Thursday, September 20, 2007

Baby Products, Patent Numbers and a Puzzle

My wife and I are going to be new parents any day now, so our house has been filling up with all kinds of cool baby-related products. (We're having twins, so that means two of everything.) Of course, I can't resist examing all these amazing products for patent numbers. One product that piqued my interest was a rubber diaper fastener called the Snappi. It's a rubber T-shaped cord with plastic teeth that's supposed to be safer than safety pins. I thought it looked like a trap for miniature beavers, but it worked well enough in practice trials on Winnie-the-Pooh.

The back of the Snappi label had a patent application number that looked odd to me. It said "Pat. Appl. 2005/01115". U.S. published application (aka PGPubs) have publication numbers in the format "YYYY/nnnnnnnn", so I went to the USPTO website and keyed in 20050001115. No luck. US 2005/0001115 is an application for a collapsible dishwashing stand. I then tried searching it as an application number in both the USPTO and esp@cenet databases. Again no luck. It didn't look like a Canadian, European or Japanese patent number, so I was quickly becoming stumped. Pooh was too busy admiring his first-class diaper job to offer any helpful advice.

Luckily, the Snappi label also carried the number of a registered trademark, 1,773,066. I switched over to the USPTO trademark database and quickly retrieved the trademark registration for SNAPPI, owned by Snappi Holdings of Pretoria, South Africa. Searching Snappi as the assignee in the USPTO patent database then led me to inventor Hendrik Visser and his patent on a "Diaper or babies napkin fastener", (5,077,868) and two design patents (D321,673 and D320,575) for diaper fasteners invented by Japie Crafford. All three patents closely resemble our Snappi fasteners, but I never did find a patent document numbered 2005/01115. Visser has several other patents and patent applications for related products.

I did notice that the three U.S. patents listed South African applications as priority documents, and the numbers were in a "YY/nnnn" format. So my best guess was that "2005/01115" is a new South Africa application filed by Snappi. It might be too recent to have been loaded in the esp@cenet database (if it's even been published). As I slumped back into my chair, it occured to me that patent numbers are not always as straightforward as you might think.