The Infamous Swing

The patents system had a serious PR problem in the early 2000s. I hope I have established by now that there have always been questionable patents. Sometime around the turn of the millennium, though, things really started to pick up. Or maybe people just started paying more attention. Either way, the public started to become more aware of what was happening in Alexandria, VA.

One of the most commonly cited examples of the absurdities of the patent system was the method of swinging on a swing.

USP 6,368,227, FIG. 2

Basically, instead of swinging forward to back, this patent covered pulling on the chains to create side-to-side motion. The claims were initially allowed, and thus began the wringing of hands and the clutching of pearls. The rending of hair and gnashing of teeth!

Because other people did the investigative work a couple of decades ago, I can tell you that the inventor was a five year old boy (now in his late 20s) whose father was a patent attorney. Within one year of the patent issuing, someone filed a petition to reexamine the patent, where all of its claims were canceled. Here’s some of the art that was cited in the reexamination:

USP 2,146,045, FIG. 2
USP 2,325,456, FIG. 1

That’s all fine–the system working as it’s supposed to. But the questions I really want to raise are: Who filed the reexam and why? Who was so mad about a kid patenting sideways swinging that they spent a pile of their own money to ruin that kid’s patent? There was no way the kid was going to sue someone over it, so this was purely someone who believed that preserving the austere seriousness of the patent system was worth ruining a child’s day.

Unfortunately this predated the publication of file histories. But if someone wants to pay a couple hundred bucks to get a copy of the paper file history, we can find out who did the reexam, and then we can send them hate mail.

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