November 28, 2017
Thanksgiving is over, and the holiday season is upon us once again. As the economy improves, Americans are once again spending heavily during the holiday season. Kicking off the holiday season, Americans spent $5 billion online in 24 hours during Black Friday 2017, which marks a staggering 17% increase compared to last year. Other economic signals of improved financial situations and subsequent cheerful holiday spirit of many Americans is evident since 2017 recorded the most Americans traveling for Thanksgiving since 2005.
Like any great holiday tradition such as hearing the same Christmas tunes over and over again, or listening to your uncle’s newest conspiracy theory, this influx of cash to retailers is likely to be spent on the hot new holiday gifts, especially on the most-wanted toys by the children of the families.
Over the years many great toys have come through the consumer market and have been highly desired by children. As ugly and difficult it can be obtaining some of these toys, like this video of two grown men fighting over a toy car in Walmart. There was even a movie about the craze around finding the holiday’s hottest toy. Most parents agree that seeing the look on their children’s faces when they receive the hot toy they wanted makes it worth it.
So today, with the holidays and Christmas in mind, I thought I would take a look at the importance that utility and design patents have held in some of the most iconic toys, many of which have become synonymous with a moment in time in our own childhoods.
- Multi-Directional Switch
Although not a toy per se, Nintendo’s iconic directional pad (D-pad) is a flat, thumb-operated four-way directional control with one button on each point. Found on nearly all modern video game console gamepads, this famous directional button has been featured in almost all of Nintendo’s products including the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the Gameboy, the Nintendo 64, and the Wii to name a few.
Nintendo was eventually awarded the ‘200 patent for the D-pad after filing in 1985. This patent gave Nintendo exclusive rights to the D-pad for 20 years, forcing their competitors to adopt less desirable designs for their controllers. For example, the original Xbox controller had to use a cross shape inside of a circle shape to create their directional pad. Nintendo’s patent expired in 2005 and Microsoft and other competitors quickly abandoned their designs for the D-pad.
- Toy Building Brick
Lego first began manufacturing plastic toys in Denmark in the late 1940s, but they did not release their interlocking plastic block until 1958. This design exploded, turning Lego into an international sensation that now includes movies, video games, and even theme parks based on these little plastic bricks.
Lego received their patent from the USPTO in 1961 for the design and manufacture of their building bricks. As claimed in the patent, the “…cylindrical projections on one of the said blocks may be inserted into clamping engagement with a tubular projection and a wall of another of said block.” Lego has allowed children to use their imagination to create unique works for generations and continues to be popular with subsequent generations.
- Doll Construction
As a cultural icon for decades, Barbie needs little introduction. The average American girl between the ages of 3 and 11 owns 8 Barbies. More than 1 billion Barbie dolls have been sold, and the annual sales of Barbie exceed $2 billion.
Ruth Handler created the Barbie, named after her daughter Barbara, after she noticed how her daughter liked playing with dolls that looked like grown-ups rather than baby dolls. The first patent for Barbie was applied for in 1959, Patent No. 3,009,284, and protected the ability for a doll to stand in a realistic balanced position. Many other patents have issued for Barbie, including Patent No. 3,77,601, which covered a doll having an angularly adjustable limb.
- Liquid Filled Die Agitator Containing a Die Having Raised Indicia on the Facets Thereof
The Magic 8-Ball has been a staple toy for children since the 1950s. An 8-ball fortune-telling device was used in a 1940 Three Stooges short, You Nazty Spy. Magic 8-ball did not exist until the 1950s, when the functional component was invented by Albert C. Carter. In 1944, Albert filed for a patent for a cylindrical device and assigning the patent application to a company created with his partner, Abe Bookman. Albert died before the patent was granted in 1948, and Abe Bookman continued to improve the design of the device and file subsequent patents.
The above patent was issued to Bookman in January 1964 and is among the first patents issued to protect the design and manufacture of the fortune-telling toy. The patent describes the device containing liquid in which a buoyant indicator rises to a top window with a minimum of surface tension that improves the visibility of the die and prevents it from sticking to the sides.
- Interactive Toy
Released in 1998, Furby was the first popular computerized pet and became one of the most sought-after toys in holiday history. Originally priced at $35, many sold to desperate parents for hundreds of dollars. Furby mania swept the country as Christmas approached, with Furby melees breaking out across the country when retailers were in short supply.
The NSA even banned Furbies in 1999 as a threat to national security, fearing the electronic devices could be used as spy devices to listen to conversations. The NSA believed Furbies contained a recording device, however, the Furby came preprogrammed with words in English and “Furbish” and couldn’t actually record or playback anything. Maybe the NSA was just jealous they couldn’t find one.
Dave Hampton and Caleb Chung invented the Furby but initially failed to find any company to license the concept. Eventually, Tiger Electronics bought their rights to the invention, and Furby’s first public appearance was at the American International Toy Fair in 1998.
In 2016, the holiday toy craze consisted of Hatchimals, a computerized egg that would eventually hatch into a pet. Children could take care of the Hatchimal and teach it tricks. One family even spent $20,000+ on buying 156 Hatchimals to sell for profit, which ended up being a poor financial decision for them. As for 2017, we will be expecting to see Fingerlings and the Nintendo Switch, among other gifts, top holiday wish lists within in the next month.
Bold IP stands ready to meet your intellectual property patent prosecution and litigation needs. Keep your intellectual property rights protected domestically and internationally! Who knows? Your patent might become the top holiday product of the year! Our nationwide team of attorneys stands ready to help you through your Intellectual Property needs!
Author: Derek Clements, Patent Attorney