It’s not obvious to me at all


I’m off to visit the Supreme Court tomorrow, so I thought I’d share some law news for a change. In a landmark patent decision, Federal Circuit Judge Richard Posner has ruled that the sex toy shown above is “obvious.”

You can read the explanation at Patently-O, but suffice it to say that the gap between the legal sense of the word “obvious” and its colloquial sense may be as wide as the gap for “theory” (as in, “but evolution is just a theory.”) Honestly, I would not have known this was a sex toy if I hadn’t been told. It looks like a bottle opener. Perhaps the dry design schematic leaches all the kink out of it?


  1. #1 Isis the Scientist
    April 27, 2009

    What do all the numbery bits mean?

  2. #2 Jessica Palmer
    April 27, 2009

    The whole thing is basically a glass rod, and the numbers label glass spheres and a loop handle. There is nothing really to distinguish the spheres, nor any reason for them to have special numbering, except that the patent is written to represent as many variations of the design as possible. My favorite part:

    “As to the manner of usage and operation of the present invention, the same should be apparent from the above description. Accordingly, no further discussion relating to the manner of usage and operation will be provided. ”


  3. #3 HP
    April 27, 2009

    Glass, huh? I would’ve guessed some sort of silicone or polymer.

    Just don’t forget it’s in when you need to sit down.

  4. #4 Kevin
    April 27, 2009

    If I had seen it in an adult toy catalog, then yes, its purpose would seem obvious. When the picture is stripped of any sexual context, as it is in your post, then its intended use is not obvious at all.

  5. #5 Peter Cowling
    April 28, 2009

    My first guess would have been worst-ever-key.

  6. #6 DuWayne
    April 28, 2009

    I wonder what it says about me, that I knew exactly what that was and what it’s for.

    HP –

    Glass is becoming increasingly popular for several reasons. One, it is completely hypoallergenic. Two, it apparently reduces friction problems, when compared to polymers. Three, there are some folks who are concerned that vaginal fluids would break down polymers and given the absorption qualities of vaginal membranes, that’s kind of scary. Four, glass that is hand blown with colors makes for really pretty sex toys (I have a few friends in Portland who actually display them like any other knickknacks). As for not being silicone – or more often acrylic, I would imagine you could find one in a “soft” version, but hard toys are becoming quite popular.

  7. #7 Joe Leasure
    April 28, 2009

    Wow DuWayne. Your knowledge of the subject is quite impressive 😀

  8. #8 DuWayne
    April 28, 2009

    Joe –

    You’ve heard of Tupperware parties, right? Then came candle parties, which were much the same. Well, there are also sex toy parties, which I have been involved with on a few different fronts, the most recent being a facilitator. My first time around (when I was young and a pretty boy) was as one of a pair of human buffet trays. Specifically, I was the sushi tray.

  9. #9 Jessica Palmer
    April 28, 2009

    I think this conversation may be a first for BioE! Even though I did cover body-shaped sushi trays a while back, I had no idea there was this level of sex toy expertise among the readership. Live and learn… 🙂

  10. #10 Joe Leasure
    April 28, 2009

    I did not know that. I suddenly feel like I’ve lead a rather sheltered life.

  11. #11 DuWayne
    April 28, 2009

    Joe –

    I suspect that rather than you having led a particularly sheltered life, I’ve just been a fairly extreme hedonist. Ironically, it wasn’t until I settled down that I became an atheist (though I still have a strong interest in the psychology of human sexuality).

    Jessica –

    Being a human sushi tray paid really well, but I earned every penny. I had to shave every bit of body hair that wasn’t on my head. I had to lay perfectly still, in spite of being extremely ticklish. And they had the damned air conditioning on – not to mention the occasional wandering hands…

  12. #12 idlemind
    April 29, 2009

    OK, I can get that it’s a sex toy, but I find the idea that borosilicate glass is more lubricious than other glass definitely non-obvious. Skimming over the linked post I read that someone first discovered this property with respect to rectal thermometers several decades ago, a fact which which led the judge to regard this particular application of the principle to be “obvious.”

    The research involved to find that particular tidbit must have been massive, but when a 70-million-dollar infringement suit is on the line it would seem worthwhile — and certainly paid off in this case.

  13. #13 Lady|Meerkat
    April 29, 2009

    If you had told me it was a dog chew/pull toy I would have believed you. Knowing it is glass then then yes, the use does become more obvious.

  14. #14 michael5000
    May 9, 2009

    You don’t have to have walked too far on the wild side to know what that gizmo is for. I am a long ways from kinky, but recognized its function immediately. Once you know what it’s for, its use is obvious — and sure, there’s a tautological element to this, but when you think about it the exact thing could be said for most simple technologies. If you saw a diagram of a wheelbarrow, never having seen one in action, its function probably wouldn’t be immediately clear, yet there’s really only one thing you can do with a wheelbarrow. Its use is obvious in that sense.

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