As CLP’s patent librarian, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about inventions. Most of the time, my job is to help inventors get started with a patent search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark website. Usually people come in with an idea of something that they think they might be able to make and sell, that will make life easier or more efficient or more useful. Not every invention is destined for a patent, though, and for some inventors patents are beside the point. The cartoonist Rube Goldberg is remembered for his fanciful drawings of complicated machines that performed simple tasks, and plenty of burgeoning inventors compete each year to see who can build the best Rube Goldberg machine.
Then I learned about chindogu, a movement in Japan dedicated to “unuseless” inventions. It reminds me a little of groups like Oulipo or Dogme 95, among others; like those groups, chindogu requires certain constraints to be followed, forcing the inventor to work out ways of creatively coming up with an idea that will follow those rules. According to The International Chindogu Society, there are ten tenets inventors must follow. You can find all of them here, but a couple of the big ones are: A chindogu cannot be for real use (i.e., this isn’t something you’ll use all the time), it must exist, chindogu are not for sale and cannot be patented, and humor can’t be the sole reason for the invention. Some examples are a hat that you can wear to prop you up while you sleep on the subway (no more falling over on your neighbor!) or, my favorite, a mop that attaches to your baby’s belly so they can sweep the floor while crawling around. Check out the book Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu if you’re interested in discovering more unuseless inventions.