples of these too.

    Private companies often undertake such campaigns to connect with potential clients in their everyday lives. But it's rare for a federal agency to take this tongue-in-cheek approach to what is often a daunting topic.

    This campaign seems to be aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs and innovators to register patents and trademarks with the USPTO to create a strong IP ecosystem. Such an ecosystem can drive economic growth. Remember, whether it's registered trademarks protecting your logo, name, or slogan or a patent protecting your inventions, IP protection is crucial for businesses to grow.

    After all, you want to get the chills from these "Creepy IP" stories without having IP nightmares of your own!

    Happy Halloween 2023!

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    Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.