Hollywood Patents: Inventions from 12 Celebrity Inventors

Last night at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA, the best and the brightest film stars, directors, producers and more came together for the 86th Academy Awards. This year’s awards ceremony, hosted by talk show personality and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, was centered around the theme of honoring movie heroes, especially those acts which the camera doesn’t catch on the set.

The big winners were 12 Years a Slave, which came away with 2 Oscars including one for best picture, Gravity, which walked away with 7 Oscars, and Dallas Buyers Club, which saw Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto come away with Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

But this is not an article about the Academy Awards per se. With all the hype about the Academy Awards we thought it might be interesting to see just how many Hollywood celebrities were inventors. Below is our list of the most interesting inventions from a number of well known actors and directors.



Harry Connick, Jr.
System and Method for Coordinating Music Display Among Players in an Orchestra

U.S. Patent No. 6348648

Harry Connick, Jr., currently a judge for season 13 of American Idol, is probably best known as a jazz musician and vocalist who has seven top-20 US albums, and ten #1 US jazz albums. Connick, however, is also an actor who has worked on more than 20 films, including opposite Will Smith in Independence Day. Connick is also an inventor with a U.S. patent, so he easily qualifies for this Hollywood patent list.

There are many disadvantages posed to a musical instrument player who has to work with sheet music printed on paper. During play, the need to turn pages arises for long musical pieces, which may detract from playing. When using paper documents, there exists the risk of losing pages to a score, which can be a huge problem if a musician only realizes this during a performance.

Connick received this patent protecting a computerized system of presenting music pages to a musician digitally. Issued by the USPTO in February 2002, this patent describes a system based on digital music editing systems that display digital sheet music. The invention’s interface is designed so that a conductor can control the changing of musical score pages for musicians. It’s been reported that Connick, Jr., came up with the invention in 1999 while on an outdoor tour with his band after getting frustrated that his musicians sheet music kept getting blown away.


George Lucas
Toy Action Figure

U.S. Patent No. D264109

Action figures of movie star icons and heroes have been treasured by kids for decades now. George Lucas isn’t the first filmmaker to improve his wealth through merchandising, but this design patent, issued by the USPTO in April 1982, is just one of more than 20 design patents for toy figures that the filmmaker’s Lucasfilm company has been assigned. As diagrams from this patent clearly show, this protects the design to a figurine styled after Boba Fett, the famed bounty hunter from the Star Wars saga.


James Cameron
Apparatus for Propelling a User in an Underwater Environment
U.S. Patent No. 4996938

Underwater photography and filming is aided by propulsion systems that allow a filmmaker to move easily through the water with an underwater camera device. Through the 1980s, there had been a need to improve these propulsion systems so that a filmmaker to enjoy better maneuverability. Specifically, the ability to point a camera in a direction independent of the propulsion direction hadn’t been well developed.

This patent was issued in March 1991 by the USPTO to Michael and James Cameron of Bermuda Dunes, CA. It protects an underwater propulsion system for an individual camera operator with a rotatable support means for a hull assembly. A person can change the angular orientation of the hull, which contains camera equipment, with both hands. Director James Cameron’s underwater cinematography was a major part of the success of 1997’s Titanic, but he developed it with his brother Michael when shooting the 1989 film The Abyss.

Steven Spielberg
Method and Apparatus for Annotating a Line-Based Document

U.S. Patent No. 8091028

The process of producing a screenplay is incredibly time consuming and requires more time to complete with each additional person that must review the work completed. A means of streamlining the review and comment process so that individuals with executive decision-making powers in a project can quickly review work would improve the time efficiency of filming or other business projects.

This patent was issued by the USPTO in January 2012 to Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg, as well as co-inventor Samuel Gustman. It protects a system enabling multiple users to attach verbal comments to a line-based document, such as a script or a book. The system would allow users to interact with a document through multiple communication terminals, including a mobile phone, home PC or even a pay phone, according to the patent. Spielberg is also the co-inventor of a design patent for a dolly track switch.


Francis Ford Coppola
Garment for Identifying Location on Body of the Garment Wearer

U.S. Patent Application 20060191053

Many of the world’s most widely proliferating inventions utilize a simple solution to address a persistent problem. It’s not likely that this patent application, filed by renowned film director Francis Ford Coppola, will earn that level of success, but we were piqued by his quirky method of getting at tough-to-reach back itches.

The “invention” described in this patent application, filed with the USPTO in February 2005, is comprised of a T-shirt with a grid matrix printed on the back. The idea is to be able to quickly indicate what portion of a person’s back is itching so that another person can help scratch. The language in the description section of this patent application is particularly delightful. In response to the problem of asking someone’s help in scratching an itch:

“This, in turn, requires orienting the second-party-scratcher by using a series of directions, which are often being misunderstood by the second party. For example, these instructions might include ‘Could you scratch lower? To the left . . . No, the other left. Now, down lower. To the right. No, no . . . Too far! Back to the left.’”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Coppola did not receive a patent on his T-shirt. A review of the file history on Public PAIR shows that on February 27, 2007, a Final Rejection was mailed to Coppola’s attorney, which rejected the claims as being obvious under 35 U.S.C. 103. The application was abandoned on September 4, 2007, for failure to timely respond.


Hedy Lamarr
Secret Communication System

U.S. Patent No. 2292387

This patent protects a system of encrypting radio signals to provide a system of secret wireless communication. This system could be used for the remote control of various craft, like dirigible vehicles or torpedoes. The communication system offers reliable communication for creating a controlling impulse of a craft while using a transmission method that is able to change the frequency tuning at regular intervals, making it difficult to decode the signal.

This patent, which protects a very early precursor to wireless communication technology, was issued in August 1942 to inventors George Antheil, a composer, and Hedy Keisler Markey, better known as the film starlet Hedy Lamarr. The duo developed the invention to remotely control piano players, but the patent that was officially issued discusses the system’s ability to prevent enemy forces from jamming torpedo signals and other wireless communication.


Jamie Lee Curtis
Infant Garment

U.S. Patent No. 4753647

Parents tend to go through a lot of disposable diapers and baby wipes when caring for and changing infants. Typically, wipes and diapers are sold as separate products, increasing the difficulty of managing supplies for cleaning an infant. Providing a unit that includes both the diaper and the disposable wipes in a single product would be beneficial to parents who usually need both items to change a baby’s diaper.

Jamie Lee Curtis is the sole inventor in this patent, issued by the USPTO in June 1988. The True Lies and Halloween actress is credited with patenting a disposable diaper including a waterproof pocket that holds baby wipes. This gives parents an easy to reach supply of wipes during the act of changing a diaper, which is typically when these wipes are needed most. The patent expired in 2007 without being licensed as Curtis refused to market the product until diaper companies began making biodegradable products.


Steve McQueen
Bucket Seat

U.S. Patent No. D219584

A bucket seat is a type of seating arrangement usually found in a vehicle. The seat is contoured so that it can comfortably fit a single individual, as opposed to bench seating which is designed to fit as many people as possible into a given space. Bucket seats are typically found on sports cars or trendier models, and were developed for use in motor sports and car races.

Steve McQueen, the “King of Cool” who starred in The Sand Pebbles and The Thomas Crown Affair, was renowned for his driving stunts in movies, many that he performed himself. An avid enthusiast of motor vehicles, he was issued this design patent by the USPTO in December 1970 to protect the design of a bucket seat with a wide back and many contouring panels to increase rider comfort.


Herbert Zeppo Marx
Cardiac Pulse-Rate Monitor

U.S. Patent No. 3473526

This patent protects a pulse-rate monitor for patients with cardiac impairment. The device is designed to provide an audible and vibratory warning if a pulse rate exceeds a normal threshold. The warning would instruct an individual to cease any physical or athletic activity in response to the pulse reaching excessively high rates; warnings can also be issued for abnormally low pulse rates. The pulse-rate monitor used in this system has a pulse-operated electric switch that can control energy powering an electric circuit that creates the alarm signal.

This patent was issued by the USPTO in October 1969 to co-inventors Albert Dale Herman and Herbert Zeppo Marx. Zeppo didn’t take the screen by storm like Groucho and his other brothers, although he did appear in famous films like Animal Crackers, Monkey Business and Duck Soup. However Zeppo, a fairly shrewd agent and businessman, was more successful away from the set and invented this technology, which patent images indicate can be worn on a wrist band, in his late 60s.


Marlon Brando
Drumhead Tensioning Device and Method

U.S. Patent No. 6812392

Drums and percussion are some of the oldest musical instruments used by humans. The basic construction of most percussive instruments involves a hollow body with a drumhead stretched over the top opening and held in place by a tensioning ring. The tensioning ring can be tightened with a series of threaded nuts on the ring to tune the drumhead. Through the early 2000s, no good tuning devices existed for most drum players that were reliable, accurate and affordable.

Fans of Academy Award-winning actor Marlon Brando may be familiar with his love of the drums among his many eccentric pursuits late in life. This patent, issued in November 2004, four months after the actor’s death, protects a drum design that includes a tunable drumhead drive that operates manually or automatically. In cases where tuning happens automatically, it is usually done in conjunction of a tuning circuit found within the drum.


Gary Burghoff
Enhanced Fish Attractor Device 
(Image: fish attractor.png)
U.S. Patent No. 5235774

This patent protects a fish attractor device that fishermen can set nearby their boats in order to lure fish into approaching a fishing line. The device includes multiple means for enticing fish to approach, including a chum container, artificial illumination and sounds that create an attractive environment to fish. This patent was issued by the USPTO in August 1993 to Gary Burghoff, the actor who portrayed the character Radar in the TV show and film version of M*A*S*H. His design incorporates flexible webbing attached to the fish attractor which is designed to simulate seaweed and help the device disappear into the environment.


Julie Newmar
Pantyhose With Shaping Band for Cheeky Derriere Relief

U.S. Patent No. 3914799

This invention, assigned to solo inventor Julie Newmar, gives us one of the more interesting patent titles you will ever see. Newmar, an actress best known for her recurring role as Catwoman on the 1960s Batman TV series, developed a pantyhose capable of flattening a woman’s abdomen without flattening the derriere. According to the patent, issued by the USPTO in October 1975, this nylon-lycra fabric band is designed to “enhance natural shape of a wearer’s derriere giving it cheeky relief, rather than boardlike flatness.”

The way that the stomach is flattened without flattening out the derriere is through the use of an elastic shaping band around the waist where that elastic shaping band has a high degree of elasticity, which is substantially greater than the elasticity of the fabric of the panty portion.


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