The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office celebrates spooky patents.

A Horrifying 1927 “Apparatus for Obtaining Criminal Confessions” and Other Spooky Patents

A Horrifying 1927 “Apparatus for Obtaining Criminal Confessions” and Other Spooky Patents

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 31 2017 12:33 PM

Celebrate Halloween With These Spooooooky Patents

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The federal government wishes you a very Happy Halloween!

Uri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office isn’t exactly known as the “fun” federal office. (That probably goes to the president, whose job apparently consists of just golfing.) But that hasn’t stopped our nation’s dutiful intellectual property protectors from taking full advantage of the Halloween hype. All October long, they’ve been sharing the spookiest filings they could find in their archives under the hashtag #CreepyIP.

The original purpose of the black-and-white figures vary dramatically, from David S. Pumpkins–esque entertainment tactics to downright macabre manipulation devices. I don’t know a single kid who wouldn’t be enamored of this funhouse mask:

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But I hope to God I don’t know a single adult who thinks this kind of policing tactic is acceptable:

Or this "parenting" method?

While some of the patents are outrageously wild, others are just paltry attempts at automation. Here is a downright dangerous design for a mechanical barber:

And here is a cruel effort to take away jobs from the men on the street who tell women to “smile!”:

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While the office has done this #CreepyIP Twitter campaign every October for the past few years, this year its experimenting with someone new: a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” or AMA, session. Four people from the PTO are taking questions on Tuesday ... and giving some very deep responses. “Let's face it, death exists and for millennia people have come up with creative ways to deal with it—either for comfort and solace, or for the health of the living. Many of these ideas that are novel, useful, and non-obvious can be patented,” Paul Rosenthal, the office’s acting chief communications officer, wrote in response to one question.

In response to a question about whether they had found a patent “that was creepy in its time and isn't now? Or vice versa?” Rosenthal said that the latter was more likely:

When people invent, they're inventing for a purpose. They've identified a need and are attempting to create a solution to satisfy that need. At that moment in time, that idea could have been genius. With the benefit of hindsight, it becomes easier to see that perhaps many of those early attempts at a solution were not the best or were simply unsuccessful. And sometimes it can look downright creepy when you apply that hindsight through a lens of today's technology.

Perhaps the best part of the AMA is that people are sharing creepy designs they dug up in the archives themselves.

So if your old nightmares feel stale and you’re looking for something new to fuel your anxiety, submit your own question. But prepare yourself for an unnerving answer.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Eleanor Cummins is an intern at Slate. Her reporting interests run the gamut of science. Follow her on Twitter.