January 4, 2007

Celebrity Patents

Harry Houdini patentLast month, Google introduced its new Patent Search feature (in beta), allowing users to dig through 7 million US patents from 1790 to mid-1996. On-line patent searching has already been possible through the US Patent and Trademark Office website, but Google makes it fast and easy using their already familiar interface.

So, inspired by Google’s new easy-to-use patent search, I decided to dig up some of the celebrity patents that have been issued over the years. The following 18 20 patents are all by celebrities not usually known for being inventors. You can follow the links to the actual patents to learn more about each one.

1. Eddie Van Halen, Musician.
Patent #4,656,917 — Musical instrument support

Eddie Van Halen patent

2. Zeppo Marx, Actor/Comedian.
Patent #3,473,526 — Cardiac pulse rate monitor

Zeppo Marx patent

3. Harry Connick, Jr., Musician/Actor.
Patent #6,348,648 — System and method for coordinating music display among players in an orchestra

Harry Connick Jr patent

4. Penn Jillette, Magician.
Patent #5,920,923 — Hydro-therapeutic stimulator (for, um, sexual stimulation)

Penn Jillette patent

5. Michael Jackson, Singer.
Patent #5,255,452 — Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion

Michael Jackson patent

6. Abraham Lincoln, President.
Patent #6,469 — [Method of] Buoying vessels over shoals

Abraham Lincoln patent

7. Julie Newmar, Actress (“Batman” TV Show).
Patent #3,914,799 — Pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief

Julie Newmar patent

8. Marlon Brando, Actor.
Patent #6,812,392 — Drumhead tensioning device and method

Marlon Brando patent

9. Lawrence Welk, Musician/Bandleader.
Patent #D170,898 — Welk ash tray (design)

Lawrence Welk patent

10. Jamie Lee Curtis, Actress.
Patent #4,753,647 — Infant garment

Jamie Lee Curtis patent

11. Gary Burghoff, Actor (Radar on “M*A*S*H” TV Show).
Patent #5,235,774 — Enhanced fish attractor device

Gary Burghoff patent

12. Mark Twain, Author.
Patent #140,245 — Improvement in scrap-books

Mark Twain patent

13. Hedy Lamarr, Actress.
Patent #2,292,387 — Secret communication system

Hedy Lamar patent

14. Walt Disney, Animation Innovator.
Patent #2,201,689 — Art of animation (method of filming animation cells with a shadow on the background)

Walt Disney patent

15. Harry Houdini, Magician.
Patent #1,370,316 — Diver’s suit

Harry Houdini patent

16. Danny Kaye, Actor/Singer/Entertainer.
Patent #D166,807 — Blowout toy or the like (design)

Danny Kaye patent

17. George Lucas, Director.
Patent #D265,754 — Toy figure (design)

George Lucas patent

18. Charles Fleischer, Actor (voice of Roger Rabbit).
Patent #4,219,959 — Toy egg

Charles Fleischer patent

UPDATE: Here are two more celebrity patents, courtesy of comments on this blog and others:

19. Prince, Musician/Singer.
Patent #D349,127 — Portable electronic keyboard musical instrument (design)

Prince patent

20. Paul Winchell, Ventriloquist.
Patent #3,097,366 — Artificial Heart

Prince patent


Don’t forget that the patents that start with ‘D’ are design patents. Closer to a trademark, with a much lower barrier to originality.

When will Home Depot have the bathtubs?

number7!! julie newmar-meowrrrr!!

Hedy Lamar designed a crypto device? Ok, that’s going to be a movie.

Check out how many patents Paul Winchell had!

Hedy Lamar’s patent is the basis for CDMA cell phone technology. Amazing stuff.

Tony … quite right about Hedy. She never made any money off of it either. The idea was revolutionary and ahead of its time.


Penn Jillette told the story of inventing and patenting the JillJet in an article in the July 2006 issue of Playboy. Recommended reading for the curious.

Heddy Lamarr’s device is actually the basis for *all* contemporary cell phone technology.

That poor Jamie Lee Curtis baby. Its left hand has two thumbs. And what is the baby holding in its right hand?

I saw a nearly identical foot-clip system to Michael Jackson’s in a 1950’s Popular Mechanix - to be used by clowns in their “leaning WAY WAY over” gags on stage.

Hedy Lamar was actually a very brilliant woman. She got into acting because that’s where her opportunity and the pay led her.

I hear Paris Hilton is gonna put a patent on one. :)

From Wikipedia:

Hedy Lamarr (under her then-married name of Hedy Kiesler Markey) and composer George Antheil received U.S. patent #2,292,387 for their Secret Communication System on August 11, 1942. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam. This idea was controversial and ahead of its time and technology. The technology did not begin to be implemented until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba[1], after the patent had expired. Neither Lamarr nor Antheil made any money from the patent. Perhaps due to this lag in development, the patent was little-known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award[2] for this contribution.

Lamarr’s frequency-hopping idea served as the basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology used in devices ranging from cordless telephones to WiFi Internet connections. The technology in particular that is often attributed to her and George Antheil is CDMA[3].

Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council but she was told that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds. She once raised $7,000,000 at just one event.

In 2003, the Boeing corporation ran a series of recruitment ads featuring Hedy Lamarr as a woman of science. No reference to her film career was made in the ads.

In 2005, the first Inventor’s Day in German-speaking countries was held in her honor on November 9, on what would have been her 92nd birthday.

Now that that’s out of the way….Penn Jillette? Sexytime bathtub? WTF?

When I saw Connick’s big band play live in the late 90s they were using a system of LCD monitors instead of traditional sheet music on stands. It was very cool!

Nice Fun and nice Pictures :).
Regards Ben

There’s a nice video of Michael Jackson’s patent in action here at smooth-criminal.com. -David


Actually, Ms. Lamar’s work led the the spread spectrum technology used all over the place today in thing like cell phone networks. She and her partner developed it to help fight the Nazis in WWII. The EFF posthumously awarded her for it a few years ago. You can find out more about it all over the ‘Net, such as in this Wikipaedia article.

Nice site, David!!!
Greetins from Spain.


Very cool! I especially like Harry Connick Jr’s patent.

One more: Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, better known as Kraftwerk, patented the electronic drum.

Excellent post today.

Not only was John Ridley correct about Michael Jackson’s “invention” being used in the 1950s, but in fact, it was a well-known gimmick used in Vaudeville in the early 1900s.

…Really cool stuff,would like to see more musical inventions,as a musician and ex-employee of the Patent Office,I was aware of some of these celebety patents,especially Abe Lincoln… in fact i think his is only one of two Presidents to hold a patent!….very nice

@R. Mexico

According to the wikipedia article, the EFF award was given to her in 1997, and she died in 2000.

Dude, you totally missed Tom Scholz from the band Boston. He has patents for the Polaroid One-step camera and the Rockman guitar amp

The baby is holding a block with the letter ‘A’. And the left hand is correct. Take a look at the picture
again. The index finger and thumb are drawn correctly. :)

The other reviewers are correct - there is significant other documented/published prior art for Jackson’s “invention”.

Michael(Monkees)Nesmith’s mother invented White-Out and sold the rights for many millions…..Eddie Albert(Actor) got a patent for te Safety Pin.

Very Interesting and few funny stuffs !


Cool post. Love the drawings!

i wonder if MJ’s shoes are for sale in some shoe shop

I don’t think Eddie Albert is that old. The safety pin was invented in 1849.

Loved the post. Loved it so much in fact that I encouraged my readers to come check it out.

Fantastic post! Loved it! Have sent the link to all my inventor friends…

It looks to me like Jamie Lee Curtis supoosedly invented the diaper. What am I missing?

Always has recently marketed a sanitary pad that comes with a clean wipe attached. It is not a big jump from this to a disposable diaper with clean wipe attached, same principle and Ms.Curtis had it first.

For those that are pointing out prior use or prior existance of inventions, you do not have to be the first to invent something to hold a patent, only the first one to patent it and be able to distinguish your item from another one in existance by some detail.

For example, say someone has a patent on the stiletto heel on shoes, if I invent one with a rubberending to stop it from sliding, it could be patented.

It is not true that prior art does not exist and that for example adding a rubber tip would allow you to patent the whole heel. You can patent the tip, but not the heel as that is prior art. Further, and to underline my point, adding a texture to the rubber tip would not separate it from a smooth rubber tip.

That drawing of the Van Halen Musical Instrument Support looks suspiciously like the drawings in Homestar’s coloring book featuring the famous rock band Limozeen, don’t you think? Note, this is an online interactive coloring book, so you can have fun with it even if you don’t own a box of “crowns” as Homestar quaintly calls them:

I thought that hydro-therapeutic stimulator was really awesome until I found out who Penn Jillette was… ; - ;

cool stuff… especially like the Penn hot tub thingy…I want one.

walt disney making his job with this method? lol amazing

what about paul winchell? he invented an artificial heart

> Hedy Lamar designed a crypto device? Ok, > that’s going to be a movie.

> Posted by: Kulakovich | January 4, 2007 > 09:58 AM

That’s Hedley!

Lamar? There is only one Hedy :)

It’s a pity the Guardian decided not to credit you when they ripped you off for this story.

que bueno que podamos tener conocimiento de todas estas maravillas.
J Newmar es una genia!! gracias de parte de todas las mujeres del mundo!!


Am I the only one that remembers Marcel Marceau (very famous mime) doing the moonwalk in the early seventies- or earlier? He used to do a ‘walk against the wind’ that looked exactly the same. I believe that you can see it in Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie”- if I remember the movie right.

hawaiigirl, I’m still counting six fingers on the jamie’s baby. There’s an extra finger between the thumb and forefinger.

Now I can make out the block with an “A” in the other hand. Makes sense now. Though I’m obsessed with jamie’s baby’s sixth finger!

Edward Van Halen also has at least one other invention called D-Tuna, “…let’s a player drop from E to D and back again without the hassle of clamping & unclamping.”

All the above made me laugh out loud.

So many neat inventions and people are being amazed by Jamie’s baby drawing? What’s wrong with these people? They can’t even count the number of fingers on the baby. Click on the link to the patent and you’ll see what her invention is about.

I was fortunate to enjoy the effects of the JillJet at a friend’s house last year. VERY effective- he deserves every penny he gets for this stimulating invention! God Bless You, Penn!

Earl Scruggs invented the device that allowed for the quick detuning and retuning of a string, called the “Scruggs Peg”, later improved by Bill Keith.

Same thing, really, but patented by EVH

debt relief

Remember, not all of these are the inventors. If something hasn’t been patented already, can’t anybody submit it and start getting paid for it? There’s a fairly famous report of some law student finding out the wheelbarrow had never been patented and made millions off of it.

Clarification -
“Remember, not all of these are the inventors. If something hasn’t been patented already, can’t anybody submit it and start getting paid for it? There’s a fairly famous report of some law student finding out the wheelbarrow had never been patented and made millions off of it”

You can not (or at least should not be able to) patent anything that is already known (novelty prong. In addition, only inventors can file for patent protection - each inventor signs a statement attesting to their inventorship. Check out www.uspto.gov

All I want to know is, WTF does George Lucas have poor Yoda doing to what looks like a candy cane, in Figure 4?

“Mmmm, yes! Suck it I will! The force is strong with this candy cane! Yummy, is it not?”

I love Michael Jackson’s patent with those shoes….very creative. And they actually work! Just watch one of his smooth criminal videos and you can see his shoes in action!!! By the way, did I mention that Michael is THE Hottest man alive!!! *sighs in love*

This is a great blog entry. We need more public inventors to spawn extra innovation in America.