Obscure Patent: Color-coded clippers

Color-coded attachment comb key for hair clipper
US Patent No. 6,807,736

Issued October 26, 2004

I find myself almost completely overwhelmed by sadness. How is it possible that the patent system has fallen so far that patents on inventions like this one can be issued? In fact, patents such as this one are not only issued, they are issued every week! When teaching patent prosecution I always point out that sometimes the most simple inventions are the ones that present the biggest problems with respect to finding prior art. It seems that everyone wants to write about cutting edge stuff, so finding a reference in writing that talks about a swing moving side to side can be near impossible. That being said, how is it that anyone at the Patent Office could not find a reference that demonstrates that this “invention” is not patentable? This invention is only a color coded system!

Those familiar with hair clippers will know that attachments come in all different sizes, which correspond to the length of the cut. What this invention does is take a well known clipper, take well known attachments, color code the attachments and then place a legend on the clipper itself. Is the Patent Office even willing to pretend that such a color coding system is patentable? For those of you who have always wanted to be inventors all you have to do is take something that has attachments and color code them. Maybe I will patent a color coded vacuum cleaner. On second thought, perhaps I should do a quick search before I waste the filing fee. After all, that may have already been patented.

With all kidding aside, this patent probably should not be able to be granted today.  I realize that this previous statement assumes that it should have been granted back in 2004.  Lets put that issue on the back burner for now.  Whether or not it should ever have issued under any variation of US patent law, given that the Supreme Court has made it more difficult to obtain a patent thanks to its decision in KSR v. Teleflex this patent should never issue today.  Today anything that is viewed as being within the common sense of someone of skill in the art is not patentable any longer.  It would seem that color-coding is common sense and I would assume that such a patent could not issue under the law we have today, but then again, we all know crazy things can and do issue as patents. 

The Abstract of the patent says:

An apparatus for associating a size of an attachment comb for a hair cutting device with a color on or of the attachment comb representing that particular size. The apparatus includes a chart having a plurality of symbols that pictorially represents both the attachment comb sizes of a plurality of attachment combs, and the colors related to the respective attachment comb sizes. The symbols have a magnitude along one direction that is greater or smaller than other symbols on the chart depending on their respective attachment comb sizes, to produce a visual association between a cutting device size and a cutting device color.

Rather than try and find a piece of the Background or Summary that explains in basic terms what this invention is, take a look at claim 1, which is reproduced below.

What is claimed is:

1. In a hair cutting system having a hair cutting device and a plurality of attachment combs configured to be removably attached to the hair cutting device, each of the plurality of attachment combs having one of a plurality of colors and one of a plurality of sizes relating to an approximate distance between a scalp and cutting blades of the cutting device, so that each of the attachment comb colors relates to an attachment comb size, an apparatus for visually associating each one of the attachment comb colors to each one of the attachment comb sizes, the apparatus comprising:

a chart having a plurality of symbols, each of said plurality of symbols pictorially representing both one of the plurality of attachment comb sizes and the attachment comb color associated with each said one of the plurality of attachment comb sizes;

wherein each of said plurality of symbols displays said attachment comb color associated with a corresponding one of the plurality of attachment comb sizes, and has a magnitude along at least one dimension that is both greater than a remainder of said plurality of symbols representing smaller attachment comb sizes and smaller than a remainder of said plurality of symbols representing larger attachment comb sizes.


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