written by: Eleanor Newman•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 9/26/2010
From canned sandwiches to Head On, history is littered with examples of failed inventions. This article points out the mistakes of some famously useless inventions and explains how to avoid their mistakes.
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Dog Car Sack
People dote on their pets. In 2007 Americans spent $41 billion to provide their pets with every comfort imaginable. Such excess has spawned any number of useless inventions, including a product called Neuticles that provides neutered pets with fake testicles to boost their self-esteem. One enterprising British company sells a product called Greet Me--Eat Me, which are greetings cards made of rawhide. Apparently, enough besotted individuals like the idea of mailing edible greetings cards to their pets to keep this product line afloat. But some pet-oriented inventions miss the mark by far. One, the 1950s-era Dog Car Sack, is a large pouch mounted against a passenger door with a head hole so your dog can be subjected to 75mph highway winds while trapped in a canvas sack. That just doesn't sound safe. The lesson: when your invention involves pets, children, grandmas, or anyone else you hold dear, don't put their lives in danger!
image: Popular Mechanics, 1936
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What late-night TV viewer hasn't been startled by the frightening and mysterious Head On commercial? The ad features a woman with a trance-like expression rubbing what looks like a fat glue stick on her forehead while a disembodied voice repeats "Head On, apply directly to the forehead!" Both the product and the marketing strategy exemplify two huge don'ts. One is vagueness: nowhere does the ad explain what the product is supposed to do. The other is uselessness. Medical professionals and the Better Business Bureau agree that Head On does not cure headaches. Perhaps that's why the commercial couldn't explain why to buy it. Despite its uselessness, Head On is firmly embedded in our culture. This useless invention commercial has half a million views on YouTube, and has inspired countless spoofs.
image credit: blog.newsok.com/Bryan Farha
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Hat Simulating Fried Egg
Contrary to what you might think, there's a market for a wide array of useless inventions. People impulse buy for a variety of reasons: they see something they've "always wanted," they're on vacation, their favorite team just won, or because something is just crass enough to be hilarious. However, there are some things that no sane person would buy, and a fried-egg-shaped-hat is one of them. Patented under the compelling name of Hat Simulating Fried Egg, you can view the drawings of this hideous headware here. The patent listing provides some engaging reading, particularly this line:
"The hat finds utility, for example, as an attention-getting item in-connection with promotional activities at trade shows, conventions, and the like."
And to promote anti-drug campaigns, apparently. Go figure. Anyway, our favorite Hat Simulating Fried Egg illustrates that if the very name of your product provokes the question why on earth would someone want that, there's probably not a market for it. Useless objects should have something appealing about them to get customers pulling out their wallets.
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The U.S. Patent Office doles out hundreds of thousands of patents each year. Most of these requests for patents turn out to be useless inventions. Inventors can become so focused on fixing a problem that they forget to ask:
Do other people experience this problem?
Would they pay for a solution?
To avoid the mistakes other failed inventors have made, it's important to scrutinize your product. Does your invention fill a need, is it an elegant solution, and how can you convince people they need it? If you've invented something that doesn't succumb to any of these weaknesses, it might be time to take it to the patent office. Check out this Bright Hub piece to demystify the process. Then, try out some of these strategies for free advertising to kick start your marketing campaign.