SEX, MORALITY AND PATENTS

I have been working in the world of patents for a long time and I have always been fond of finding literary works where this category of Industrial Property is treated, mentioned or takes part in the plot. In this personal blog it is possible to find some other entries about the subject and I have also published numerous posts on it in other blogs.

“EVA LUNA” AND PATENTS

Recently, a work colleague, aware of my hobby, let me know that in a well-known literary work (“Eva Luna” by Isabel Allende) patents were mentioned, although on very peculiar inventions. In narrating the period when Eva Luna stayed in a brothel, it is said that the “madame” was a businesswoman and that she had even invented a series of devices that could not be patented due to lack of financing:

“Another woman would have resigned herself to exercising her trade in the conventional way, but la Señora was a woman of imagination. She invented some bizarre devices with which she planned to invade the marketplace, but she could not find anyone willing to finance her. For lack of commercial vision in this country, her ideas _ like so many others _ were grabbed by North Americans, who now hold the patents and sell her models around the globe. The automatic telescoping penis, the battery-operated finger, and the never-fail breast with candy nipple were her creations and if she were paid the just royalty she would be millionaire.”

As the reader will have probably guessed by now, the main inventions in this post are related to sex, and if we talk about sex and inventions, morality cannot be kept aside.

MORALITY, SEX AND PATENTS

Most patent laws exclude from patentability some inventions for being against morality and public order. In the European Patent Convention, Art. 53 states:

European patents shall not be granted in respect of:  

  • (a)    inventions the commercial exploitation of which would be contrary to “ordre public” or morality; such exploitation shall not be deemed to be so contrary merely because it is prohibited by law or regulation in some or all of the Contracting States;  

What is moral or not evolves over time. Until the 1960s, the British Case law concerning exclusions from patentability because of immorality was linked exclusively to sexual inventions, especially contraceptives. According to the book “biotechnological inventions: Moral Restraints and Patent Law”, the British Patent Office was quite reluctant to grant patents on contraceptives, at least during the first half of the 20th century; for instance, the British patent from the family of documents US1995818 and DE599400C, whose subject matter is a pessary, was denied because even though the description only referred to its use for administering drugs, the examiner came to the conclusion that the device was meant to be used as a contraceptive, which was confirmed by the Director of the British Patent Office.  

Although in the Western world morality has evolved in a direction that makes it possible to affirm, as can be seen from the examples which will be provided, that this type of invention does not pose any problem in their patentability from the point of view of morality, there are other countries where difficulties are expected to arise. This post from the blog “spicy”, specialized in the Indian Industrial Property, says that patent applications on these inventions can be denied in India, because of lack of morality, as this example shows: The “we-vibe”, a peculiar vibrator, whose independent claim was the following one:

 “A sexual stimulation device comprising:

  • an inner arm dimensioned for insertion into a vagina;
  • an outer arm dimensioned to contact the clitoral area when said inner arm is inserted in the vagina; and
  • a flexible connecting portion connecting the inner and outer arms,

characterised in that said device is dimensioned to be worn by a female during intercourse, and said connecting portion is narrow to permit sexual intercourse when said inner arm is inserted in the vagina.”

The Indian Patent Office denied the patent because it considered that its use or commercial exploitation could be contrary to the public order and morality. It concludes by saying that the Law considers sex toys negatively and that these toys have never been regarded as useful or productive.

A search of all patents granted on the invention “we-vibe” shows that there is a great disparity in the moral treatment of inventions in the different regions of the world because most granted patents belong to countries regarded as some of the most developed ones, and to others not so developed but under the Western influence.

Before plunging into the subject, it might be worth noting that there are still countries where religious laws determine what can and cannot be patented:

Interestingly, if in Europe “the use of human embryos with industrial or commercial purposes” is excluded from patentability, it is due to the influence of Christian religions, and for example, the Indonesian patent law explicitly excludes from patentability all those inventions that are contrary to the religious morality.

The Saudi Arabian patent law states that a patent will not be granted if its commercial exploitation contravenes the Shari’ah.

 “Article Four:

(a)          The protection shall not be granted if its commercial exploitation violates the Shari’ah”

SEX-RELATED INVENTIONS: A HISTORICAL JOURNEY

I will now explore the history of these patents with the help of Hoag Levins’ book “American Sex Machines (the hidden history of sex at the U.S. Patent Office)”, published in 1996 by the editorial Adams Media Corporation, acquired through Amazon in its early years, when it only specialized in books, mainly second-hand ones.

MASTURBATION

As shown above, until recently, patent protection of inventions aimed at providing sexual pleasure was not considered morally correct. Nevertheless, inventions intended to solve sex related health problems were very common in the early years of patent history, and in that sense, a particularly abundant type of invention is that aimed at preventing masturbation, which was regarded as a serious disease.

Below you have some “anti-masturbation” patented inventions:

Nowadays, it is striking to know the concern that existed at the time in relation to the so-called “nocturnal emission”. The patent US641979 discloses a device in which the penis, when entering an erection, activates a gramophone to awaken the user, in a soft way because according to the inventor, people who need this type of device are weak and could be very negatively affected by sharp, sudden and unexpected sounds.

It seems masturbation was considered to be a problem with horses as well, since the British patent document GB189702073 refers to a device designed to prevent stallions from masturbating. It administers electric shocks when the erect penis closes the circuit.

The US patent US875845 protects “a sexual armour”, which can be worn by both sexes, designed to prevent access to genitalia. It is striking to see the description of the damage done by masturbation according to the inventor, which led him to come up with this device: “ It is a deplorable but well known fact that one of the most common causes of insanity, imbecility and feeble mindedness, especially in youth, is due to masturbation or self-abuse.”

Since masturbation is an example of those practices which are no longer classified as immoral over time, it would now be really complicated to find similar inventions in recent prior art, at least in the Western world. However, in 1987 a Chinese patent was published under the title “specific hand-envelope for controlling frequent masturbation”. Actually, if one searches the current prior art using the key word “masturbation”, numerous inventions aimed at facilitating masturbation will appear rather than those intended to prevent it.  It is on those inventions designed to provide sexual pleasure that I will now focus.

VIBRATORS

When dealing with those inventions, the first ones to be patented were those that combined vibration and massage devices. The first patents on this kind of invention were published during the second decade of the 20th century, as document US1032840 entitled “vibratory dilator”. In the first patents of this type there was always a reference to therapeutic character and sexual pleasure was not mentioned at all.

It was not uncommon to refer to the use of the invention within marriage, as patent US2024983,   granted in 1935 and entitled “device for promoting marital accord”. Within the description, the introduction says that it consists of means to stimulate some female nerves during sexual intercourse, all with the aim of overcoming frigidity in the wife. The penis is introduced through orifice 3 and the element 4 stimulates the clitoris.

This document US3549920 no longer discusses the therapeutic character but uses a more neutral tone, without clearly hinting the end use.

SEX ROBOTS

This patent US5076261 entitled “motor-driven therapeutic apparatus”, though continues to refer to the “therapeutic” use, it does not conceal its use to achieve sexual satisfaction.

In the 80’s there was a great increase in filing of patents on these primitive sexual robots, due to the appearance of the disease known as AIDS or “Acquired Immuno Defficiency Syndrome” caused by the HIV. (Source: “American Sex Machines -the hidden history of sex at the U.S. Patent Office” by Hoag Levins, 1996,  Adams Media Corporation)

CUNNILINGUS

Another type of common inventions is that of devices which try to simulate the movement, texture and aspect of a tongue doing cunnilingus.  

EXCLUSIVELY MALE INVENTIONS

Although there is a greater variety of devices for female use, there are also some inventions designed exclusively for men.

DISCRECTION

When dealing with these inventions, a problem that may arise is the need for discretion in transport and storage, since its discovery might cause some embarrassing situations. This invention, protected by the Spanish utility model ES1191759U tries to solve the problem by concealing the dildo inside a stuffed teddy bear.

STANDS

Some of the prior art inventions on sex toys refer to the stands used, such as document US6203491, where the inventor underlines that the stand used allows the user to enjoy it while talking on the phone, watching television or playing video games.

The following Spanish utility model ES1040309U refers to a stand for a dildo, though in this case with the help of a stationary bicycle.

The Spanish Utility Model ES1072023U consists of a stand for a dildo, driven by a complex mechanism.

FURNITURE

In the world of patents, furniture specially designed to facilitate sexual relations cannot be ignored. It is intended as an aid, mainly with difficult, gymnastic-like postures.

In the Spanish patent ES200000153  on a stool for sexual activities, the inventor is particularly concerned about the material damages that can be caused by having sex in unusual places:

“Sexual relations keep taking place, quite often, in peculiar places that lovers seek not only out of pleasure but also because of the attraction of risk. Thus, it is not unusual to see the kitchen, the stairs, a bathroom, etc. as the scene of sexual intercourse, therefore causing serious damages in the structure and furniture of those rooms. As an instance, leaning on a sink when having sex, will probably cause it to come off and fall down onto the floor.”

ROPES AND SUSPENSION

Another type of invention is that of devices designed to facilitate sexual relations based on the use of ropes and suspended structures.

DOLLS

A well-known type of sexual invention is that of sex dolls, in particular inflatable dolls, which are already part of pop culture, and protagonists of numerous literary and cinematographic works.

Sex dolls are available as well in the pet world, as this dog doll, protected by the Korean patent KR20180109141:

Nowadays, sex dolls are going through a real revolution, with AI and an increasingly real appearance.

TELEDILDONICS

The area where there have been more inventions for the last years and even decades is that of remotely controlled sex toys. Intense inventive activity in this sector is expected to continue in the short term. This technological field is known as “teledildonics”.

Below, a sample of inventions in “teledildonics” is shown:

ABUNDANT PRIOR ART

In the Cooperative Patent Classification (developed by the European Patent Office and The United States Patent Office) there are several symbols for sex toys. The numbers in parentheses represent the inventions classified in those categories. As one can see, they are quite numerous:

CONCLUSION

This journey through the sex-related patented inventions is an evidence of how the predominant morality in each society casts an influence on the subject matter of patent applications. Likewise, it is worth noting that human creativity seems boundless, also in the world of sex.

Leopoldo Belda Soriano

En español

Proofread by Ben Rodway

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