Wacky Patent – December 2011

As the nights grow longer, the first snows of the winter make their tentative appearances across the northern reaches of Great Britain, and the festive season begins in earnest, what could be more appropriate than a heartwarming Christmas tale of the legendary “man-in-a-shed” inventor, which is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of even the most cynical patent attorney?

With a Figure like this, it's *got* to be good

"whoever the first person was to think to form snow into a human figure was a genius"

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Informals, I give you:

US Patent Application Publication No. US 2006/0172654 A1, subsequently granted as US 8,011,991 – Apparatus for Facilitating the Construction of a Snow Man/Woman:

“A building component for facilitating a construction of a snow man/woman. A spherically-shaped body is provided that has an outer surface and an interior, the interior substantially lighter than when the interior is filled with snow. An adhesion surface is provided on the outer surface of the spherically-shaped body that substantially increases the ability of the outer surface to adhere snow to the spherically-shaped body. The spherically-shaped body and adhesion surface form a building component for facilitating the construction of the snow man/woman. The adhesion surface may be an electrically charged surface in combination with a texture or alone. The electric charge may be generated by a generator that may be disposed with the body.”

The abstract, however, scarcely does justice to the eminently quotable description, which frequently had your humble Editor laughing out loud.  For one, this may well be the only patent ever granted to feature the word “bugaboo“, or to introduce an embodiment of the invention, in all seriousness, using the wording “And I thought …hmm…”

Not only are we reassured first of all that “The following is not a joke patent”, but we are treated to a potted history of the snowman (or woman).  It duly emerges that our intrepid inventor is rather fond of building positively gargantuan snowpeople.  The drawbacks:

As an old pro, I know what a pain in the back it is to roll a snow boulder around a yard. As the snow boulder grows, it gets exponentially difficult. So if you want to make a real big snow man, like me, you wind up breaking your back.

What solutions have been tried previously?  Well, for starters:

Another trick I have considered is to start rolling the snow ball on top of a hill or on a slope and work downward as the boulder gets bigger. Even though this works relatively well, it’s still hard work to get the boulder to be really big. Besides this, you may wind up with an uncontrollable rolling snow avalanche.

Even if this works, however,

 Another thing has always bothered me when I have built snow people. You can never make a perfect snow man. The snow balls are never, and I mean never, perfectly round. They are always lop-sided and look sort of doofy.

This doofiness is illustrated by Figure 1, illustrating the “good old fashioned snow man 100“, standing “about 6 feet high without the hat” (note the “arms 108, a feature I am somewhat proud of” and the “realistic mitten shape 110 of the gloves”), who “apparently seems to be suffering from Hunchback of Notre Dame Syndrome 114“:

"Our snow man, which I shall refer to as Frosty"

"In less politically correct terms, his behind is quite large"

A further objective is to minimise the amount of snow used in building the perfect snowman (“We can also drag in global warming here as a culprit,” opines our inventor, “but this patent attorney won’t reach that far”).

The solution to these various problems which have vexed builders of snowmen (or our inventor, at least) since time immemorial?

Clearly, it has to be a mechanical endoskeleton conforming to the archetypal, globular snowman.  With an in-built van de Graaff generator to promote adhesion of snow.   Naturally.

Disturbed by the idea of mating stalk 702

I, for one, welcome our new snowman overlords.

Frankly, I’m not sure there’s much more to say.  The description is, well, beyond description.  Share and enjoy, and a Merry Christmas to you all!

Alex (with thanks to my colleague Isabel for bringing this to my attention)

P.S.  A quick Internet search by means of a well-known search engine has turned up this feature at the Annals of Improbable Research, where (allegedly) the inventor himself states that “an igloo” was cited as prior art.  Evidently, however, this objection was overcome…

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