Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bibby's Anomalous Ball

Charles Henry Bibby was a former professional basketball player and then became a coach. He's also an inventor who was forced to appeal the rejections of his patent application all the way up to the Board of Patent Trials and Appeals at the USPTO. Bibby has been battling the USPTO for 7 years and was recently partially successful in overturning the patent examiner's continual rejection of his invention.
Bibby invented a basketball with anomalies to help train players to better handle the ball. His application published in 2011, summarized the invention as follows:
A bouncy ball includes anomalies which, when bounced upon, causes the ball to bounce irregularly. The anomaly may comprise a solid protrusion formed integrally with an outer skin of the ball or a separate plug filled into a pocket formed in the outer skin. The shape of the protrusion may be partially spherical. The solid protrusion may also include elongate grooves, flat surfaces or any other desired shape, such as a star. The bouncy ball may also include a secondary bladder with inflatable anomalies. The secondary bladder is coupled to a generally spherical inner tube which may be formed with grooves to receive the secondary bladder. Outer skins may be coupled over the secondary bladder and inner tube.
The reason for the anomalies is to create an erratic bounce. The erratic bouncing is desirable for improving a user's motor skills or just for making things interesting on the court. The Examiner took a reading of his claimed "anomaly" as anything that was "abnormal" and so rejected the application based on a prior basketball that had ribs (shown below).

Fortunately for Bibby, he did not give up and battled the examiner all the way up to the Board of Appeals. They agreed with him that the Examiner's definition was unreasonable given that the patent application described the anomaly in the context of creating a ball that bounces erratically. Since the the ribbed prior art was aimed at improving the tactile feel and facilitating a player observing and ascertaining the rotational speed of the ball during a shot, the Examiner was incorrect to rely on the ribbed basketball as showing the claimed anomalies.
Unfortunately for Bibby there were several other rejections in which he was unsuccessful and so now he must navigate a way forward given his partial victory.


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