Obscure Patent: Disposable Boxer Shorts

Disposable Boxer Shorts
US Patent No. 6,539,554 [ PDF ] [ HTML ]
Issued April 1, 2003

Believe it or not, this patent on disposable boxer shorts was issued on April Fools Day 2003! The fact that this patent issued on April Fools Day is rather appropriate and does certainly demonstrate that someone in the Patent Office has a sense of humor. The Background of the Invention starts by saying: “The need for clean underwear is almost universal.” I suppose a truer statement could not be made. Apparently the problem that is being solved by this invention is the difficulting in preparing clean underwear when traveling and/or camping. Nevertheless, I still have to question whether a pair of boxer shorts made out of tissue paper satisfies the patentability requirements. Finally, on some level aren’t all boxer shorts disposable?

The point that all boxer shorts are disposable is not one that we should gloss over.  In order to obtain a patent an invention needs to be useful, and while the utility requirement is indeed a very low threshold, it is a real threshold that can and does result in inventions not being patentable.  Here the invention is boxer shorts of some particular type, so there is utility.  Nevertheless, the fact that the patent explains that the boxer shorts are disposable allows me to point out that the usefulness of the invention must be specific to the invention in order to satisfy the utility requirement.  So you cannot say that you have invented a time machine that is useful as landfill.  Everything is useful as landfill, so the utility you are identifying does not match up uniquely with what the invention is alleged to be.  Similarly, you cannot claim that the sole utility of your invention is that it is disposable, not even if your invention is as simple as boxer shorts.  Of course, as already mentioned, the sole utility is not in the shorts being disposable, but it is still humorous nevertheless.

To get a better feel for this patent, which is not terribly long should you want to read the entire thing, see this portion of the Detailed Description:

A preferred embodiment of the present disposable boxer shorts is shown in an exploded front view in FIG. 1. It is comprised of a back panel 10, a right front panel 11, and a left front panel 12, all made of a strong cloth-like paper, such as the material used for making the paper towel sold under the trademark “VIVA” by the Kimberly Clark company. Back panel 10 has leg portions 13 and 14 with an arch shaped crotch 15 in between. Front panels have leg portions 16 and 17 with right and left half crotches 18 and 19 along an inside edge that has a substantially different shape than a corresponding side of crotch 15 on back panel 10. Specifically, the edges of half crotches 18 and 19 are substantially longer than the corresponding edges of crotch 15.

The bolded, underlined portion in the paragraph above was not so emphasised in the original, but is provided here to draw your attention to the preference given by the invention. Essentially, these are boxer shorts made out of paper towels, but not just any paper towels. These boxer shorts are made out of VIVA paper towels. I personally would have thought that BOUNTY (i.e., the Quicker Picker-Upper) would have made a better choice, but what is objectively best is not what the best mode requirement is all about. To satisfy the best mode the inventor needs to provide description of his/her subjective preferences.

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