Patently Weird Patents

… And Other Strange Inventions From the U.S. Patent Office

By Buck Wolf

Aug. 21, 2001 — Ladies, you don't need to be a mutant to enjoy three-legged pantyhose. If one U.S. inventor has his way, all women will soon enjoy an extra appendage on their underwear.

It's an age-old problem: You get up extra-early for work, pick out just the perfect outfit, and get to your desk only to find an unsightly run in your hosiery.

Helpless? Not anymore. Not with "Panty Hose X 3" (U.S. Patent No. 5,713,081). With this newfangled contraption, you just simply — and, we assume, privately — rotate the pantyhose and slip your leg into a new, unblemished leg.

The damaged hosiery leg then tucks into a crotch pocket.

Does that sound uncomfortable? Will there be an unsightly bulge? The public will just have to wait to find out.

"You might think that's crazy. But that invention has gone a lot further than most," said Ted VanCleave, who began poring over patent requests after trying to register his own invention — inflatable greeting cards.

Each year, the federal government grants about 150,000 patents. Only about 3 percent become commercially viable products. The rest are just ideas gathering dust at the U.S. Patent Repository.

VanCleave gave up on inflatable greeting cards after he found out just how many patents the United States has given to inventors with blow-up innovations.

"There's even a patent for inflatable furniture. It's not even a novelty," he says. "This is a plan for a bed filled with helium. You'd use it in a small apartment to save space. When you get up in the morning, it would just float up to the ceiling."

In VanCleave's Totally Absurd Inventions, (Andrews McMeel Publishing) you'll find some of the stranger ideas that folks have been trying to parlay into fortunes.

To be sure, the next Hula-Hoop is out there. Someone will strike it rich, while millions of others will have nothing to show after the thousands of dollars in legal bills required to register an invention with the U.S. Patent Office. Legal fees are estimated to begin at $2,500.