4 Cases Where Examiner Found Ridiculously Awesome Prior Art


In March 1983, Paul Graham, a UK-based inventor filed a patent application. His patent application had a hard time getting granted because of examiner’s daughter.

Examiner’s daughter, are you kidding me? Honestly, No. Let me explain.

The daughter of the patent examiner on the case was fond of comic books and one of her comics had already explained the same concept in one of the pictures published in that edition.

A Prior art search is not easy and we know it personally. In our previous article, we talked about how prior art for a patent can be found in places that you generally ignore. For example, we have found prior art in sitcoms, we also invalidated a design patent using a reference from an online antique store and in one instance, even a mobile app helped us find prior art.

Here are four patent prior art examples that were excavated from places that would, for sure, surprise you.

Donald Duck Comic

Chances are that you may know about this case already. This is a quite famous story among patent attorneys.

It was September of 1964 when a freighter carrying 5500 sheep docked at Kuwait’s harbor. Only 500 sheep were unloaded when something went wrong and the freighter capsized with the remaining 5000 sheep on board.

The dying sheep started contaminating the water around the harbor, which was a threat to the city’s water supply. The freighter needed to be raised right away. Using cranes was not a good idea as it was time-consuming and could have broken the hull into pieces.

Karl Kroyer, a Danish inventor, came up with a brilliant idea of filling the freighter with plastic balls. In the month of December, he filled the capsized freighter with approx. 27 million plastic balls and hit the nail on the head.

patent prior art example 1

Karl later went ahead with filing a patent (NL6514306) on his idea. And contrary to what you are thinking, his patent got rejected. It is said that the examiners at Dutch PTO found a similar method of raising a ship in one of Donald Duck’s stories.

In late 1949, in a story of Donald Duck, he used ping pong balls (buoyant object) to raise a sunken yacht from a lake. Who might have thought that Mr. Donald Duck had already invented a solution for a non-existing problem?

donald duck patent

Dennis the Menace Comic Book

Another similar case we found is a patent titled “Entry system for pets”. The system referred to a bell/buzzer mounted outside a home, which can be used by pets to indicate owner to open the gate or whatsoever purpose.


Well, this seems quite unique, right? But what happened here was a Déjà vu. The examiner found an almost exactly same device drawn on the first page of the Beano comic 2015, which his daughter was reading at the dining table. Great!

The patent was granted, however, with a cited reference to the comic.

the beano comic

This again shows how a prior art might be hiding in places somebody can’t even imagine finding.

Another Interesting Read: These 11 Answers by A Patent Examiner Will Help You Understand Patent Process A Bit Better

Steve Job’s Keynote Speech

Not only comics but sometimes speech and videos can be used as a strong reference. This happened to Apple with its Rubber-banding effect patent.

The German court found a prior art lying in Apple’s closet. The concept was revealed by Steve Jobs in his keynote video of 2007.

In the keynote video, Steve demonstrated the bounce-back effect of an image in the new iPhone. This effect is known as rubber-banding and was covered in the patent. But, as it was already revealed publicly by the company itself, the patent grant halted.


Apple’s attorney brought several points to the table to differ the tech from what was shown in the video. The PTO, as a result, approved 3 out of 20 claims of the patent.

Finding this kind of prior art was more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack, especially when the reference was hiding in the company’s own old keynote video. Still found.

2001: The Space Odyssey

Going further with our post, the fourth case we have included in our list is of Apple again.

Apple and Samsung are quite famous for their lawsuit battles. This time they were fighting for a design patent. Apple claimed that Samsung has copied the design of the iPad for its Galaxy Tab.

In defense, Samsung demonstrated that Apple had patented a common design of a square display with rounded corners which is quite popular in movies.

As a proof, Samsung referred to “2001: The Space Odyssey”, a science fiction film released in 1968. Below is a screenshot from the movie.


The judge at London high court opined that Samsung tab was not that cool to be confused with iPad. Apple lost the case.


Finding a spot-on prior art is not a cakewalk. However, it’s not impossible at the same time. All you need to do is include non-text sources into your where-to-look-for-the-art list.

“Thou not restrict thy search to just textual data; thou shalt go beyond and try to search in visuals as well.”  — The unwritten constitution of Patent Searching.

Few Other Fun Reads That You Will Definitely Love:

Authored By – Shabaz Khan, Sr. Research Analyst. Market Research.

Showing 17 comments
  • RD

    Aah – the good old days when prior art searching was still an art, and office restrictions didn’t hamper our search for prior art on things like YouTube, blogs, company websites, etc. Nowadays, its mostly about canned search strings, obvious search engines, and set number of hours – not the right way to invalidate patents.

    • GreyB

      RD, the prior art searching is still an art, though it has become more complicated than it used to be once. The rules are same, the game has become tough only.

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  • Daniel Cole

    This can happen yes – though has to be pretty specific what he said in the speech or an overly broad patent as generally these type of speeches are not generally very specific. It seems like you should have been able to get around the Donald Duck comment if you were specific enough I certainly wouldn’t call that enabling. Still interesting though thanks!

  • Peter Buitelaar

    Interesting read! However, I have worse experiences with the EPO. In this case hundreds of documents showing prior art and sent by me, were ignored completely and the patent application was granted after 12 years. However, after action from the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (pushed by me) supported with my huge amount of evidence, the Opposition Division seems to do a much better job. Maybe I should have checked some of my old comics too. I wrote two blogs on LinkedIn regarding this matter.

  • Jose Manuel Linares Felipe

    There is something I don’t understand. One cannot get a patent if there is any kind of published prior art, even if this is not patented yet? So why all the anxious secrecy around innovation?

    • Nitin Balodi

      Jose, sometimes it happens that examiners miss finding a prior art that can halt grant of a patent and a patent gets granted.

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  • A Design Patent Examiner

    As a design examiner, this was a fun article. It is true that the non patent literature has expanded greatly but examiners are not afforded additional time to search.

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