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Merry Christmas and happy holidays! This week's patent roundup is a special holiday-themed edition. We're giving Big Tech the week off for the holidays and focusing on some of the zanier patents that have been granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for this joyous season. Some are tech-related, and some are just … pure Christmas.
Hopefully this Christmas Eve, as you curl up with some eggnog in one hand and your phone in the other, before you drift off to dream of sugar plum fairies, you'll find a Christmas miracle or two in here.
And remember: The companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the holidays.
It wouldn't be a patent roundup without some drones, even on Christmas. This patent, awarded in time for the holidays in 2017, is for a drone shaped like Santa, his sleigh and what I'm guessing is Rudolph. It's just a design patent, so we don't get any details on how this drone works, but it looks like a wonderful, Christmassy toy rather than something more Santa-sized. That'd be a great way to keep the kids believing in Santa a little longer, though, if one of those went buzzing by your window.
This seems like an amazing grift. Instead of keeping up the facade of Santa by just putting out some cookies and milk, you can use this store-bought kit! Yet more work for overstretched parents at the holidays. It comes with a diorama of a living room that the parents set up, a fake letter from Santa and a pretend boot-print to place on the floor. The kit also tells you to put the snack on the diorama, take a bite out of it after Junior has gone to bed and to fill out the letter from Santa. Seems a bit like overkill, but maybe that's just Christmas.
Yet another invention devised to fool children about where their presents come from: This one feels a bit … unnecessary? It's a light-up device that can hide in a stocking that parents can turn on to announce that Santa has come. The device could even possibly play a Christmas carol. But you know what would more easily tell kids Santa came? All the presents under the tree.
This one actually seems pretty useful, albeit very difficult to set up. Many people have unfortunately witnessed the danger of a dried-out Christmas tree sparking a house fire, and this patent builds upon past inventions to create fire detector and extinguisher systems. The homeowner would have to snake spray hoses up the length of their tree, and attach them to a box that holds a fire extinguisher and a system for communicating with emergency services if it detects fire. That could well prevent someone from losing their entire home, but would definitely require a lot of effort to get this set up (and taken down after New Year's) when you could just buy a fake tree and some pine-scented spray.
But if you have your heart set on a real tree, this patent might help. One of the main reasons Christmas trees become so dangerous is that everyone forgets to water them after they're brought home, which dries them out, and they turn into a giant, decorated piece of kindling. This patent is for an automated tree waterer that you can just set and forget. You fill up the large water jug that's connected to the tree base, plug in the water pump and let osmosis do its job for the length of the tree's time in your house. Just don't forget to fill up the jug or it's all for naught.
There's also this patent for a similar device that will yell at you through a speaker if your tree's water level gets too low, which seems like a useful addition.
You probably can't use this patent in conjunction with the last one, though. Apparently the creator of this invention didn't think the ornate decorations most people put on their trees were enough to truly celebrate the holiday. "Traditional Christmas trees are inserted in a base and cannot revolve or turn," the patent says. "Flashing of lamps alone is monotonous and lacks the effect of animation." I guess that's true, though I personally haven't ever thought, "You know what would really jazz this Christmas up? If my tree rotated on a stick like the meat at a kebab shop." But to each their own.
Have you ever wanted to have a light-up wreath, but not wanted to deal with dead needles? This might be the solution for you: It's a patent for a wreath-shaped object with electric lights and a heating element for "volatile aromatic liquid" — basically a wreath-shaped vape for pine-scented oil. I wouldn't recommend putting any other substances in there, though.
"I said I wanted a bobble head for Christmas."
"Yeah, a bauble head."
Maybe this is how the conversation played out that led to this fine piece of holiday headwear. Or maybe someone really just wanted a hat shaped like an ornament. Perhaps we'll never know, but I'm so glad that someone felt compelled to make this, hire lawyers and seek out a patent for it.
There are, unsurprisingly, a lot of patents about food items related to Christmas. A few of my favorites: Santa-shaped and candy-cane-shaped pasta (for all your Christmas-themed mac and cheese bakes); constructable reindeer pastries (I guess you bake the pieces and put them together to make Donner and Blitzen?); and this terrifying corncob thing that looks like a gaunt Santa face, for some reason:
For when it's Christmas time, but you're still worried the sun might get in your eyes as you pick off a runner stealing second. Just don't try to wear it backwards.
Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.