A five-year-old kid from Minnesota has patented a way of swinging on a child’s swing. The US Patent Office issued patent 6,368,227 on 9 April to Steven Olson of St Paul, Minnesota for a “method of swinging on a swing”. Olson’s father Peter is a patent attorney.
The award has generated a mixture of chuckles and frustration at an overworked patent system unable to catch absurd applications. The patent covers moving a swing side to side or in an oval pattern. Children can get bored by swinging back and forth, or by twisting the swing to make it spin, the patent says.
“A new method of swinging on a swing would therefore represent an advance of great significance and value,” it reads. Olson’s alternative is to pull on one chain at a time, so the swing moves towards the side being pulled.
Peter Olson told New Scientist: “I had told him that if he invented something he could file a patent.” His son had not seen sideways swinging because the swings at his school are closely spaced, so he asked his father to file the application.
The patent office initially rejected the application for prior art – citing two earlier patents on swings – but Peter Olson appealed, noting that neither was a method for swinging sideways. The patent was then issued.
The US swing patent does not match an Australian patent on the wheel for sheer absurdity. However, in that case, an Australian lawyer was able to sneak the wheel patent through a fast-track application system. The US patent went through the full application procedure.
Peter Olson says he was not trying to prove anything, just show his son how inventions and patents work. The Australian lawyer who received a patent on the wheel was trying to point out how poorly the system operated.
The US Patent Office says it does not comment on individual patents, leaving it unclear how such an obvious idea won approval. A spokeswoman did say that the patent office uses a legalistic definition of obviousness: “That is not necessarily the conventional definition.”
The swing patent could face reconsideration at the request of the inventor, third parties, or the patent director.
When the laughter stops, silly patents filed by individuals are less a problem than trivial ones filed by large corporations, says Gregory Aharonian, publisher of the Internet Patent News.
As an example, he cites US patent 6,329,919, a business-method patent issued in December 2001 to four IBM developers for a system that issues reservations for using the toilet on an aeroplane.