There's a saying about inventions:
"If you build a better mouse trap, the world will beat a path to your door."
As we all know, the mousetrap was perfected in 1882, so inventors since have been forced to turn their attention to solving other problems. Namely, how to entertain their cats because the mouse problem had been solved .
That's why today's edition of Inventions in Everything is focusing on the progressive improvements several inventors have patented in the field of feline entertaiment methods and devices. Starting with the patent that revolutionized the cat entertainment world and the subsequent inventions intended to solve the remaining problem that original invention left unsolved. Let's jump straight that revolutionary invention:
In many ways, this patent redefined what U.S. patent examiners were willing to accept in deciding to issue a U.S. patent. While some have called it either obvious or covered by prior art, others have heralded the achievement of inventors Kevin T. Amiss and Martin H. Abbott in successfully obtaining the issuance of this patent in 1995. They addressed that prior art in the patent:
Cats are not characteristically disposed toward voluntary aerobic exercise. It becomes the burden of the cat owner to create situations of sufficient interest to the feline to induce even short-lived and modest exertion for the health and well-being of the pet. Cats are, however, fascinated by light and enthralled by unpredictable jumpy movements, as for instance, by the bobbing end of a piece of hand-held string or yarn, or a ball rolling and bouncing across a floor. Intense sunlight reflected from a mirror or focused through a prism, if the room is sufficiently dark, will, when moved irregularly, cause even the more sedentary of cats to scamper after the lighted image in an amusing and therapeutic game of "cat and mouse." The disruption of having to darken a room to stage a cat workout and the uncertainty of collecting a convenient sunbeam in a lens or mirror render these approaches to establishing a regular life-enhancing cat exercise routine inconvenient at best.
Having struck down the argument against their invention not being sufficiently novel given the state of prior art, we can now describe their invention: a hand-held laser device operated by a person for the purpose of shining its light on surfaces where the cat might chase after it. Here's Figure 1 from the patent to illustrate the conceptual leap:
Having solved the fundamental challenge, inventors since have focused solving the remaining problem the introduction of lasers into the world of cat entertainment devices left untouched: the need for a human operator of the laser device.
This patent is one of the first to identify the need to eliminate the person to entertain a cat:
In practically every pet store and other stores there may be purchased a wide variety or toys for domestic animals such as cats and doge. Different types of balls, bones, toys which squeak etc. can be purchased. In almost every case, each of the toys is passive. The only way that any of the toys can become movable is through the toy being thrown by a human being or upon the toy being moved by the animal itself.
It is well known that domestic animals love to chase anything that moves. One objective of the present invention is to construct a pet toy which automatically projects a randomly moving light image of a prey, such as an image of a mouse or bird, thereby freeing the owner from the sometimes onerous and time consuming duty of entertaining a bored, unhappy pet, and at the same time providing the pet owner with the pleasurable entertainment of watching his/her active pet. It is the unique utilization of this chase instinct in most animals by this pet toy that makes it especially attractive and useful as a pet toy.
More particularly, the pet toy of the present invention is a pet toy that projects a moving image into a room, as determined by a computer chip, so that a pet may be entertained by the moving image without requiring a person to be in the room to move the image. The pet toy comprises an upright housing containing batteries and supported by a heavy base with a ball bearing unit at the top of the housing. The ball bearing unit has a lamp unit attached thereto. A plurality of glass units with various cut-outs that may be removably attached to the lamp unit so that the glass units may be used to change the image projected by the lamp unit. A control unit contained in the housing controls the speed of the rotatable ball bearing unit to control the speed of the moving light image.
This patent shares an important bit of inventive philosophy shared by the innovators of all the remaining patents we're featuring today. See if can pick out what that is before we get to the end!...
This patent represents an incremental improvement over the invention introduced in U.S. Patent 5,934,223:
The present invention relates to a pet toy and, more particularly, to a new and improved automated pet toy that projects a moving light beam in various directions to entertain a pet. The present invention finds particular application as a timer-controlled, switch-activated automated moving light beam and is described herein with particular reference thereto. However, it is to be appreciated that the present invention is also amenable to other applications.
It is well known that domestic pets enjoy chasing moving objects. For example, cats are known to chase a piece of moving string and dogs are known to chase a ball. Similarly, cats and dogs are known chase the projected red dot of a laser pointer when the red dot projected by the laser pointer is moved across a room or area by a person. Although such an activity may entertain pets for a lengthy period of time, heretofore, a person was required to continuously move the laser pointer around the room or area to keep the red dot moving.
The present invention provides a new and improved automated moving light beam for entertaining pets that only requires a person to initially actuate the device.
Advancing with inventive progress....
This patent focuses on solving the problems a human laser device operator might encounter:
Many pet toys involve motion because it is a known fact that pets, particularly cats, are attracted to moving objects. It is also a known fact that cats are attracted to LASER (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) beams. Unfortunately, to operate most pet toys, the owner must use repetitive motions over long periods of time to keep the interest of the cat. These repeated movements over an extended time can cause soreness, strain and even pain for the owner's fingers, wrists, elbow and hand. Prior art of this type is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,443,036.
To operate the laser pet toy disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,443,036 the owner must continuously press the trigger switch with his/her fingers while, at the same time, move his/her hand, wrist and elbow in a repeated motion so that the cat will chase the laser beam around the room. Since such movement is strenuous and hurtful to the owner's ligaments, the cat's activity is usually stopped long before the cat wants the activity to end. This results in an unused toy....
Each of these disclosures is subject to the limitations discussed above, thereby making none of the prior art pet toys entirely satisfactory. Thus, there exists a need for an improved laser pet toy that overcomes, in combination, all of the limitations heretoforementioned above. Accordingly, a need exists for an improved laser pet toy that entertains pets, especially cats, without causing soreness and strain to the owner's ligaments. There is a further need for a stand alone pet toy which appears self-animated and does not require the device to be within the pet's reach thereby addressing safety concerns. And yet a further need exists for a low cost laser pet toy that provides both a circular and linear randomness motion in a range that is beneficial to a cat's natural predatory instinct as well as environmentally suitable to the pet owner.
We omitted the portion of the background that identified several potential deficiencies in the invention described in U.S. Patent 5,934,223, which these inventors believed their new device would solve. But there was still room for improvement, as we're about to find out.
This invention is a more general improvement over the devices described in the previous patents.
The present invention exploits the recognized characteristic of an animal, such as a cat or a dog, to be attracted to, and to chase after, the intense focused coherent light of a laser beam. The invention concerns an automatic multidimensional moving virtual laser target that induces animals to follow and chase a virtual prey, thereby obviating the need-for human intervention, activity or manual stimulation.
It is an object of the invention to provide an automatic device, which does not employ conventional motors, for moving a laser beam target through three dimensions so as to provide animal stimulation and exercise without the need for human expenditure of effort or energy.
It is also an object of the invention to automatically, at user-selected intervals, power up the device periodically for short intervals and to thus stimulate and exercise the pet without owner involvement or presence.
Generally speaking, the present invention comprises a miniaturized, silent, projected moving laser target generator which does not use conventional motors.
Have you picked up on the common wisdom being passed down from inventor to inventor yet? You'll have one last chance!...
This invention is special because it solves a second problem, this time related to improving the quality of the cat's physical environment:
This invention relates to apparatus for exercising curious animals, especially pet cats. This invention is an improvement over the invention described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,443,036 issued Aug. 2, 1995. Laser pointers are known and in particular it is known that cats are attracted by and stalk the spot of a laser pointed in their vicinity. It is also known that cats are attracted to the air movement of a fan, often to be cooled by such air movement. Heretofore the method for inducing exercise in a cat has been to manually move the spot beam in an arbitrary manner to stimulate exercise.
It has been found that the prior art exercise method is limited my the need for manual intervention, which may not always be desirable. An example is in a cage in a zoo, where large curious animals may need exercise. What is needed is an exercise apparatus which eliminates the need for manual intervention.
So how can the two problems be solved within the same patent?
According to the invention, an apparatus for exercising a curious animal such as a pet housecat comprises a laser pointer mounted on a shaft driven by a motor mounted on a pedestal. The rotatable shaft is preferably vertically disposed and the direction of the pointer is preferably obliquely downward so that activation of the motor causes the spot beam of the laser to track a vector of motion to attract a cat into interaction with the spot beam. In a further specific embodiment, the laser pointer may be mounted on the head of an oscillatory air circulation fan with a pedestal. The oscillation of the spot beam, together with the air movement of the oscillatory fan, further stimulates activity in a cat while conveniently inducing convective cooling.
These concepts are illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 of the patent:
What have we learned from all these patents? First, we've learned that cats are attracted to moving objects and/or lights, because they all reference this indisputable fact of nature. Second, we learn there is still a lot of room for inventive improvements in cat entertainment devices!
 This is a tongue-in-cheek claim on our part! In truth, better mousetraps have continued to be invented and patented in the years since 1882, with the latest example at this writing having been patented in 2019!