The Lighter Side of Patents

Every once in a great while you come across a patent opinion that contains a little whimsy (not for the losing party, but for everyone else). Today was one of those days.

In 2010, two inventors filed for a utility patent on a cover for a propane tank to be used during tailgating. Why, you ask, for such a specific purpose? Because it looked like this.


The Patent and Trademark Office rejected the claims as obvious over prior art that included chemical tanks and a decorative beer koozie, as reproduced below.


The inventors appealed, and the Federal Circuit affirmed. The court held that the functional elements were clearly in the prior art, as were the claimed ornamental flourishes. This seems like a case that would be marginally better for a design patent than a utility patent (as the inventive portion – the helmet parts – was entirely ornamental). But, it doesn’t appear that the inventors were likely to get protection even if they had filed a design patent.