General Mills Granted A Design Patent On A Tortilla Bowl Because Why Even Pretend Anymore?

from the patent-thicket dept

While we’ve talked in the past about how absurd design patents can get, it’s worth pointing out that, hey, shit’s not getting any less absurd, people. Design patents, as opposed to utility patents, function more like trademarks. The idea is that the “invention” in the case of design patents are supposed to be unique outputs of what might otherwise not be unique inventions that are then said to act as some sort of single-source invented thing. Honestly, the whole concept smells of a workaround on the actual purpose of patent law and it tends to function that way as well. How else do you explain the design patent granted on a toothpick with some lines carved into it, for instance? Or Apple’s design patent on the animation of turning a page within an ebook? Rewarding exclusivity to these types of “inventions” that barely work up the sweat of an “inventor” should seem absurd to you, as should the frequency with which the public is left wondering where exactly the “invention” is in any of this.

Which brings us to General Mills and its recently granted design patent on tortilla bowls.

General Mills Inc. has received a patent for a bowl-shaped tortilla. It’s just a single patent and probably not a big item for General Mills (NYSE: GIS), but the concept of a tortilla bowl seems so simple that it’s interesting the Golden Valley-based food giant sought and received the patent.

No, not interesting, annoying. Annoying and frustratingly believable, as the USPTO appears to mostly be in the business of seeing just how far it can stretch the concept of invention by granting these sorts of design patents. And there doesn’t appear to be much unique about this tortilla bowl. Here are some of the images from the patent:

Such a unique design. Or not.

Tortilla bowls have been around for roughly ever, as best as I can tell, appearing in stores and restaurants all over the place. I even vaguely remember a walking-talking basketball getting some attention a while back for tweeting out an image of him enjoying a tortilla bowl on Cinco de Mayo.

And, yet, the USPTO saw fit to grant General Mills this design patent for the glorious invention of a thing that’s been around forever. That the company named its “invention” an “ornamental design for a shaped tortilla” only drives home the absurdity that has become the realm of design patents, where invention can mean anything and the USPTO applies zero critical thinking to the application process.

Asked to comment on this patent, a company spokesman offered up this content-less reply.

“We file patents all the time,” General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas said.

And why not, given that the approval process for those patents appears to be some kind of assembly line culminating with a mechanical tipping bird that has an “APPROVED!” stamp super-glued to its beak? Still, I somehow doubt that the founders had any intention of rewarding patents for such non-inventions as a tortilla bowl.

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Companies: general mills

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Comments on “General Mills Granted A Design Patent On A Tortilla Bowl Because Why Even Pretend Anymore?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The patent system is broken,
you no longer need to pretend to invent something,
just send pay and for a design patent on a basic design ,
invented by someone else years ago in common use.
maybe i can get a design patent on 2button mouse
with a slider button in the centre .
Apple did not invent phones with rounded corners and retangular screens .
did they not even do an image search for prior art .
Real inventors would not patent things already invented in common use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Design Patent are supposed to be unique

The idea of the design patent is that is supposed to patent a unique design that is not required for the product to function:

Case in point, the original Coca-Cola bottle. The bottle shape is not necessary to hold in the liquid, but it is a unique and distinctive shape. That is why it originally had a design patent granted to it.

The tortilla bowl in the patent application doesn’t even come close to meeting that standard. The Patent Office needs to be reformed.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Design Patent are supposed to be unique

Yeah, I ate a taco salad out of a tortilla bowl exactly like the one shown once a week or two for years back in the early 90’s. I’ve had various TexMex served in virtually identical bowls all across the US over the last three decades… which is the whole point. Some lawyer saw how ubiquitous these bowls were, did a design patent search that turned up negative, and saw dollar signs.

radarmonkey (profile) says:

Thorough Reporting

Has TD ever thought of reaching out to the named ‘inventors’ of this patent for comment on the absurdity of it? Not GM, but Robert Clements, et al? I could think of a thousand questions beyond the rhetorical “Isn’t this obvious?” This would be not to harass, but to really delve into the the ‘creative’ process that goes into such a ‘unique’ invention!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The patent being discussed here is a design patent. Design patents are intended to be pretty much just as you describe. They are not at all like the patents usually discussed (utility patents), in that they aren’t about new inventions. They’re about distinctive design.

In many ways, they’re more like trademarks than patents.

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