“Did I Lock the Car?”

By Luke Dent, Trainee Patent Attorney

“Did I lock the car?” you ask yourself. If you’re near enough, you might be able to check if the car’s lock indicator light is flashing. If you’re not, then you’re left with clammy hands, a slightly uneasy feeling inside and a dilemma.

While reviewing some prior art recently in the field of key fobs, I came across a number of inventions attempting to solve the above problem. The purpose of this blog is not to investigate those inventions; it is to examine their corresponding patent applications to see just how tortuous patent attorneys can be when describing the above familiar problem.

First, European Patent Application EP1939820:

When a closure is regularly locked and unlocked by a user, the most recent instance at which the closure was last locked or unlocked can easily be forgotten or confused with an alternate instance. This leaves the user in some doubt as to the security status of the closure. If the user is in the close vicinity of the closure, it would be a minor inconvenience to return to the closure in order to manually check whether the closure was left in a locked or unlocked condition. However if the user is further afield, the problem is heightened since the user cannot readily check the security status and the user is left with the uncertainty as to whether the closure is correctly secured.

US Patent Application US2010271224 paints a very broad picture with many comparisons:

In the course of daily life, people perform a great many tasks, many of which provide short-term indication of task completion. For example, that one is wearing clothing is a good indication that one has gotten dressed. Similarly, a person may determine whether he has eaten by the absence of hunger or whether she has bandaged a cut by the presence of a fresh dressing. Other tasks do not provide an immediate indication of completion. For example, unfed pet fish are nearly indistinguishable from fish that are fed. Taking some types of medication may produce detectable changes only at a much later time. Similarly, still other tasks, such as locking a car door, may provide an indication that the task is complete only to an observer adjacent the automobile. People generally rely on memory to ensure that many tasks are completed.

US Patent Application US2017337759 describes the scenario slightly more succinctly:

After parking a vehicle and walking away to perform an errand, or for other reasons, a user often forgets whether the vehicle’s door was locked at the time of departure by having depressed the “lock” button of the key fob. Rather than having to walk back towards the vehicle into a proximity where the lock button can be depressed to insure activation of the door lock, it would be desirable to have some indicator means associated with the fob itself to inform the user as to whether the lock button had indeed been depressed upon departing the vehicle.

Finally, US Patent Application US2016010366 sets the scene before asking the question itself:

Today “multi-tasking” is the normal mode of operation. The act of shopping or going to a doctor appointment could involve collecting items to return to the store, making sure that all the required documentation is in hand, installing a sun shade behind the windshield, hiding valuables left in the car, transferring a child to a stroller, completing a cell phone call, making sure the child has juice and toys, and then, when you are walking in the mall or are being seen by the doctor, the thought hits you—“Did I lock the car?”

When compared with earlier patent specifications, it appears that background sections are now significantly longer and more detailed. These particular examples may be outliers, especially when considering how familiar the above problem is, but quite what such protracted background sections add to patent specifications is surely debatable.