Posted by: patenttranslator | January 1, 2018

There Is No Such Thing As a Stupid Patent

Although it is often said that there is no such thing as a stupid question, I wonder how anyone can say something like that with a straight face when we have all heard so many questions that can be only characterized as totally idiotic.

But personally, I have no doubt that there is no such thing as a stupid patent.

Sure, plenty of patents are weird and some are mostly useless too.

As we can see from this handy List of Crazy Patents! on the internet, there is for example a patent for a Light Bulb Changer – a huge, heavy and expensive machine for replacing a light bulb … when all you need, as the old joke goes, are two cops: one cop for holding the bulb, and one cop for turning the first cop around.

This list includes an Anti-Eating Mouth Cage patent for people who need to lose weight, a patent for a Method of Exercising Cat by moving the laser pointer beam around and around and having your cat chase it, a patent for a Pillow with a Retractable Umbrella, and as I found out when I ran a search on the European Patent Office, there are at least 633 patents for sliced bread, also known proverbially as the greatest invention of all time.

As far as I can tell, there is no patent yet for a cell phone with a built-in shower, but I have high hopes that someday somebody will invent such an immeasurably useful and convenient device.

I must have translated dozens of patents about mobile phones, which later became known as cellphones in United States. So many things have been added to these phones since the 1980s, but so far nobody has figured out how to include a shower in them.

I admit that I myself have come across many patents that made me chuckle when I was translating them, mostly from Japanese, because up until recently, I had been translating mostly Japanese patents.

I remember I once translated a Japanese patent for picking up dog poop comprising a stick provided with a plastic bag attached to one end of it. The tricky issue of which end it should be attached to was the subject of a sub-claim.

There are in fact hundreds of patents in different languages on the subject of how to best rid this world of dog poop because when I ran a search on the website of the European Patent Office, I got 636 hits for the key words “dog excrement” and 33 hits for the key words “dog poop” with enticing titles such as “Poop Scooper for Dog” (a Japanese patent), Dog’s Poop Collector (a Greek patent), or Dog Poop Destroyer (a US patent – in US, we like to destroy everything).

And that’s just one website! I could get many more hits for inventions about how to deal with the curse of dog poop also on the World Intellectual Property Organization website, or on the French Patent Office website or China Patent Office website.

From the viewpoint of Mad Patent Translator, none of these patents is stupid, as long as I get paid to translate them!

If somebody somewhere was motivated enough to pay me good money to translate a patent into English, how can anybody call such a patent stupid?

In addition to the Japanese patent about dog poop that I translated a few years ago, I remember quite a few other memorable patents that I had the pleasure of translating.

There was one interesting patent about practical and decorative patterns for shoe soles with shapes inspired by those that are used for Japanese seafood called “kamaboko“, such as these shapes. I remember that one because it was really hard to translate Japanese words that every Japanese person understands, but that very few people who are not Japanese would understand as well.

I also remember a patent about another practical and decorative pattern, this time for jewelry to be strategically attached to the lower part of woman’s skirt. The motifs for the patterns were based on ancient Chinese symbols such as yin and yang. That one was easier to translate because the symbols were shown in the figures attached to the patent application. That was a pretty smart patent, I thought. Unusual, but definitely not stupid.

Usually, I have no idea what exactly the people who are paying me for the translation are looking for, especially in old patents, which is to say what is the “inventive step” of the patent. Some of them are very old, I remember that the oldest one I translated from French was again a patent about shoes from 1893 – it was about ski shoes. I’ve also translated plenty of chemical patents from German that were at least a hundred years old.

The main idea behind each patent is supposed to be explained in the first claim. But if it is a long and complicated patent, “Claim 1” can be very long, and sometimes contains more than a thousand words. The “inventive step” may be hidden in only a few sentences at the beginning of this claim; the rest of it could be an explanation of the background.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning with the sudden knowledge that I used the wrong term for some widget in my translation the day before. I turn on my computer, look at the text in the original language and I see that, indeed, the translation is not very good and that a much better word to be used in this context was suggested to me, probably by a divine being, while I was sleeping.

When we sleep, our brain is going through what happened the previous day and sometimes, our subconscious will find the perfect solution for something we missed the previous day. Which is why every translation should be proofread the next day after a good night’s sleep!

As I said, as far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a stupid patent. Provided that I get paid for translating a patent, the requirement of non-obviousness and an inventive step has been met. It is obvious to me that somebody must have invented something useful so that I could translate the patent to pay my bills and maybe even save a little for a vacation.

It better be the truth because if the patents that I have been translating for the last 30 years were in fact stupid, wouldn’t that make me a stupid patent translator?

Happy New Year 2018 – Year of the Dog in Chinese zodiac after February 16, 2018.



  1. I agree with what you write but it might be helpful to the translator if we were told WHY a translation is needed. Is it because someone has invented something similar and wants to see if it is “prior art”? Is it because the patent is about to be used in a device? I have recently been translating a series of patents for waste bin design!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, if it is a published patent application, it is usually for prior art and if it is an unpublished manuscript, it is a patent application for filing in a different language such as English.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Actually, 2018 is the Year of the Dog, which begins on February 16, 2018.

    The year which is ending now is the Year of the Horse.


  4. Well, yes, but right now and until February 16, 2018, it is still the Year of the the Horse.

    Horse and Dog, my favorite two animals, so different and yet so similar when it comes to their relationship to man.

    It should be a good year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Steve,

      once I asked my Russian teacher what the Russian Soul is like. She told me that there was no way that I should ever possess a Russian soul and I had to be born a Russian and grow into a Russian soul. Since then I have thought a lot about linguistic identity, ethnical identity and cultural identity as well as what Karl der Grosse believed to own when a man is grown into a foreign language.
      Actually. we learn and know a lot of things not directly, but through proxies like translations and other means. Since you were not born and grew up in China and Chinese culture, there is no way that you know exactly the rules for Chinese zoadic. However, there is one way to exactude your knowledge concerning Chinese culture. That would be to ask a friendly Chinese translator, such as the ones who helped building up Wikipedia. In Wikipedia you can find pretty exact description of Chinese zoadic ( There could be something wrong in it, but the knowledge conveyed by Wikipedia suffices to explain Chinese zoadic.
      I have no way to learn and know everything about Slavic cultures and languages. However, since I have learned a bit about Russian language and culture, I have the opportunity to learn more about the Russian Soul, although I will never possess a Russian soul. We translators do make mistakes, so that it could be a young woman who gave birth to Jesus and it becomes a virgin who gave birth to the Son of Man.
      Believe me, Steve, I always appreciate your writings. But you are just another son of man and you could make mistakes, too. There are a lot of things we will never learn and know. Sometimes, we believe in something and it comes true without logic and reason. Sometimes, all logics and reasons lead us to a definite conclusion and we find it to be a fatamogana. I was an Agonist, but through the writings of Paul to his brothers and sisters I found myself a Christian, although there could be something mistranslated in the New Testament. Anyway, there is always hope for the forthcoming new translators, even though they have to work with “language technologies” of all sorts, even Google Translate. New Age Translators will work differently as we do. And they will make mistakes as we do, but they survive like St. Jerome or translators of our days.
      I would like to read your encouraging words for new comers.

      Have a nice year of 2018!



  5. A curious patent is that of the Circular Transportation Facilitation Device (AU2001100012), aka, the wheel. This application won the IgNobel prize for Technology in 2001, which was split between the applicant (for drafting the oeuvre) and IP Australia (for granting the patent).

    The applicant was an Australian patent lawyer who sought to show that the review process for innovation patents was too lax–apparently IP Australia was just rubber-stamping the applications. Since then the office not only ditched this kind of patent, but also quietly revoked AU2001100012 in 2014.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Circular transportation facilitation device, ha, ha, ha.

    This reminds me of the curious case of a Slovak interpreter in Britain who registered her pet rabbit Jajo as a registered Slovak-English court interpreter a few years ago after the agency that had an exclusive contract with the courts in England (was it Capita, a.k.a. Crapita?) slashed the rates paid to interpreters.

    Jajo thus became a court-registered interpreter and started receiving emails.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sorry to burst your bubbles, but we’re currently in the year of the Rooster up until the 16th of February, which will then become the year of the Dog.

    Happy New Year!!


  8. I know because I AM A ROOSTER !


  9. Thanks, Rooster. I corrected it (and my bubble is still intact).


  10. Perhaps a stupid patent would be a utility patent for an invention that doesn’t actually work. While the USPTO requires an invention to be useful in order to receive a patent, and a non-working invention is clearly not useful, I don’t know that any Examiner would actually test a non-working invention! Thus, I predict there are some patents out there that disclose inventions that don’t actually work and are therefore stupid.

    However, maybe a non-working invention leads to the discovery of a working invention, so in effect it remains not stupid. So I guess you’re still correct.


    Liked by 1 person

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