Joke’s on you: Why Batman’s utility belt should include a patent

​Aug. 7, 2018
By Dan Beckley

The Batman and the Joker have been engaged in a battle of wits (and fists) ever since the Clown Prince of Crime first appeared in Batman #1 in the spring of 1940. And with no less than six Joker-themed movies in currently in ​development, we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in the near future.

Looking back, we all know Joker has done some really horrible things over the years and broken many, many laws along the way. But did you know that clown actually ripped off one of Batman’s most iconic possessions?

In Batman #73 (“The Joker’s Utility Belt,” Oct./Nov. 1952), the Harlequin of Hate had the nerve to steal Batman’s idea for a utility belt and use it to help him commit various Joker-themed crimes. That Ace of Knaves has always had a flair for the dramatic, but his tip-toeing around patent stealing is sure to bring chills down the spine of intellectual property attorneys everywhere.

Should the Joker be brought to justice for this copycat crime spree? A close examination of intellectual property rights might provide an answer for the Dark Knight.

What is a patent?

A patent is a grant given to an inventor by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and grants the right to exclude others, for a period of up to 20 years after filing an application, from making, using, offering to sell, selling or importing an invention. Generally, applicants will need to wait at least two years to get a patent.

Also, the subject matter of a patent must be new, useful and not obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the art. An application must contain a detailed, written description of the invention; one or more claims that define the invention; and drawings of the invention when the subject matter can be drawn.

Bruce Wayne first donned the cape, cowl and utility belt in 1939. That would have given him plenty of time to file an application, get a grant and still be within the two-year window. However, he would have had a very tough time trying to explain to the PTO why he was carrying around Batman’s belt for him.

Would a utility belt be eligible for a patent?

Yes! The United States issues three kinds of patents. Most common are utility patents for new processes, machines, articles of manufacture or compositions of matter, or improvements to such processes or articles. Design patents protect the aesthetic or ornamental external appearance of articles of manufacture, even ones that include a batarang, grappling hook or the always handy re-breather.

After Batman files a patent application, when does he “own” his belt?

Before March 16, 2013, to obtain patent protection within the United States, applications were filed with the PTO within one year of the date the invention is first offered for sale, is first in public use or is first described in a printed publication. This is sometimes called the “one-year grace period.” However, the law changed on March 16, 2013, and the “grace period” became much more limited. It is best to file a patent application as soon as possible, and advisable to file the application before public disclosure of the invention.

How long will it take to get the patent, and how much would it cost?

Not even the Batcomputer knows. Answers to both questions vary widely depending on the technology or art involved, and on the complexity of the invention. The PTO’s website at www.uspto.gov provides detailed information about the patenting process.

How will Batman know if his one-of-a-kind belt patent will bust his budget?

There are various costs associated with patents, including the cost of drawings, PTO filing fees, attorney fees, and maintenance fees to keep the patent in effect after it has been issued.

Total costs vary widely, so Batman may wish to consult a patent attorney who can provide estimates after reviewing his invention and the art describing it.

Which attorney should he call on his Batphone?

Numerous patent, trademark and copyright attorneys practice in Ohio, including those who focus on litigation in these practice areas. Click here for a complete list of OSBA members who may be able to help.

For more information about intellectual property rights, check out this great resource from the Ohio State Bar Association.

Dan Beckley is website and digital content strategist for the Ohio State Bar Association. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn​.

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