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Optical Design & Engineering

PATENTS: Kaleidoscopes -- Still a child's toy?

Kaleidoscopes have always fascinated children and adults. But over 30 recent patents indicate that they have practical applications as well.
7 November 2007, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2200711.0002

Kaleidoscopes have always held the fascination of both children and adults. The devices have been around since Sir David Brewster patented the current popular concept in 1817, and one would think that after 190 years the concept would have been all patented out.

Yet, over 30 patents have been issued in the past 18 months in Japan and the United States. The lack of recent patenting in the European communities is interesting and can lead to a lot of speculation, but more then likely is just an anomaly when compared in total.

For the uninitiated, a kaleidoscope is an instrument that produces geometrical images through multiple reflections that continually change as the instrument is moved. It is a visual medium normally considered an art form supported by artists and collectors. And, of course, there's an organization, The Brewster Kaleidoscope Society, which bills itself as an international organization for kaleidoscope enthusiasts.

Children today are probably more aware of the pseudo-kaleidoscopic images of a computer screen-saver than the real device. Most everyone has looked through the carnival or 5 & dime store toys, but until one has looked through a quality constructed instrument the art form really can not be appreciated. It is not unusual for handcrafted kaleidoscopes to cost over $1,000.

Of course the kaleidoscopic effect is not only for entertainment. It has other applications such as demonstrated in a recent US patent (7,037,659). This patent explains a very effective light homogenizer.

What else is being patented today, nearly two centuries later?

US20060164728: Wall mounted Kaleidoscope
This is a device mounted within an opening through a wall, ceiling or other building structure to provide a visually attractive kaleidoscope display. It offers a continually changing display as a decoration. It can be solar illuminated or back-lit, depending on installation design.
PDF of full patent application

US20070211215: Method for creating kaleidoscopic interface for use in biofeedback
This patent describes a method for creating a biofeedback-controlled kaleidoscope. A person is connected to a computer through a number of physiological sensors. As the data is displayed and created, the client is encouraged to control one or more of the measured physiological conditions to affect the display in a desired format. The object is to create biofeedback training which will generate a pleasing visual image.
PDF of full patent application

US20070223099: Kaleidoscope for attaching to a video monitor
This is a more traditional kaleidoscope reflector that is attached to a video monitor. The video monitor is the source for the images that are reflected. One of the claims references a device similar to IPhone or IPod portable devices.
PDF of full patent application

US07037659: Apparatus for constructing DNA probes having a prismatic and kaleidoscopic light homogenizer
This device uses a highly uniform beam of light produced by a homogenizer formed of a prismatic refractive element followed by a kaleidoscopic element. This invention pertains generally to the field of biology and particularly to techniques and apparatus for manufacturing arrays of polymers useful in the analysis and sequencing of DNA and related polymers. The intent of the invention is to provide a highly uniform light field using a combination of a refractive prism followed by an internally reflecting kaleidoscope element. Specifically, the invention provides an apparatus for constructing DNA probes and the like, having a reactor providing a reaction site at which nucleotide addition reactions may be conducted and a light source providing light capable of promoting nucleotide addition reactions.
PDF of full patent

Jerry Burke is a Nerac analyst with 45 years of experience in engineering and research and development whose primary focus is medical devices and optics. He has been involved with developing fiber optic devices used in imaging and illumination for such organizations as NASA, the military, universities, and research groups such as Lawrence Livermore Labs. Nerac analysts work with clients in the following critical areas:
  • Patentability and Invalidity
  • Patent Portfolio Analysis
  • Commercialization Strategy
  • White Space Analysis