Vacuum Cleaner Patented Jan. 1, 2008

Upright Type Cleaner
U.S. Patent No.
7,313,845 [ PDF ]
Patent Issued: January 1, 2008

It is almost unbeliveable to imagine, but on New Years Day 2008, while many of us were recovering from the previous night or watching lopsided college football bowl games, the United States Patent Office was issuing a patent covering a revolutionary invention.  They call it a “vacuum cleaner.” 

I obviously have no idea what is patentable any more because I cannot see anything here in this invention that would or could be considered patentable, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s fairly recent decision in KSR v. Teleflex, which says that if something is within the common sense of people skilled in the technical field of the invention then a patent should not issue.

How is this invention not within the common sense of, well everyone?  If you read the patent and dissect the claims it seems that the inventive contribution to the field is that this particular vacuum cleaner has 2 power switches.  One of the power switches, which it would appear that the inventor thought made the device unique, automatically turns off when the vacuum cleaner is put into the upright position.  It then automatically turns back on when the vacuum cleaner handle is put into an inclined position, presumably because when you use the vacuum it will be inclined (or declined as the case may be).  But how does that make this particular unit patentable?  I couldn’t tell you.  I wish I could… really I do… but I am at a complete loss.

What inventions like this do is make if virtually impossible to meaningfully counsel clients on whether they are likely to obtain a patent.  Everyone knows that the Patent Office issues crazy patents.  They do that every week.  This is not a newsflash at all.  Because of these patents, however, how can any patent attorney ever tell their client that they could not obtain a patent?  The answer is that it would stretch the imagination to come up with a scenario where a patentability opinion would find there to be nothing at all patentable.  Even if you were to copy an invention already patented it could be altered in seemingly trivial ways and if you get the right examiner a patent will issue.  Of course, if you get an examiner who takes their job seriously no patent would issue.  How is that for equity?  No such thing as equal protection at the Patent Office.

I have written it before, and I will write it now and I am sure I will write it again.  Patent like this one that have at best a trivial variation from known devices perpetuate the invention scams that prey on inventors to the tune of hundred of millions of dollars a year, if not billions of dollars a year.  The reason that the Patent Office cannot stop these scam artists and protect the public from known vultures is because they actually are able to get patents for their clients.  No matter how silly, trivial or even old your invention is, you too can obtain a patent!  What a sad, sorry state of functionality at our Patent Office.


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One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for Harry]
    November 26, 2008 05:09 pm

    Gene, you are confusing “trivial” with “obvious”. It is no part of the PTO examiners’ task to test whether an invention is trivial — only whether it is obvious.

    In any event, what test are you using to determine trivialness? Presumably, if the applicant is seeking a patent for a thing, it is not trivial, at least not to the applicant. If the applicant thinks there is (or might be) money in it, it is not trivial.

    Here is what the proper test, the test for obviousness, looks like, in this case.

    You put yourself into the position of a skilled designer of vac.cleaners. Your sales dept is constantly pleading with you to come up with new ways to reduce the chore-ness of – and to reduce costs, of course.

    Now, vac.cleaners usually have a pedal whereby the user can lock/release the tilt handle, and usually have a switch whereby the user can switch the vac.motor on/off.

    Here, the designers have come up with the idea that the two operations can be combined. The action of tilting the handle beyond a certain angle is used to automatically trigger the operation of the motor.

    No-one has previously recognized that the motor on/off switch can in fact be tied to the tilting of the handle. It would be no good, for example, if the motor switch were tied to something that switched the motor on/off at inopportune times. The inventors have recognized, and made use of, a property of vac.cleaner tilt handles that has not previously been recognized or made use of. That makes it a patentable invention.

    You might not think this is a very good idea. In that case, your remedy is to not purchase their product. But you can only deny them a patent if their invention, as claimed, is obvious, which it is not, in this case.

    No doubt there are more ingenious and elegant inventions than this one. But this one surely can take its place as a non-obvious patentable invention. Actually coming up with a new way of reducing the chore-ness of is not so easy.

    Gene – great site! keep up the good work!