Every year since 2011, the United State Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has shared intellectual property (IP) found in the deepest and darkest corners of our 200+ year old archives. This Halloween, join our social media team to talk all about #CreepyIP -- from how it got started, to the magic of searching for old patents and trademarks, to what invention artwork gives us the heebie jeebies.

The late Laura Larrimore – senior digital strategist

Liz ChuuuuUUUUUuuuuuUUUU – social media specialist

Paul “Freak Show” Fucito – press secretary

Paul “Redrum” Rosenthal – acting chief communications officer

Proof: AMA announcement from the official @USPTO account on Twitter

Send us your queries! We'll start answering questions at 9:30am ET.

UPDATE: Bats all, folks! Thanks so much for all your questions today, and have a safe and happy Halloween.

Want to suggest content for #CreepyIP? You can email us anytime at [email protected] with the subject line "#CreepyIP". Make sure to include the issued Patent or Trademark registration number so we can find the item in our archives.

Comments: 112 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

Elsee12644 karma

Has anyone ever recognized their (or their great-granddad's) invention that was used in Creepy IP?

USPatentAndTrademark49 karma

Laura: No one on social media has told us they’ve recognized a family members’ patents during #CreepyIP yet. But among the staff, most of us will admit to doing a quick search of the archives to see if any of our relatives are listed there. Anyone can search them -- you can search by the inventors first and last name, and limit by date, so that’s one way to find out if “Uncle So-and-So who had a patent” actually did, and what the patent claimed to do.

In my office I have several copies of patents issued to my husband’s maternal grandfather. He worked for DuPont on fiber technology/science. He also invented something he called the “wrinkle-o-matic”, which was a device to scientifically measure how much natural fabrics wrinkled versus some of the new “wonder” fabrics of the time, like polyester!

Sometimes you also find weird things, like this hairdressing patent by “L.Larrimore” [Note: not me and not related to me] which are just neat. I printed out a copy and have it taped to my office door, next to my nameplate.

_Mardoxx6 karma

That's not weird at all. A similar design is employed in practically every hairdressing salon in the UK and probably elsewhere... Prevents water dripping down your neck.

USPatentAndTrademark6 karma

Laura: That's cool to know! I don't think this design is as popular in the US -- the ones I've seen use a u-shaped dip in the sink bowl, where you rest your head.

I think the invention itself is totally practical -- what I found slightly eerie was finding a patent that looks like I was the inventor, even though it was patented decades before I was born. :::cue spooky music:::

ThorsProvoni29 karma

On Valentine's Day does the USPTO hold a Reddit_AMA on sexy tech: vibrators, contraceptives, toys, edible panties, etc.?

USPatentAndTrademark45 karma

Nope. But you are welcome to search our patent archive --"Patent Full Text and Image Database" or trademark archive -- "TESS" in the privacy of your own home.

lovelyrita_mm25 karma

Since I am a totally newbie to the idea of Creepy IP, what are some examples of this, and how creepy does IP get? Are we talking really dark stuff? Are there any limits on what one is allowed to trademark or patent?

USPatentAndTrademark19 karma

Paul R: Take a look at our Creepy IP photo album on the USPTO's Facebook page and you'll see all the examples of Creepy IP. Some are simply lighthearted things that align well with the Halloween spirit. Things that can make costumes more fun or pumpkins easier to carve. But there's definitely some darker stuff that has been patented over the years. Let's face it, death exists and for millennia people have come up with creative ways to deal with it -- either for comfort and solace, or for the health of the living. Many of these ideas that are novel, useful, and non-obvious can be patented.

ApeOver12 karma

Whats the one patent thats kinda stuck with you the most and still gives you the brrrs just thinking about it, gang?

USPatentAndTrademark11 karma

Paul F: The "skeleton confession" patent, which we shared leading up to this AMA, is one that I found a few years ago. It really struck me. I hadn't seen anything like that before.

USPatentAndTrademark9 karma

Liz: Any of the coffin patents, especially US 901,407, which is for a grave attachment. This patent is for an invention that provided a way to observe or watch a body after it’s been interred. It reminds me of the time I visited one of the historic cemeteries in New Orleans and learned about how some people were buried prematurely. There was definitely a need for this kind of invention.

USPatentAndTrademark9 karma

Paul R: I think any type of device that's designed to alert the living that you've been buried alive. I mean, I totally get the purpose. But wow, I simply can't imagine being in that situation. And I wonder if it was ever used?

gazetc8 karma

This one creeps me out.

USPatentAndTrademark3 karma

That's technically not a question, but it IS pretty creepy!

CorpCounsel9 karma

I've always found the TESS interface pretty creepy - any plans to do a refresh?

USPatentAndTrademark10 karma

Paul F: We're always working to upgrade our IT tools, including TESS, which is part of our Trademarks Next Generation project. You can tune in to today's TPAC livestream for updates from CIO John Owens, starting at 10:50 am ET.

Unknownie4049 karma

Favorite Halloween candy?

USPatentAndTrademark12 karma

Laura: A favorite (trademarked!) candy of mine is Butterfinger®.

USPatentAndTrademark12 karma

Paul F: Mine is pretty specific, and reveals my Jersey roots: Goldenberg's Peanut Chews.

USPatentAndTrademark13 karma

Liz: Kit Kats, always. I also wish more people handed out fun-sized bars of Skor.

USPatentAndTrademark10 karma

Paul R: Kit Kats or Peanut Butter Cups.

ImperfectlyCromulent8 karma

Are there things you find whose creepiness is completely unintentional?

USPatentAndTrademark12 karma

Laura: I find most patent art that includes drawings of humans or human body parts are likely to be unintentionally creepy. When I am searching for #CreepyIP, sometimes I look through classes of inventions like eyeglasses, nose plugs or hand protectors that are likely to have people in the artwork demonstrating use of the invention.

Since the artist is mostly concerned with showing a clear depiction of the invention, often they don’t put as much time into drawing the faces or body parts, making for an odd, slightly awkward and creepy drawing.

See for example, this super-cool patent by Eddie Van Halen. Some people in our office find the drawing creepy -- and not just because of the 80's hairstyle.

antique_land8 karma

What are your favorite parts of the job?

USPatentAndTrademark7 karma

Liz: Collaborating on social media campaigns, like #CreepyIP. Everyone gets their creative juices flowing and wants to contribute with interesting intellectual property that they’ve come across or found in the archives. It’s also a mini history lesson each time you find something “creepy” or “strange” or “weird”. They’re layers of history – new inventions or improvements of innovations that have come before. And if they’re new, it’ll probably inspire someone else to invent.

USPatentAndTrademark4 karma

Paul F: I have always been fascinated by technology and innovation, and getting to meet the people behind the inventions is simply amazing. As a former radio personality, being able to meet people like National Inventor’s Hall of Fame inductees James West, co-inventor of the Electret Microphone, or Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam (who also happened to film the uber creepy tricycle scene in “The Shining”) is about as cool as it gets. I’m also fortunate enough to work with a great group of colleagues who share a similar sense of humor and tend to geek out over all the same things I do.

USPatentAndTrademark4 karma

Laura: For me, a great job is about being happy both in WHAT you do and WHO you work with. I really like the work that I do and I really like my colleagues.

Also, there is so much to explore around IP. I love that IP is found in nearly everything – the more you look, the more you notice the patents and trademarks all around you.

skorpiankh7 karma

Is there a place we can post submissions for CreepyIP? My grandfather had a bit of mad scientist in him... http://www.google.com.pg/patents/US2422254

USPatentAndTrademark4 karma

Please send us your suggestions! You can email us at [email protected] -- please put #CreepyIP in the subject and any info to help us find the patent in the USPTO archives (i.e a link to the patent from the online archive, the patent number etc.). Generally the IP we share has a registered US trademark or a granted US patent.

WanderingVagus6 karma

Are there IP that you have found that was creepy in its time and isn't now? Or vice versa?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

USPatentAndTrademark8 karma

Paul R: I think it's mostly vice versa. When people invent, they're inventing for a purpose. They've identified a need and are attempting to create a solution to satisfy that need. At that moment in time, that idea could have been genius. With the benefit of hindsight, it becomes easier to see that perhaps many of those early attempts at a solution were not the best or were simply unsuccessful. And sometimes it can look downright creepy when you apply that hindsight through a lens of today's technology.

webgeek156 karma

How did you get your leadership to go along with this? Government agencies aren't usually up for stuff like this.

USPatentAndTrademark17 karma

Paul R: We don't look at government agencies being these monolithic things with only one way of doing stuff. We feel that if we can help the public to further engage with the services provided by their public institutions, that's a benefit. As communicators, we know that one way to do this is to break away from typical government-speak and "bureaucrat-ese" and find ways to connect with citizens in a way that's relevant. Doing something out of the ordinary or humorous can break expectations and that gets attention.

A few years ago, FEMA had a program to help people understand the importance of emergency preparedness by helping people understand what they need to do in case of a zombie apocalypse. Totally bogus, of course, but it got attention and the key message of being prepared was assuredly delivered to more people than if FEMA just played it safe. The fact is, the government (and the USPTO) is filled with creative people who are not afraid to do something a bit out of the ordinary to get results.

Urbanviking14 karma

Where can I go to view these creepy IPs?

cubanorico9174 karma

Hi There!

Thank you guys for participating in this AMA. I've heard that the USPTO is the best place to work in the federal government. What about the USPTO makes it the best place to work?

Also, I am a biomedical engineer that is very interested in working at the USPTO. Besides submitting an application on USAJOBS, what else should I do to increase my chances of getting an interview for a Patent Examiner position at the USPTO?

Thank You! :-)

USPatentAndTrademark4 karma

We think it’s one of the best places to work too! The USPTO offers great benefits including a business casual dress policy (denim Fridays – for some of us), flexible work schedules, and an award-winning telework program. 

Since you’ve submitted your application, your credentials will be reviewed against the job requirements, and you can wait to hear back from us. Nothing further to do, but you can get to know us better at USPTO Jobs https://www.uspto.gov/jobs/join-us. Good luck!

USPatentAndTrademark6 karma

Sharon (our colleague in Human Resources):Thanks for your interest! The best way for us to understand your qualifications is by doing what you already know to do: apply via USAJOBS. But here’s something you might not already know: you can apply to more than one vacancy announcement for different engineering disciplines.  It’s the best way to increase your chances of landing an interview. 

For more info on jobs at the USPTO and to stay connected with us outside of Reddit, check us out on (LinkedIn) [https://www.linkedin.com/company/uspto] and at [@USPTOJobs on Twitter](http://www.twitter.com/uspto]!  

And if you have any additional questions, contact us at [email protected]!

ThederpiestOne2 karma

How do you guys get paid, and do you guys get paid?

USPatentAndTrademark3 karma

Paul F: Yes, yes we do get paid. Today, it is strictly in bags of candy however, but for the rest of the year, you can see the OPM salary and wage breakdowns for federal employees here: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2017/general-schedule/

BLOKDAK2 karma

Is it cheaper to get a lawyer to help me obtain a patent for #CreepyIP than normal IP?

Because I find the whole process to be cost-prohibitive. Maybe if I focused on Creepy inventions I could afford to get a patent.

USPatentAndTrademark4 karma

Laura: We can’t speak for the lawyers out there, but at the USPTO, we have created several programs to assist low-income inventors. This includes reducing the fees we charge for filing and establishing partnerships with groups to offer Pro Bono (free) legal assistance in all 50 states for inventors who qualify.

Additionally the USPTO runs several free programs to help, including The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC), a call center staffed by real people, many who are retired patent examiners. For links to all the additional resources, please visit: https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/inventors-entrepreneurs-resources.

Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx, said in this NPR interview that she used two of these resources -- her local Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) and the USPTO website -- as she was starting her business.

“I had set aside $5,000 in savings from selling fax machines door to door, and that's what I started Spanx with. And so the first thing I did was started to research if the idea existed. And I went to the Georgia Tech library in Atlanta every night after work for a week and a half researching every pantyhose patent that ever existed.

And then, probably on the seventh or 10th day of me being in there, some guy came up to me and goes, you know there's a website called uspto.gov? And I said, no, what is that? I scribbled it down in my notebook. He's like, you can search - you know, put in a patent and it'll search for you. So that website became one of my best friends."

Andromeda3212 karma

Hi! If not too late, who is your favorite coworker, and why is it Linda? :)

USPatentAndTrademark2 karma

Laura: Sorry, but it's definitely Pico! He is the only co-worker who gets away with snoring during meetings.

PinochetIsMyHero1 karma

For microentity fee purposes for a new application, if an inventor had previously filed a provisional and then a nonprovisional based on that same provisional, do they count as two previous filings or just one? If two, does that mean that an inventor who did that twice (two provs and two nonprovs based on said two provs) can no longer file another new application as a microentity?

USPatentAndTrademark2 karma

Since June 8, 1995, the USPTO has offered inventors the option of filing a provisional application for a patent which was designed to provide a lower-cost first patent filing in the United States. For more information on provisional versus nonprovisional patent applications, please refer to https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/patent-basics/types-patent-applications/provisional-application-patent. For your specific question, I’d recommend you talk to our Help Center. Phone: 800-786-9199.

brieahnj1 karma

Are there any #CreepyIP's that one person on the team thought was REALLY creepy and another was like, "meh, that's not so creepy at all"? :-)

USPatentAndTrademark2 karma

Liz: I think we’ve all generally agreed that the patents and trademarks we’ve selected for #CreepyIP have been creepy or strange. I personally think that anything with clowns is extra creepy, but I’m sure there’s been someone on the team who views them as a piece of nostalgia from their childhood. Not. Me.

USPatentAndTrademark2 karma

Laura: We usually tape up print-outs of potential picks on a wall in our conference room, and then let all the staff take a look and debate what should make the cut. We have a diverse team, so doing it this way ensures there's general agreement. (You can actually see this process happening in the background of our AMA proof image).

Sometimes an option doesn't make it into the present year, but appears in the following year. It may take us awhile (sometimes years) to find the perfect thing to say about an item. Sometimes the item just doesn't resonate for everybody, and so we don't do it.

I knew right away this patent artwork was perfect, but I had a hard time figuring out the caption. And then near the end of October as time was running out, BAM!, it came to me. It's still one of my favorite #CreepyIP posts I personally wrote.

This year, we finally shared the "bubble ball" patent. We taped it to the wall a few years back, but the only staff-suggested caption referenced a tv show/movie from the 1960s. We debated whether it was too obscure of a reference (I and several of the younger team members had to do some quick online searching to understand the reference), and ultimately it didn't make the cut that year.

We tried again this year and I'm really happy with the final caption that we settled on.

Duke_Paul1 karma

What is the most disturbing patent or piece of IP you guys have ever found? I'm thinking, like, mummification tools or torture devices that people managed to patent. Alternately, have you ever found a patent granted to someone who would later become famous--like an early Tesla or Einstein or something?

Thanks for doing this AMA, this is super cool!

(Edit: Typos)

USPatentAndTrademark4 karma

We’ve come across fascinating patents and trademarks over the years. A patent we recently found to be disturbing, but useful and promoted at the time of invention, was for a portable baby cage.

USPatentAndTrademark3 karma

Laura: Do medical devices count as torture devices? Even though we’ve made major advances in dentistry, anything related to going to the dentist is creepy to me. The patents for various old-time ‘advancements’ like this dental tool, are pretty horrific. I’m sure one day we’ll be saying the same thing about today’s high-tech tools and methods.

USPatentAndTrademark3 karma

Liz: We’ve shared a few patents of famous people who the general public may not know were inventors. Many very smart people who are well-known for other reasons were also creative and inventive.

For example, President Lincoln was a supporter of the patent system and he had first-hand knowledge of IP both as a lawyer and as an inventor who was granted a patent.

The famous Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr was also an inventor. After coming to the US from Austria, during WWII she invented a way to make it harder to detect the signals given off by radio-controlled torpedos and was granted a US patent. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her work.

Some other inventors you might not expect are writer Mark Twain for improvements to suspenders, musician Prince for a custom key-tar musical instrument, or Zeppo Marx for a cardiac pulse rate monitor.