So, for some reason the other day, I was tooling around the website of the U.S. Patent Office and decided to do a search for pens.
Don't know what I was expecting, but I found a surprising number of new patents for writing instruments granted in the last several months. Some were to the big companies (like Pilot's patent for the FriXion erasable pen) but others were to smaller independent inventors with some interesting ideas.
Keep in mind the patent process is long and tedious, taking as long as two or three years. Some of these pens may already be in production, even though the patents were only granted recently. For example, while the FriXion patent is fairly new, we've all been using the pens for a couple of years.
Here's a look at some of what turned up in both the US and European patent offices.
THE MOOD PEN
Electronics company Philips received a patent for an "expressive pen." What does that mean? The pen is supposed to express the mood of the user by measuring body signals such as blood pressure and perspiration, then adjusting both the way the writing tip moves and the ink color to match the mood to the appearance of the writing.
From the application:
...such a need clearly exists, as evidenced by the use of for example smileys in e-mail, sometimes crucial to convey the correct message (to indicate one is serious, or joking etc.). The latter method is rather cumbersome because the writer has to include explicitly such mood indicators in the text.
Could it become a reality? Who knows. It has taken Philips seven years to receive patent approval, so its likely the company has been working on the technology for some time. Yet, there doesn't seem to be a working model on the market.
Here's hoping, though.
THE HIGHLIGHTER PEN
Three inventors, one from Florida and two from New York, were granted a patent for a combination ink pen/highlighter. The inventors wrote in the application that they were seeking to improve on other highlighter pens such as the Uniball Combi, the Paper Mate 2-in-1 and the Bic Duo.
Their plan for a better highlighter pen? Make one with the ink pen and highlighter tips on the same end of the pen, so it doesn't have to be turned around to use one or the other, and make it click retractable so the highlighter tip can be extended one handed.
This, they said, would make the highlighter pen easier to use than previous models and keep the highlighter fluid from drying out.
One drawback, if I read the description correctly, is that the ink pen portion would not be retractable. It would be fixed, like a stick pen, while the highlighter portion would extend and retract when clicked.
Whether this pen has or will make it to market isn't clear. I couldn't find any matching that description, but if anyone has seen it, let me know.
THE LIGHT PEN
Xerox Corp. received a patent for a "pen specific for erasable media usage."
Now, you might remember that Xerox recently invented an erasable paper that is printed with UV light, then fades back to blank over time so that it can be re-used. I'm no expert in reading patents – they're thick with legalese and scientific terms – but if I understand correctly, this pen will be used to handwrite on that paper.
One end will have a light source, such as UV. Using the beam of light it emits, a person can actually write on the paper. The other end of the pen will have a heat source that can be applied to the written portion to make it disappear.
I haven't seen any sign that the pen is for sale...but if it works, how cool would that be?
THE FIRESTARTER PEN
Taylor Brands, a knife-maker based in Tennessee, received a patent in January for an ink pen/firestarter combination. According to the description, the pen contains a ferrous rod and a striker, along with a writing tip.
From the application:
Pens according to the disclosure are well-suited for carrying as a survival tool on camping trips and other situations where it may become necessary to start a fire. However, the pens have a normal pen appearance and function as a wring pen. In addition, pens according to the disclosure may be configured to remove the ferro rod to reduce both the weight and length of the pen to provide a compact everyday carry pen.
Since Taylor is the maker of Smith & Wesson knives and accessories, this video suggests they are already producing the pen.
THE PAGER PEN
An inventor in Florida received a patent for a "pager and pen implement." Basically, it's a pager that beeps, as well as receives voice communications and records messages, all in an ink-pen shaped device, with an ink pen clip and an actual writing tip.
The inventor's take was that nurses, public safety workers and others all rely on pagers, but need a device that allows them to communicate directly with the person on the other end, clips to their uniforms unobtrusively and offers the additional function of writing.
After reading the patent app, I'm not clear on how much room there would be for an ink cartridge, or how it would be replaced when it ran out of ink, presumably fairly quickly since it couldn't be all that big.
So far, there's no sign that the pen is actually in production.
THE SLIDING CAP PEN
Chinese stationery maker Beifa Group received a patent for a "writing instrument having a slidable cap." The idea is a good one: Create a pen with a cap that you can never lose. Unfortunately, the execution of that idea may have gone a little awry with this pen.
The way the pen is designed, the cap is more of a plastic sleeve that fits around the barrel. In the closed position, the sleeve extends past the writing tip. In the open position, the cap slides to the other end of the pen so that the user can write.
But an open-ended cap seems to defeat the purpose. Yes, it would protect the tip of the pen from damage. However, it would still allow air to easily reach the point, drying out the ink...which is sort of what a cap is supposed to prevent.
Or maybe I'm missing something. What do you guys think?
Well, that wraps up most of the interesting ones. Some might be iffy, but there are a few of them I would like to have...how about you?
And anybody have any ideas for a new pen design that would get all of us pen people excited? Let us know. We promise not to steal the idea (but you probably shouldn't trust us with any cool prototypes).