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http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/02/technology/02PATE.html

Earrings in Sync With the Heart By SABRA CHARTRAND

HOLIDAY celebrations and gift buying will preoccupy a lot of people this month. Clothes, shoes and jewelry may seem like predictable presents, so it might be fun to jazz them up a bit with some recently patented ideas.

Earrings are more than just baubles in a patent granted to Ken Aricola, Richard Morton and John Ross, all from California. They won patent 6,277,079 for “an earring that flashes in synchronism with the wearer’s heartbeat.” While their patent says the earring can monitor medical conditions, they prefer that it be used so that “a lover is able to determine when his or her partner is excited by observing the rate at which the partner’s earring flashes.”

The earring is designed with a pulsed photo cell, a sensor and a light. When the photo cell and sensor detect a heartbeat, they activate the light so it flashes for each throb.

The most expensive watches are those crafted to tell time precisely. James Logan has won a patent for a timepiece that deliberately runs fast at random intervals during the day. His invention can be a wristwatch, pocket watch, clock or computer clock. It intermittently displays a time of day that is several minutes fast to encourage punctuality. The watch can be set so the person who consults it does not know whether it is fast or not at any given time. This feature can also be used only on days “when promptness is particularly important.” Mr. Logan won patent 6,411,568.

For shoe mavens, Leslie Hunter has patented a design that becomes two gifts in one. Ms. Hunter, from Burton, S.C., won a patent for a reversible shoe. It has a removable sole, side panels and heel panel that can be reversed to show a different color, style or design. The shoe is put together with zippers, laces, snaps or buttons, Ms. Hunter writes in her patent. She also suggests storing the shoe unassembled, so it is flat and takes up less room in a closet. Ms. Hunter won patent 6,427,363.

A parka with its own air bag is a possible gift for skiers. Donald, Glenda, Michael and Christina Hilliard, all from Oxnard, Calif., won a patent for a jacket with a sensor that “transmits a pulse in the direction of travel of a user and receives reflections from any obstacle in the path.” The sensor determines the distance between the wearer and an upcoming obstruction, and calculates the wearer’s speed. A microprocessor interprets whether the wearer is in danger because he or she is too close to the obstacle and is approaching it too fast. If the person is in danger, an alarm goes off. If the microprocessor “determines that the user cannot avoid the obstacle,” an air bag on the front of the jacket is automatically inflated as protection in case of a collision.

The Hilliards received patent 6,433,691.

Appliances are not very exciting gifts, but if someone on your list needs a new iron, consider the one patented by Ehsan Alipour. His iron lifts itself up on little legs when a “sensor indicates that the user’s hand is not in contact with the iron.” Most of the time, a hot iron stands up on its flat end when not in use. But everyone worries about accidents, so Mr. Alipour designed an iron that will not rest on its hot plate. If the iron is left plate down, the legs automatically raise it above the surface. He won patent 6,453,587.

Parties are a mixed blessing in December — some are fun, while others are simply holiday obligations. For people struggling to make small talk at the annual office party, Mary Parker has patented tableware that prompts conversation. Her plates, bowls, glasses, napkins, silverware and table decorations come with questions or commands printed on their surface.

The tableware is distributed randomly. Each guest would read a question or comment aloud, and a second guest would answer or comply. The rest of the guests would then join an “open discussion of alternate answers to the question.”

The command might “instruct a guest to describe an experience, situation, opinion or the like,” Ms. Parker explains in her patent. The questions would be designed so they have “no right or wrong answer.”

She lists suggestions like: What movie should all children see? What historical figure would you choose to dine with? What did you do to earn the most memorable punishment of your childhood.

Ms. Parker says her tableware will help party guests meet new people and keep them from sliding into superficial or, worse, private conversations. She won patent 6,464,222.

In the seemingly endless quest for the perfect Christmas tree stand, Nevin Zezza has won a patent for suspending the tree from a ceiling. He uses a hook and swivel attached to a joist or beam. A grip is attached to the tree trunk and the swivel.

“The tree will then hang plumb due to the force of gravity,” Mr. Zezza writes in his patent, adding that a pulley can be added to raise the tree.

Once suspended, the tree can rotate. Mr. Zezza says a motor can turn the tree “to display all of its sides.” To keep it from excessive swinging, Mr. Zezza suggests placing the tree trunk in a basin, which can hold water. He won patent 6,435,463.

Gift certificates and cash are often the best present when it is impossible to decide what someone wants. But they are rather impersonal. Adam Kidron, from Montclair, N.J., has patented a method of placing a bet on someone’s behalf, so the potential winnings could be their gift. In his invention, a wager is placed via an online gambling server. The bet is made “from a selection of events and associated odds” by one person in the name of another. The bet is tracked by the online service, and once the outcome is determined, the server notifies the recipient.

“If the outcome is positive, the second user is provided the winnings of the wager, while the first user receives no monetary reward from the wager,” Mr. Kidron explains in his patent. He received patent 6,464,583.

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