Patents can sometimes be a bit dry and at Scintilla we’re in the holiday mood, so I thought it would be festive to search for Santa-related patents, using a free patent search service. I may not have found Santa, but I did find his “illusionary trail”.

Searching for Santa

Patent searching is a critical part of the patent process, where it is used to find “prior art” to challenge the novelty of inventions claimed in patent applications. I searched for patent documents using the free online service espacenet. I didn’t find anything with Claus, Santa as the inventor, but I did find 32 results with Santa Claus in the title. It has to be said that this was not a proper patent search. If I’d wanted more hits on espacenet I would have searched in both titles or abstracts, tried more keywords and used patent classification codes. For a proper patent search a patent examiner or professional patent searcher would have subscriptions to databases that allow “full text” search and use of complex search commands.

As normal, the search results included both patent applications and granted patents. I found that of the 32 documents just over half were Chinese. This is not surprising as the inventions mostly relate to toys. Nearly all the Chinese patent documents were published “utility model” patent applications or granted patents. They have a U,or a Y after the publication number, for example CN203075651 (U) “Santa Claus having luminous eyes” and CN201323953 (Y) “Santa Claus’s luminescent crutch”. Compared to regular “invention patents”, utility model applications, which cover shapes or structures, are not fully examined by the Chinese patent office and have just a 10 year term rather than 20.

Another thing to watch out for is that some of the results were US design patents. They have a publication number starting with USD, for example USD457462 (S1) “Santa Claus foot”. These US design patents cover ornamental design of functional items. In confusing contrast to the Chinese naming convention, regular US patents (with the US prefix) are called “utility” patents.

Found him?

The invention that really caught my eye was described in a US utility patent US7258592 (B2) “Santa Claus visit kit” granted in 2007. Here the B2 is the kind code that tells us that the patent is granted. The patent protects a kit for a diorama (I had to look it up!), which in this case is a little cardboard cut-out Christmas scene. Here is a drawing taken from the patent, complete with Santa’s Snack Station in the middle.


The best bit for me, working with software patents, is the flowchart. My eye was drawn to this part of it.


The claims set out the scope of protection afforded by the patent. Here is the main claim. See if you can find the Santa’s “illusionary trail” (clue – it’s in part b)).

1. A kit for creating an illusion that suggests a Santa Claus visit in a premises, said kit comprising:

a) items revealed to a child audience comprising

i) a displayer Christmas diorama that, when assembled, at least partly bounds a region in which small items can be placed, said diorama having a plurality of panels, a first image being imprinted on one of said panels;

ii) amusement items for use by at least a member of said child audience in carrying out steps that said child audience is invited to believe will assist Santa Claus in making said visit; and

b) items at least temporarily concealed from the child audience, said concealed items comprising means for making boot print resembling marks to mark an illusionary trail of Santa Claus in said premises and a card having a second image, the second image being similar to the first image but also containing a representation of Santa Claus.

What does this all mean?

Well for one it’s surprising what patents are granted in the United States. This stems from US patent law being different from that in the UK and Europe. We use this to our software clients’ advantage for inventions that seem to be excluded from patentability in Europe, but may stand a chance of getting patent protection in the US. But bear in mind that in the US the hurdles of novelty and inventive step are typically just as high as in Europe.

Meanwhile, this Christmas I think I’ll not bother with the diorama kit and just leave it to the real Santa Claus.