10 Delightfully Strange Patents
Human ingenuity knows no bounds—as these patents show.
1. REWARD CANDY DISPENSER
Patent: US 5823386 A
As any multitasker knows, it can feel impossible to sit at a computer and focus on work that needs to get done. What if something happens on Facebook? How can you focus until you know who’s on the Wikipedia page of left-handed historical figures? To force concentration, many resort to draconian measures like limiting Internet use or (gasp!) going offline altogether. But the inventors of this tool tap into what behavioral scientists and kindergarten motivational speakers have long known: Treats get results.
The Reward Candy Dispenser for Personal Computers is positive reinforcement for desk jockeys. An optical sensor attaches to your screen to keep an eye on what you’re doing. When you achieve your target (say, sending that email or reading all the way through a long news story), a signal is sent to a container on your desk, and, as with a gumball machine, a single piece of candy is released into a chute. Want another? Get more work done! Lab-rat life never tasted so good.
2. LEAF GATHERING TROUSERS
Patent: US 6604245 B1
With fall comes the ultimate scourge of lawn work: raking leaves. All of those gorgeous, oxygen-giving trees in your yard become instruments of torture, fiendishly littering their leafy bounty all over the lawn and sidewalk.
According to the inventor of the leaf pants, the leaves aren’t the problem. It’s the rake—that pronged horticultural nightmare that strains backs, blisters hands, and poses a real threat if left lying in tall grass. But a leaf blower isn’t the answer either. Instead, the inventor insists, what humanity needs is a method that is “compatible with the natural body movement of a person.”
Enter leaf chaps, a pair of zip-on flexible tubes that slip over pant legs with a net fastened between the two so you can gather leaves as you stroll. The net corrals the leaves and collects them in front of you, so with just a few extra steps, you’re forming piles that are easily picked up later. Not merely convenient, the chaps also promise to make you more productive. Rather than struggle with bulky tools, do something you’d be doing anyway (walking around your lawn), while getting work done! Sure, that walk is more like a waddle, but that’s the price you pay for innovation.
3. THE DAD SADDLE (AKA, THE DADDLE)
Patent: US 6241136 B1
Attention, parents: Are your kids bored with the same old piggyback routine? Are you sick of getting sticky fingers in your hair every time you let them hitch a ride? Try the Dad Saddle. Paul R. Harriss, the inventor of this parental paraphernalia, noticed that while contraptions—from ergonomic backpacks to simple scarves—exist to help parents carry their babies, once the kids grow up, you’re forced to go bareback. Suffer no more! The Dad Saddle’s sturdy harness fastens around the waist and sports two pint-size stirrups for a child’s feet, “virtually eliminating the possibility of back strain.” Adjust the height of the stirrups so your little cowboy or cowgirl can hold steady. Then remind them to tip their hats before they tackle the open range.
4. THE CRISPY CEREAL SERVER
Patent: US 4986433 A
From the moment John Harvey Kellogg created the first cornflake, people have been trying to solve the problem of soggy cereal. Turn your back on it for a moment too long, and even the crispiest flakes become a bowl of mush. Cereal makers can treat their products to keep them from absorbing milk, but that only delays the inevitable. But what if the solution were in the bowl itself? The ingenious Crispy Cereal Serving Piece and Method keeps your Froot Loops fresh until the very last minute, guaranteeing “the crispness of the cereal throughout even the most leisurely meal.” A bowl on the table holds just the right amount of milk, while a second bowl, holding the dry cereal, is suspended in the air by a sturdy chute. Send a spoonful down the chute into the milk when you’re ready to take a bite, and relax knowing that the rest of your breakfast is high and dry (literally).
5. THE GREENHOUSE HELMET
Patent: US 4605000 A
Everyone knows there’s nothing like a walk outdoors for a breath of fresh air. But in a hectic, urban life, you may be too busy to plan a nature walk—let alone one around the corner. Not to worry: The greenhouse helmet will bring nature to you at a moment’s notice. All you need to do is strap it to your face! A self-enclosed, anti-fog-treated dome sits over the wearer’s head, containing multiple shelves to hold tiny plants inside. As you exhale, the plants soak up the carbon dioxide, supposedly stocking you in return with the purest oxygen money can buy. The helmet even has a two-way intercom system, so you can communicate with friends in the not-so-great outdoors. Now, no matter where you are, the air will always be as fresh as a daisy. Have fun watering your head, though.
6. REALLY COOL SHOES
Patent: US 5375430 A
Late summer’s swelter is the perfect excuse for wannabe exhibitionists to strip down to fashion’s bare minimum, from top to toe. But for those whose tootsies are less than sandal-ready, one ingenious inventor came up with a solution: air conditioned shoes. As you step, a series of chambers in the heel contract like mini-bellows, exerting force on a set of coolant-filled coils that turn the ambient heat into chilled air. That air is then expelled through a pad running under the foot, literally cooling your heels. And with a quick switcheroo, the cooling chambers reverse their function, becoming a foot warmer for winter months. Finally, a shoe for all seasons.
7. THE AUTOMATIC PET PETTER
Patent: US 20060207518 A1
As any kid with a puppy knows, pets are a lot of work. They need food, exercise, grooming, poop scooping, and hardest of all: nonstop physical affection. Thankfully, inventor Anthony Steffen created a machine to make life easier. The automatic dog petter not only strokes your pup (or feline) with a mechanical hand; it also plays audio so you can provide your furry friend with a comforting pep talk or their preferred cover of “Hound Dog.” Fido need only stand on a motion-sensor platform, and it’s just like you’re there with him. As Patent 20,060,207,518 reminds us, “It is a fact of modern life that most people work away from their homes. If they have pets, these pets will often be alone for many hours.” This may be a fact of modern life, but so are robots, and both you and Fido will be better for it.
8. SLED-FREE SLEDDING/SLED PANTS
Patent: US 5573256 A
Little is more exhilarating than zipping down a snow-covered hill. And little is more humbling that trudging back to the top, toboggan in tow. That breathless, awkward, sweaty climb is the conundrum that Patent 5,573,256 seeks to solve. “Until now, a sled capable of being attached to the body of the user and worn before, during, and after a downhill sled run has not been invented,” writes inventor Brent Farley. Fortunately for us, he fixed that. His liberating contraption allows you to simply strap sled chaps to your snow pants and enjoy ride after unencumbered ride.
9. THE BANANA SUITCASE
Patent: US 6612440 B1
It’s snack o’clock and your banana got horribly bruised in your bag on the way to work. What now? Stale party mix from the break-room vending machine again? Thick skins notwithstanding, bananas are subject to all manner of abuse, but the Banana Suitcase keeps your favorite fruit safe and fresh as it travels in this perforated, foam-lined case that hinges shut. That is, as long as it fits into this one-size-only carrying case! No wonder the invention didn’t exactly peel off.
10. THE GERBIL VEST
Patent: US 5901666 A
Thanks to this clever invention, you can make your guinea pig live up to its name. Or you can take your hamster grocery shopping, bring your chinchilla on a morning jog, or sign that bank loan with your gerbil’s moral support. The technology is simple: “A vest or belt is integrally formed with tubular, pet-receiving passageways that extend around the wearer’s body and terminate in pocket-like chambers,” the patent says. “Outer wall portions of the passageway are transparent so that a pet moving along the passageways can be seen by a spectator.” The pet display vest is not available in all, or frankly any, stores.