10 April 2012

Patent for Battleship game

There has been publicity over the new film Battleship, based on the game of that name. Back in 1933 Louis Coffin applied for a patent for the game.

It's the classic game where opponents try to “hit” enemy ships which are marked by pegs on each side of the same vertical board. A simpler way, that is thought to predate the patent, is using pen and paper -- according to a Wikipedia article on the Battleship game, Milton Bradley published a pad and pencil version in 1931, "Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy". Coffin in his Game board patent suggested calling it Battleships. Below is reproduced its page of drawings.

Battleship game patent image

16 November 2011

Toy and game inventions from Chicago

Saturday's Telegraph magazine had a delightful article by Eric Clark on private inventors and companies in the USA submitting concepts to the big players in toys and games, Adventures in Toyland.

In most business sectors new ideas tend to come from in-house teams, the article says. In the toy and game industry, with a constant turnover of offered products, many of the best-sellers come from outside inventors and companies. Mattel and Hasbro both get offered about 3,000 ideas annually.

Big Monster Toys, a Chicago company, was strongly featured. It sounds like a fun place to work in, with CEO Don Rosenwinkel, in shorts and a t-shirt, saying that management "tends to run a very loose ship". Here is a list of patents by the company, which include Apparatus and method for gyroscopic steering, illustrated below.

Gyroscopic steering patent image by Big Monster Toys

That company (and others) came out of now defunct Marvin Glass and Associates, another Chicago firm. The company was responsible for many hits, all made by the big companies (but, uniquely, with their own logo featured on them). Their output was phenomenal, with over 300 utility patents from 1964 to 1975 alone, listed here.

Those titles include Squirting cigarette lighter and a Driver training apparatus for children. The drawings (and ideas) are often very vivid, manic perhaps (huge novelty glasses, anyone ?).

More famous is the Game with action producing components, manufactured as the Mousetrap®, with its main drawing shown below.

Mousetrap board game patent image

And what about their Game utilizing electric probe ? The equally well-loved Operation®.

Life at Marvin Glass and Associates was just as creative as at Big Monster Toys but was not as pleasant, it sounds. Marvin Glass himself was a chain-smoker who worked 16 hour days who expected the same commitment from his staff. He was obsessed with security, with everything locked away at night in vaults, no windows in his office, and paper stuck over windows in the offices. CCTV, highly unusual in the 1960s, was routinely used.

A tribute to Chicago's toy inventors has been made at Elmhurst Historical Museum, the exhibition Toys in the 'Hood. Here's a video about it.


The Telegraph article quotes Glass as saying that it helps with a good toy designer if he is emotionally retarded, and certainly hitting things and the like features a lot in these toys. It does bring the kid out in me, as well as a lot of nostalgia, as I grew up in New York in the 1960s.

10 November 2011

Lonnie Johnson's Super Soaker® invention

Lonnie Johnson is an inventor who has made millions with an invention distant from his job as an aerospace engineer. He invented the Super Soaker®, the first pressurised water pistol or squirt gun.

He was working on ideas for a heat pump in his bathroom when he suddenly received a blast of water. He realised he could make a toy out of the effect he had come across. The video below tells the story.

The comment in the video that the product was a lot more expensive than the normal water pistol but that it sold because of its advantages was interesting.   

His Pinch trigger pump water gun patent was published in 1991. A combination of air pressure and arm pumping is needed for its truly effective blast of water. Here is the main drawing.

Johnson water gun patent image 5074437
Johnson has worked mostly with Bruce D'Andrade (who evidently contributed the trigger mechanism) on developing the idea, and Larami (later Hasbro) is the company that markets the toy. Here is a list of American patents by him in the subject area of spraying (there are others, it is too difficult to make a single list).

The earlier model was superseded by the Double tank pinch trigger pump water gun, with its main illustration given below. The separate tank meant that gamers could refill at any time (and not just when empty, I take it).

Double tank super soaker patent drawing

I am pleased that he has made, evidently, millions from his idea, and that he has invested some of it in building his own lab.

There's more detail on its evolution in the History of the Super Soaker page. It is unusual for a toy to have so much technical information about it.

18 February 2011

Batman and design patents

There are six American design patents (registered designs) by DC Comics relating to the Batman movies, applied for between 1989 and 1995. I was interested to see that some are by Anton Furst of London, UK. DC Comics of course created the original character.

Here they are, with the front page shown from Google Patents, and links to the documents. Many do not realise what a rich source of data on toys the designs can be, though admittedly the titles rarely give away what they are based on.

USD311882, "Car or similar vehicle".

Car or similar vehicle design patent 

USD321732, "Aerial toy".

Aerial toy design patent 
USD329321, "Head dress".

Head dress design patent 
USD370884, "Boat".

 Boat design patent

USD375704, "Vehicle".

Vehicle design patent 
USD389111, "Set of rear fins for a vehicle".

Set of rear fins for a vehicle design patent 

There is of course the original Batmobile used in the Batman television series that premiered in 1966. The actual car was the subject of USD205998, by George Barris. He was asked to make a car for the series and bought a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car from Ford for one dollar. He then spent $30,000, and three weeks with his crew of mechanics, creating the car seen on television. Now that's nostalgia.

Batmobile design patent drawing 

08 December 2010

Microsoft's XBox 360® Kinect

Microsoft's XBox 360® Kinect looks like it will be a popular present this Christmas.

It's a game controller that doesn't need the user to hold or wear anything. I saw it demonstrated recently in Selfridge's, and the kids trying it out were certainly enjoying themselves, as they awayed from side to side, and figures in a raft raced down a torrent of water. 

Instead of for example sensors monitoring what the user's hand held device does, cameras monitor the user. In fact it's more than that -- the company says it "contains a camera, audio sensors, and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement on the human body. It has the ability to recognize faces and voices." The Kinect itself, a slim black box, plugs into existing XBox 360® units.

Back in August, the Gadget Website explained that they had found the relevant patent application, which was published only the day before, on the 5 August, as Gesture keyboarding. Here is the main, rather odd drawing.

XBox Kinect patent drawing 
The product was first demonstrated in public at a Cirque du Soleil performance in June this year, as part of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. There are many clips including footage showing how the device works, such as this YouTube clip which was a "teaser" advertisement before the launch.

Xbox 360® is a registered Community Trade Mark, while an application has been made by Microsoft for Kinect to be a trade mark as well. I was surprised not to find any "equivalent" patent applications for the invention for other countries, which normally would all be published at about the same time.

13 August 2010

The Tamagotchi®

The Tamagotchi®, the handheld virtual pet, has sold well over 70 million since Bandai put it on the market in 1996. Initially it was so popular that school children were mugged in the streets.

Although the original idea is not thought to have been patented, there are a number of patents by the company for refinements in the idea, such as Simulation device for fostering a virtual creature and Nurturing simulation apparatus for virtual creatures. The "pet" has to be looked after by clicking buttons or it will suffer. A clever idea, it was perhaps originally thought of as a substitute pet for Japanese children living in tiny flats. Here is a drawing from a relevant patent.

Patent drawing from a Tamagotchi invention

Apparently there were problems when children took them to school as otherwise they would "die" if not cared for. Many schools banned the product. Parents often thought that it took up too much of the time of their children. Later models had for example a pause feature to get over such concerns.

The concept has continued to evolve, with links to the Internet and to friends' Tamagotchis. They can be bought now for less than £9.

Many patents for the general idea can be found by using patent class G06N3/00L. This is for "computer systems based on biological models" where life is artificially simulated. This is a list of Bandai patent documents in that class.

10 June 2010

The patents for Subbuteo®

With the World Cup almost upon us, here is my final posting on football as reflected in patents and other intellectual property.

Although it is now considered old-fashioned, the game of Subbuteo® was popular for decades. It is a game where you flick small figures to propel a tiny ball on a sheet laid out on the floor, complete with small goal nets, in an attempt to emulate football.

A registered British trade mark from Hasbro, the current owners, shows the players on their "hemispherical base".

Subbuteo British trade mark 1560886
Peter Adolph of Tunbridge Wells, Kent was the inventor and original entrepreneur of what started very much as a cottage industry. A lot of information about the game is given on a tribute page by Peter Upton.

The original patent, applied for in 1946, was the Apparatus for playing a game. A cricket variation was much less popular, and there was also a horse racing version. This is a list of Adoph's patents.

The game was originally to be called Hobby, as Adolph was a keen birdwatcher, and liked that bird. However, the patent office are said to have rejected it, as you cannot have a trade mark which describes the activity or product, and playing the game could be called a hobby. So he used the Latin name for the bird, Falco Subbuteo Subbuteo, which was very helpful. The sound of "boot" must have helped selling such a product.

My previous posting on football patents is here.

08 June 2010

Table football inventions

Many enjoy football by playing "table football", where the "players" are on rods running across the board. The earliest patent I can trace for that subject is by Harold Thornton of Crouch End, London, who in 1922 applied for his Apparatus for playing a game of table football. The main drawing, showing of course a view from above, is given here.

Table football patent

It's not easy to compile a list of table football patents -- early inventions described as such are different, such as a 1909 effort where a ball is blown around a billiard table (see page 3), but here is a list.

The Table soccer patents page gives some examples of table football.

My previous posting on football patents is here.

18 June 2009

Sino-Japanese War game patent

Recently while looking for something else I stumbled across a patent for a game based on the Sino-Japanese War. This was the first war in which Japan fought a foreign country using modern methods and materials, in 1894-95. The conflict was over Korea, which Japan took over after a relatively easy campaign.

Newton Sample of Philadelphia in 1895 applied for his Game apparatus. It consisted of a shallow oblong container with a gun at one end, with a map of the campaign area (the Yellow Sea and surrounding land) with little flags. "Puppets" on hinges were present to represent armies. The only drawing is shown here.

 Sino-Japanese War game patent

As perceptive readers will have guessed, the gun was loaded with marbles which were fired across the board. I thought at first the trick was to knock over the puppets, but they were placed next to holes which represented towns or forts. Getting a marble in a hole meant that the place was captured and the puppet removed. As Sample pointed out, any adjacent countries could be used, and China and Japan were used for illustration. He suggested other pairings were Germany and France, or England and the United States (only separated by a few thousand miles, of course).

19 January 2009


It is said that in recessions people stay in a lot and play board games. One game that I recommend is called Upwords®.

First page clipping image

This is the main drawing of Elliot Rudell's Game board and playing pieces. You get points for altering words by building upwards (get the pun), to a limit of 5 pieces. So FOOT might change to COOT by putting a C on top of the F. Each tile contained within an altered word gets you a point. 

Unlike Scrabble®, the players continue until nobody can play, rather than when a player has used all their letters. To my mind that, and the ability to build up, makes it more creative. 

Rudell applied for his patent in 1982 and it was published in 1988. The US trade mark was applied for in 1983, citing first use in that year, and is shown as owned by Milton Bradley. It is registered as "Apparatus for Playing a Parlor-Type Three-Dimensional Strategy Board Game". I see that the British trade mark database shows it being filed for there in 1984 -- and owned by Hasbro. Hasbro in fact has taken over Milton Bradley (and also Parker Brothers).

Rudell has scores of patents for toys. They are listed on the web site for Rudell Design. The company is a prolific provider of concepts which are taken on by toy companies, much like Marvin Glass, who gave us the Mousetrap® game and many others. Toys and games by both companies are sold under the trade marks of others and so are not readily identifiable as their work.