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Inanities

PATENTLY NUTS

by Nancy Machlis Rechtman

Do you remember brown-bagging it to school? Before the days of insulated lunch coolers and cookie-shaped ice packs to keep your lunch in the proper Arctic environment for inhibiting insidious bacterial growth? If so, most likely you're of the generation that not only knows all four Beatles, but can remember labeling them the cute one, the smart one, the shy one and the funny one. You also remember both Darrens on Bewitched, can hum the tune for Mission Impossible, have fond memories of Captain Kirk when he had real hair, and you wore bellbottoms the first time they were in style.

Anyway, back in the good old days, shoving a bologna sandwich into a plain old paper bag and leaving it for 4 hours in your locker until lunchtime was routine. And remember the poor kids who had to bring unrefrigerated egg salad sandwiches to school? They were relegated to the Siberian region of the cafeteria since even gas masks couldn't keep out the stench of those lunches.

But who amongst us could resist a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? The peanut butter was creamy, the jelly was grape, and the bread was always spongy and white. There weren't a million choices of peanut butter like today with not only a multitude of manufacturers, but varieties such as low-fat, low-carb, slightly creamy, very creamy, chunky, super chunky, solid block, etc. And the jelly? Today, there are more choices than you can shake a stick at (whatever that means). There are now jams, jellies, preserves, and real fruit spreads (as opposed to fake fruit spreads). They come in flavors such as raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, boysenberry, huckleberry, cantaloupe-berry, pineapple-berry, and no-berries berry.

To top it all off, recently, our favorite jam and jelly-manufacturer has been fighting to keep their Patent #6004596 on their special take of the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Let me try to explain what makes their sandwich worthy of issuance of a U.S. patent. Theirs has no crust. Oh. They crimp their bread closed so as to prevent the jelly from leaking out. Oh again. Not only that, but they surround the jelly with peanut butter to keep it inside the crustless sandwich. As if no one else in the world could have possibly come up with this very same idea. Uh huh. After all, the purpose of a patent is to exclude everyone else from making, using or selling an invention without the consent of the inventor. Meaning that American mothers better be watching their backs when they pack their kids' lunches. If they dare put the peanut butter inside the jelly, take the crust of the bread and crimp it shut, they are in danger of being tossed into the slammer for patent violations.

If a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be patented, how about some of the other household issues that people struggle with on a daily basis? Such as how to fold a fitted sheet properly. Some people fold lengthwise down the middle first. But others fold width-wise as the first step. Others tuck the elasticized ends into each other before doing anything else. Which method works best? The first person who can figure this out needs to race down to their nearest patent attorney before anyone else gets a whiff of it.

And what about cooking hard-boiled eggs? If you look in 10 different recipe books, you will find 10 different variations on the proper way to boil an egg - what to do first, duration of cooking and method of cooking - i.e., do you boil continuously or let the pot sit covered after the water reaches a boil? Someone from the egg industry better get on the stick (here we go with those darn stick references again) and grab a patent on hard-boiled eggs before some free-thinking out-of-the-box entrepreneurial genius does. Imagine the millions you could make each time an egg is hard-boiled!

I'm sure if you were to look around your house and think about all the mundane activities you do each day that drive you crazy, you might suddenly have a light bulb flash over your head containing a brilliant idea for doing something in a unique and patent-worthy way. You certainly wouldn't want anyone else doing it the same way unless you are properly compensated for it. Now please excuse me while I close the kitchen curtains and make sure the door is locked so I can get the kids' lunches ready for school. But first I've got to find my crimper - uh, I mean my butter knife.

Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at nancy@nancyrechtman.com.


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Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail nancy@nancyrechtman.com.