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I am wondering what is novel in US Patent 7938262 for a potpourri holder:

I offer a variety of early American string holders, used in stores to hold a ball of twine or string for ease of packaging. Some were designed to sit on a counter while others hung. Some were hinged, some not. Some cast iron, some wire, but many materials were used. Hundreds of designs were made. It appears that this patent is solely to prevent anyone from selling an antique string/twine holder to hold potpourri?

My wife bought one of these and it's exactly the same as an old string holder that was in my grandfather's shop 70 years ago, except the materials are cheaper, it's made of wire instead of cast iron, but that doesn't appear to justify a patent. I was amazed to see a patent number on it when it doesn't appear to have anything new to it. It looks almost exactly like, and functions exactly the same, as the first image below.

321

stringholder

Another hinged one
General info on twine/string holders And here are more:
ebay1 ebay2 patented-antiques

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2 Answers

The potpourri.

The patent claims potpourri as an element of the invention. In other words, in order to be anticipating prior art to the claims of this patent, the items you're thinking of would have to include potpourri and would also have to be in the shape of a fruit, vegetable, nut, tree, animal, sea creature, reptile, or star. (Kind of a ridiculous utility patent, imho, but there you go.)

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Ah, but the patent says for "holding potpourri or decorative items" which would also include a string, twine, or yarn ball, which was their original purpose, not to mention that they were designed originally to hold items decoratively rather than in a strictly utilitarian fashion. ??? –  user2032 Jan 4 '13 at 15:50
    
The abstracts says a "decorative holder for holding potpourri or decorative items," but the claim, which actually defines the scope of the patent, is specifically limited to a container containing potpourri, not just a container for holding potpourri (or anything else). In fact, the inventor explicitly confirmed that the claim required potpourri during prosecution in order to get the claim allowed which, under a doctrine called prosecution history estoppel, will prevent him from ever going back and saying his claim doesn't require it. –  Jay Smith-Hill Jan 4 '13 at 17:54
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Ah. I am confused then, because claims 10 through 20 of the patent all say decorative items rather than potpourri and define the item as a decorative holder, no longer just a potpourri holder. You are saying these claims listed are actually an abstract? Sorry if I'm missing something obvious here.

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Even though the preambles to those claims says "a holder" the body of those claims does require them to actually contain something " . . . and decorative items held within the holder, the decorative items sized so as to be contained and seen within the holder and of a greater size than any apertures within the holder . . . ". Still seems hard to see why that is a patentable difference. I admit that I got lost in the wording of the definition of the structure. Maybe there is more than can be gleaned with study of the prosecution history. –  George White Jan 20 '13 at 21:19
    
@user3096, this should be a comment, not an answer. –  m3lvn Jan 21 '13 at 6:02
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