Inflatable dummy company sues rival for patent violations

A company that patented the idea of using inflatable dummies for crowd-scenes in movies is suing another company that does the same thing. The defendant has a successful business, the plaintiff does not, so he is seeking to drive the successful competitor out of business.

It's such a misery that the US Patent and Trademark office continues to abdicate its responsibility to the American public, granting virtually every many patent applications filed before it. Using dummies for crowd scenes fails the "non-obvious" test that every patent is supposed to be subjected to, in spades.

Every entrepreneur I know is pressured to file "defensive patents" for the most basic, simple things, but no one can tell me how these are supposed to work. If the second guy also had a patent on inflatable dummies, he'd still have to bankrupt himself in court proving his patent was good and the other guy's was bad. The plaintiff doesn't care — he's going out of business as it is, he can lose it in court or in the market. And once he goes under, his patents will be bought by patent trolls, companies that make nothing but lawsuits, and they will sue any successful inflatable dummy business for everything they have.

The only defense against patent abuse is to reform the patent office. For starters, let's change the way they're funded: right now, they pay their bills with the fees they get from patent applications. That means that the more patents there are, the more money they make. Is it any wonder that they've crapflooded the country with bogus government monopolies over the simplest things in the world?

Now the two startups in the market are squaring off in court. Crowd in a Box (, which holds patents issued in 2004 and 2005 for the use of inflatable humanoid figures in background scenes, is suing Inflatable Crowd for patent violation.

Joe Biggins, owner of Inflatable Crowd (, declines to comment on the suit but says he came up with the dummy idea independently in 2002, while working on the crew of Seabiscuit. Since then Biggins, 35, has become the market leader, placing his inflatables in more than 50 feature films, while Crowd in a Box has five (plus five TV shows and 22 commercials).

"He seems to have better connections in Hollywood than we do," admits Crowd in a Box co-owner Mark Woolpert, 58, who anticipates a court date in November. Top of page


(Thanks, Ross!)

Update: Steve sez, "These Inflatable Crowd Company dummies (the defendant) are the same dummies previously featured on Boing-Boing, in a short film I made at the Rose Bowl,

and here on the set of a car commercial."