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Summary:

So much for patent reform. Two women are suing the maker of Care Bears, saying the toys violate a patent they hold for a method of playing h…

Care Bears
photo: Flickr / John Trainor

So much for patent reform. Two women are suing the maker of Care Bears, saying the toys violate a patent they hold for a method of playing hide and seek.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week in California, Shelly Conty and Cindy Reichman allege that Hide ‘N Seek Secret Bear and Hide ‘N Seek Surprise Bear violate US Patent 6,494,457 which is titled “Enhanced hide and seek game and method of playing game.”

The women say the patent protects their own toy, named Hide ‘N Seek Hayley, and want toy-maker Jakks Pacific to hand over triple damages and to stop making the Care Bears in question.

According to their lawyer, Lenden Webb, the women “invented, marketed, produced and sold” an idea and now the Care Bears have “stolen what they’ve done.”

Webb says the invention covered by the patent is useful because it “enables a kid to have a bear hid by an adult.” The new method of hide and seek, which can be seen in a diagram here, involves a transmitter placed inside the toy and a receiver that says if the child is getting closer.

“The participant interacts with the seeker unit to use and develop his or her logical reasoning skills in searching for the hidden object,” says the patent.

In recent years, critics have said the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been too quick to grant patents for seemingly obvious inventions, especially those involving so-called business methods. Famous examples include Amazon’s “one-click patent” and one granted to a five-year old for a method of swinging on a swing. Last year, President Obama signed a major patent reform bill but many of the changes it contains will only affect new patents.

Webb says Hide ‘N Seek Hayley is no longer available for sale. The Care Bears appear to be available on Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) where parents have given them mixed reviews.

Jakks Pacific, which also makes Cabbage Patch Kids, Pokemon and other toys, didn’t return a request for comment.

Care Bear lawsuit
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  1. I don’t share your cynicism about this patent. It looks to me like this patent is doing exactly what a patent should do.

    A small company invented a new toy. The Hide N Seek system is the toy’s key feature, and nobody had thought of it before. The company patented their invention, and then a much larger company later built a toy that features the same invention as a core feature.

  2. Thanks for your comment, David. I didn’t mean to be cynical about the patent so much as about the patent system itself. And nor do I mean to belittle the people who had the vision and the work to create a new toy and bring it to market.

    The issue is rather that patents are intended to protect novel inventions not abstract ideas. In this case, I would say the transmitter is an invention but a game based on the transmitter is an idea that shouldn’t be patentable (likewise with many other ‘method’ patents).

    In the bigger picture, the result of courts’ and the USPTO’s decision to lower the bar for patentable subject matter has given rise to a flood of litigation rather than furthering innovation.

    There are other ways for small companies to protect their ideas — branding, trademark and trade secrets to name a few — that don’t trigger the massive legal consequences that can arise with patents.

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