Improving the Fork: A Patent Trawl

I went to lunch today at a new market-slash-sandwich place that just opened in my neighborhood. It was really good!

The market (and neighborhood) is the type to offer fancy organic cold-pressed juice for eleven dollars and artisanal almond milk that comes in something that looks like baby food jars, so when I got this fork to eat my side salad with, at first I wasn’t sure if it was something exotic and fancy:

I used the strange fork to eat my salad and was pleased to find that it worked really well! The tiny serrations on the tip helped spear the individual salad leaves very securely. “Aha,” I thought, “someone has improved upon the simple fork!”

I went up and asked the guy behind the counter if all his forks were like this, and he laughed and assured me they were not. It was just a manufacturing defect!

I went back to work with my head spinning. Could this ACCIDENTAL IMPROVEMENT made to the fork be put to DELIBERATE use?

Had I been struck by the sort of coincidental circumstance that led to the invention of Post-Its, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and representative democracy??

I began to search the patent records. Soon I lost all interest in developing and marketing my new, improved fork. But I did really enjoy my trawl through the patent records for improved forks, because the language in a patent application has this very formal, stilted tone that nonetheless often features dashes of irrepressible personality bursting through the seams. Here are a few of my favorite finds and excerpts (bold is my own emphasis).

mom's spaghetti


The objects of the invention are…to eliminate the awkwardness of securing a portion of spaghetti around the prongs of the fork; to add to the pleasure of eating spaghetti; to construct a revolving spaghetti fork consisting of few and simple parts, easy and inexpensive to manufacture; and generally to provide a revolving spaghetti fork that is easily and simply operated for use and that is sufficient for its purpose.

can i frame this drawing

SERRATED FORK, Patent Application US20130152403 A1, 2011

My serrated fork will cut thru pastries, cakes, eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, fish, fruit and other edibles with more ease than a regular fork. Step 1, I placed a regular fork tightly onto a vise. Step 2, I used a hacksaw with a junior hacksaw blade and I made some small notches on the outer tong of the fork. Step 3, I used a mini-grinder set to smoothen the edges. Lastly, I washed the fork to remove any tiny metal flakes. I made a fork for a right-handed person, another for left-handed user. I used a small fork to model both serrated sides…

The serrated fork offers an opportunity to restaurants and homes everywhere, worldwide to keep up with innovation and the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. When the “sphork” [sic] was created long ago, no one thought of marrying the butter knife and the fork. [Editor’s note: Combination knife and fork designs go back to at least 1881.]

The serrated fork brings these two together, the butter knife and the fork. I have seen children and adults alike licking a butter knife; this serrated fork will need the help of those skilled in the art to craft a perfect unity between the butter knife and the fork to create a masterful vision of the serrated fork which can be lick able. I can envision a serrated fork in every home! I can picture us cutting easily into a thick piece of Cod with just a wiggle of the wrist as we handle the serrated fork…

The more important feature of the invention, in order for the detailed description herein to be understood and appreciated by those of masterful skill in the art, are the notches given to the outside tongs. The notches are a skillful design between a butter-knife and a dull steak knife. The features are to be apparent and obvious to one skilled in the art.

spoon it


Look at that thing. Just look at it.

chop it up

COMBINED FORK AND CHOPSTICK ASSEMBLY, Patent Application US20090165307 A1, 2007

While forks are generally intuitive and easy to use, chopsticks require a great deal of skill and practice to be used effectively when eating. In a variety of restaurants, patrons might request chopsticks if they are proficient with the techniques and proper handling of chopsticks, while other patrons may request a fork if they are unable to efficiently handle their food with chopsticks. In still other cases, a patron may wish to try using chopsticks, and then later change his or her mind and wish to use a fork to continue eating.

Heretofore, the restaurant has been required to provide both forks and chopsticks separately to provide patrons with a utensil of their choice. This creates additional cost and takes up valuable storage space. Also, patrons have had to choose between using a fork or a pair of chopsticks and had to utilize two utensils if they changed their mind, creating additional waste.

While forks and chopsticks have long been known, there has been a longfelt need, for a combined chopstick and fork assembly that combines the elements and features of a fork and a chopstick, that can be used by a variety of patrons as a fork, a pair of chopsticks or both, at the discretion of the patron.

“a longfelt need”

an invention whose time has come

FORK WITH TIMER, Patent US5421089 A, 1994

The use of forks is known in the prior art. More specifically, forks heretofore devised and utilized for the purpose of eating are known to consist basically of familiar, expected and obvious structural configurations, notwithstanding the myriad of designs encompassed by the crowded prior art which have been developed for the fulfillment of countless objectives and requirements…

While these devices fulfill their respective, particular objective and requirements, the aforementioned patents do not describe a fork with timer that provides a cue to a user after an elapsed period of time for indicating that another bite of food using the fork may be taken

Therefore, it can be appreciated that there exists a continuing need for new and improved fork with timer which can be used for providing a cue to a user after an elapsed period of time for indicating that another bite of food using the fork may be taken.

I love this logic: “There does not already exist a fork with a built-in timer. Therefore, there is a need for a fork with a timer.” Go for it, N.M. Dubus and S. Springfield. That’s the spirit of invention.

Also: “It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a new and improved fork with timer which has all the advantages of the prior art forks and none of the disadvantages.”

screw this, man

TWISTING PASTA FORK, Patent US5005293 A, 1989

A spring element forcibly urges the shaft out of the sleeve and a spiral mechanism twists the shaft and fork end as the shaft exits the sleeve. The mechanism includes a ratchet, ball and socket or other devices for retaining the shaft in the sleeve during an eating procedure when food is captured on the fork end…

Although some attempts may be been made to employ an automatic twisting arrangement for the fork tines, problems and difficulties are oftentimes encountered which stem largely from the fact that the fork tines may only be turned or twisted to gather food wherein the turning or twisting is then restricted while the user raises the implement to his mouth to consume the collected food.

Obviously, once the twist has been made, the food must be retained on the fork tines and no twisting or turning or rotational movement may be tolerated while the implement is being raised to the mouth of the user. Otherwise, the collected food will be dislodged causing embarrassment to the user…

Therefore, a long standing need has existed to provide an economical and convenient means for collecting pasta or other food commodities which rotates to gather the pasta, and which releasably locks in this position preparatory to eating…

Another object of the present invention is to provide an economic and convenient means for automatically gathering food onto the tines of a fork whereby the food may be readily consumed during a conventional culinary procedure.

I never knew that twirling pasta was SO HARD. Also, “conventional culinary procedure” is my new favorite way of saying “eating”

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