In Patenting Pleasure, Professors Sarah Rajec and Andrew Gilden highlight a surprising incongruity: while many areas of U.S. law are profoundly hostile to sexuality in general and the technology of sex in particular, the patent system is not. Instead, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has over the decades issued thousands of patents on sex toys—from vibrators to AI, and everything in between. This incongruity is especially odd because patent law has long incorporated a doctrine that specifically tied patentability to the usefulness of the invention, and up until the end of the 20th century one strand of that doctrine held that inventions “injurious to society” failed the utility test. And until about that time—and in some states and localities, even today—the law was exceptionally clear that sex toys were immoral and illegal. Patents issued nonetheless. How did inventors show that their sex toys were useful, despite being barred from relying on their most obvious use? Gilden and Rajec examine hundreds of issued patents to weave an engrossing narrative about sex, patents, and the law.
Price, W. Nicholson, II. "Illegal Sex Toy Patents." JOTWELL 2021, no. 5 (2021).