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April 25, 2007

Another Patent You've Never Heard Of

We recently bought a plastic mat to put on the floor under one of our kids' desk chairs. I noticed that the mat had "patented carry handles" on the edge, and to prove it the patent number was listed: 6183833.

Naturally I had to look up the patent to see what there was about the handles that were non-obvious to one skilled in the art (the art of chairmat design, that is). It turns out that there is a lot going on here.

First of all, it is hard to carry the mats because they have "short but relatively sharp spikes on the undersides thereof which hold the mats firmly in place". Carrying these can be dangerous, "often resulting in irritation if not injury to the hands. Oh the humanity! Previous attempts to solve this have been limited to making the mats foldable. Furthermore, it is hard to display the mats in a retail setting because they don't stand up on their own.

The solution is to add little plastic handles on the edges, so you can hang them up to display them, and use the handles to carry the mat around. Or, to put it more bluntly, "a desk chairmat comprising a semi-rigid substantially planar member, the member having at least four side edges; an upper side of the chairmat having a substantially smooth surface and a lower side of the chairmat having a plurality of spikes projecting therefrom; and at least one integral hang tab located along one of the side edges" (I wish I could write like that, although the use of the word "plurality" in such a context might be considered a weapon and thus banned for export from the U.S.).

But wait, you say. "If such handles were to be applied to the chairmat, one can imagine the desk chair casters or user's shoe heels becoming caught within a handle opening." Indeed, I could imagine that quite easily. So the solution is to make handles that can be removed by the owner. Not necessarily by any specific modification, instead just relying on the fact that a pair of scissors can cut plastic of this thickness.

There's more: the notion that you can add a "living hinge", which is a groove in the plastic so that it folds easily, thus bringing the handles into alignment (saying "ta-da" at this point is optional) for E-Z carrying; and various configurations of carrying handles and hanging handles, which are sometimes the same handle and sometimes not. Come to think of it, it didn't say anywhere on the actual mat that we were supposed to cut off the handles, just that they were patented; we have so far avoided the horror of caster-handle entanglement, and Microsoft has a good health plan so I think I'll keep taking my chances. After all I might want to move the mat someday, and if I cut the handles off I would lose the advantage that "the chairmat may be pulled together (by a partial rolling or folding of the chairmat with the carpet spikes facing inwardly) so that the two handles align, thereby not only reducing the profile of the chairmat, but also forming a single stronger handle enabling the user to carry the chairmat without difficulty." And THAT would be a shame.

Posted by AdamBa at April 25, 2007 10:24 PM

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One of the thing that irritates me about these utterly obvious patents is that the guy (let us assume there is one) who simply added handles without even thinking about patents is now enjoined from selling them.

Posted by: marble chair at April 26, 2007 10:21 AM

Somebody should read the Patent Office the law about "bringing the organization into disrepute." It's one of the most basic laws of self-preservation out there. Mark my words, the fanatical US Federal government drive to make everybody else kowtow to US IPR, is going to backfire, rather horribly.

With these examples of the USPTO bringing itself into disrepute, nobody's going to want to buy anything made in the US, or redistributed, any longer. Talk about devaluing a brand - this sort of thing makes the US-sourced IPR into the modern version of the Confederate dollar.

Posted by: Wesley Parish at April 28, 2007 05:14 AM