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The evolution, and odd patents inspired by, drink coasters.

Hunting for the end of the long tail • September 07, 2022

Today in Tedium: When we drink beverages, often those beverages have to live in somewhere, and putting them on top of a wood table simply will not do. The container of that cold beverage you’re drinking is likely to condense all over the place, leaving a watery puddle in its wake. Putting it on top of wood, or marble, or any other surface, is simply a bad idea—and it’s an even worse one if that container has been recently spilled, leaving a mess all over the place. The hero of this story is the drink coaster, which can capture the condensation and ensure your fancy table is safe from the elements. But based on a quick search of Google Patents, simply being a coaster is no longer enough fro many coasters. It must do more—logic be damned. Today’s Tedium talks drink coasters, beer mats, and urinal coaster patents. — Ernie @ Tedium

Today’s GIF is from a guy who pulled off a fun beer coaster flip trick. It currently has 18 views on YouTube; let’s see if this link changes that.

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“Four double flint bottles (such as I suspect Mr. Morris has sent), will weigh, I conjecture, four pounds; the wine in them when they are filled will be eight pounds more, which, added to the weight of the coolers, I fear, will make these latter too unwieldy to pass, especially by ladies, which induces me to think of the frame in the form of casters.”

— A quote, attributed to President George Washington, from the 1859 book Mount Vernon and its Associations, crediting the Founding Father for coming up with the idea for the first dinner wine coaster, as a way to make the bottles easier to pass. Washington, who is credited with a number of inventions of this nature, is said to have inspired a broader trend with the wine coaster—though to give him full credit for the coaster’s invention is one that I find a little shaky; let’s just say he had a good idea.

Drink Coaster

A Moscow Mule on a drink coaster. (Alex Plesovskich/Unsplash)

The lineage of the modern beer coaster takes influence from a number of drink receptacles

What we think of today as the modern drink coaster borrowed concepts from a number of different areas, all of which came to prominence in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The first is the saucer. As the name of the small plate implies, it was originally used for sauces, but starting in the early-to-mid 18th century, it became more commonly used for tea cups, itself a concept imported from China as tea gained Western acceptance. (The cup’s handle is a Westernized concept; it originally came without one.)

Eventually, the saucer gained its defining characteristic, the small ring in the middle where the teacup goes, around that time. The way we used the saucer has changed during that time as well. For example, it was once customary to drink the tea from the saucer itself, rather than just from the cup, where it might be too hot to stand.

In fact, there’s a famous (and likely apocryphal) anecdote between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson that leans on this specific use of the saucer to explain why the United States needs a Senate:

“Why,” asked Washington, “did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?”

”To cool it,” answered Jefferson, “my throat is not made of brass.”

“Even so,” rejoined Washington, “we pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”

Next up is the aforementioned wine coaster, which works slightly differently from the modern coaster, and was largely intended to make it easy to move a wine bottle or decanter around the table without having to lift it. As a 1928 issue of Popular Science notes (crediting Washington for the invention), the device gained its name because of the fact that it has a roller at the bottom, which allows the device to “coast” along the table wherever the bottle is needed.

The third such object, called a beer mat, came about a century later, from Germany, where it was originally called a bierdeckel. According to the British Beermat Collectors Society, the object was originally produced in cardboard by a German paper mill called Friedrich Horn, and quickly innovated on by Robert Sputh, who produced absorbent pads not dissimilar to what you find today.

Drink Coasters Advertising

A whole pile of drink coasters, many used for advertising. (Thomas Backa/Flickr)

As Condé Nast Traveler notes, the object is an example of a device made for the average person, rather than one for upper classes (they would have used beer steins, with handles and lids, instead).

The design also proved useful in another way, allowing for quick printing, giving us one of the common aspects of the modern coaster—advertising, which was still a relatively new concept at the time.

Eventually, the modern coaster, not always made of paperboard, evolved in new and unusual ways, many of which have been patented. A shocking number, in fact.

When I was starting out on my research for this piece, I made the realization that drink coasters had a surprisingly complex array of entries in the U.S. and global patent offices, some of which highlight genuine technical innovations, while others seem to be embracing the true novel nature of the drink coaster.

There are so many of these that we honestly could have made it the whole piece and been done with it, and honestly, I think we’re just going to say screw it and make the rest of a piece a long list of a bunch of coaster patents. May your drink be well-kept and not directly on any sensitive surfaces.

Enjoy, potentially with a beverage on a coaster.

US07353136 20080401 D00000

It’s a drink coaster, guys. No need to overthink this. (Google Patents)

An “Electronic drink coaster”

The year filed: 2000

The year granted: 2008

Patent office: U.S.

What the coaster does: This object is essentially a coaster that can detect when a drink is empty utilizing an integrated processor, antenna, and communications port. The company that filed for the patent, PhatRat Technology, made a lot of wearable technology that utilized the same brain—and for some reason decided to apply it to drink coasters as well.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “Internal electronics sense the weight of a drink on coaster to automatically inform a restaurant or bar, via wireless signals to a restaurant or bar receiver, that the customer needs a drink or refill. In one embodiment, a customer can also place an order from coaster. Liquid (e.g., beer) may be used to calibrate electronics so that electronics knows when glass is full or empty, to report the information as data.”

Random fact: PhatRat Technology once sued Apple over its collaboration with Nike, Nike+iPod.

Cling Resistant Drink Coaster

Solving the basic problems everyone has. (Google Patents)

A “Cling resistant drink coaster”

The year filed: 1999

The year granted: 2000

Patent office: U.S.

What the coaster does: Ever pick up a glass and find that the coaster sticks to it, creating a messy annoyance? This coaster tries to resolve the issue by adding a mesh layer to ensure the coaster doesn’t do its job too well.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “Indeed, even Greek mythology mentions the inconvenience of unabsorbed moisture encountered by the Hellenic deities as they consumed their various libations on the heights of Olympus. And today it is common to see inconvenienced bar patrons struggle with coasters which do not adequately dispose of adherent moisture and which cling to glasses, cans, bottles and any other containers bearing or producing condensation and, subsequently, leaving potentially damaging moisture on surfaces.”

Random fact: This patent filing is the only one credited to Douglas Kvalvog.

Urinal Drink Coaster

Hygenic. (Google Patents)

A “Urinal Drink Coaster”

The year filed: 2002

The year granted: 2005

Patent office: U.S.

What the coaster does: Simply put, it attempts to give you a place to put your drink while you’re in the john.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “The urinal drink coaster of this invention utilizes an innovative design which allows the drink coaster to be reasonably secured to any of a multitude of urinal manual flushing devices. This drink coaster shape allows for convenient storage and easy handling. Accordingly, it is an object of this invention to create a drink coaster which can be placed over any type of manual flushing device with a snug fit creating a level, secure and safe place to place a drink container such as a bottle, glass or can while utilizing the restroom area.”

Random fact: The filing implies that the idea has significant safety reasons for existing, citing the liability bar owners face “if a patron happens to stumble and fall on broken glass while using the restroom.” By the way, there is a second filing from a few years later that does something very similar, utilizing the urinal’s flush valve.

Compact Disc Drink Coaster

Someone’s going to look at this bargin-bin CD and it’s going to turn into some band’s big break. (Google Patents)

A “Compact disk drink coaster”

The year filed: 1997

The year granted: 1998

Patent office: U.S.

What the coaster does: Ever use a floppy disk as a coaster? The inventor of this device went one further to reuse wasted compact discs as solidly manufactured, reusable drink coasters.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “All these rejected compact discs create an environmental waste problem. At this time there is no viable way of completely recycling rejected compact discs. There is also a need for decreasing the dependency upon foreign crude oil. Crude oil is a material component of the plastic used in compact discs. Further, there is a need for drink coasters which protect the surface of furniture that are attractively styled and can be easily stored. Accordingly, there is a clearly felt need in the art for a compact disc drink coaster which can be attractively styled, easily stored, serve as a method for recycling rejected compact discs, and decrease dependency upon foreign crude oil by using existing plastic material.”

Random fact: The patent was co-filed by an experienced and still-active patent attorney, Donald J. Ersler, who only has one other patent to his name as an inventor—a device that pops pimples.

Social Drink Patent

Ah, a patent filing from a time we didn’t think of social media as inherently evil. (Google Patents)

A “Social drink coaster or interactive object”

The year filed: 2013

The year granted: N/A

Patent office: World (WIPO)

What the coaster does: This coaster makes it so that whenever you clink your glass and put the glass back on the coaster, it posts to social media, because that’s what we needed.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “What does not presently exist is a way for patrons of a social event or game to automatically make posts, or to easily update or make new posts concerning the social event or game. What is needed is a way to automatically make posts, or to easily update or make new posts concerning the social event or game, including posts about a brand of beverage, the persons in attendance, the event venue, or other posts relating to the event or game thus enhancing brand presence online via the user’s social media postings.”

Random fact: The patent was co-filed by an experienced and still-active patent attorney, Donald J. Ersler, who only has one other patent to his name as an inventor—a device that pops pimples.

Coaster Wireless Charger

The company that went on to develop this unusual device has a technology that allows cars to charge without being plugged in. It all started here, I guess. (Google Patents)

“Wireless energy transfer for promotional items”

The year filed: 2012

The year granted: Abandoned

Patent office: U.S.

What the coaster does: This is a weird one, but the coaster, essentially is used as a wireless charging mechanism for a nearby smartphone. The patent filing is very complex and only mentions the use of the drink coaster in a few parts.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “Given that the electronics required for power transfer may be completely enclosed in a housing, wireless power transfer may be safe and efficient even in the presence of liquids, high humidity environments, over large temperature excursions and the like. In embodiments, power transfer may be achieved when drinks, liquids, food, dust, and the like, are spilled on the coasters or source resonators. In embodiments, wireless resonators that are in sealed enclosures may be cleaned using normal cleaning methods, including methods that completely submerge the resonator housings in water, such as in a dishwasher cleaning cycle and/or immersion in chemical cleaners. In embodiments, wireless power transfer can be achieved when any or all of the resonators in watertight enclosures are immersed in liquids.”

Random fact: The company that developed this patent filing, WiTricity Corp., is currently pitching a much more useful technology that can wirelessly charge a car in a specific parking space without ever plugging it in. By the way, this is not the only drink coaster-adjacent patent filed by WiTricity.

Networked Drink Coasters

Umm, are the drink coasters going to have a LAN party or something? (Google Patents)

“Beverage Coaster, System Having a Beverage Coaster, and Method for Data Communication in a System Having a Beverage Coaster”

The year filed: 2018

The year granted: Pending

Patent office: U.S., Germany, Japan, WIPO

What the coaster does: This system allows for bars to track coaster usage in a networked system at a bar, because this is what coasters were originally meant to do.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “The drinks coaster according to the invention has the advantage that it can both communicate data to an interface, for example of a data network, and can also read out data from a contactlessly readable electronic information carrier fixed to a drinking vessel. In that way an association is possible between a drinking vessel and its content and the consumer who has the drinks coaster in front of him. It will be appreciated that the interface is not part of the drinks coaster but rather is an external element ,that is to say arranged outside the drinks coaster, for receiving the data transmitted by the communication device of the drinks coaster.”

Random fact: The company that developed this, Hoffmann and Krippner GmbH, specializes in unusual and unique input devices for niche business needs—which makes sense given the

Rolling Drink Coaster

This design has quite the lineage. (Google Patents)

“Rolling drink coasters”

The year filed: 2021

The year granted: Still pending

Patent office: U.S.

What the coaster does: This coaster has wheels that allow the drink to travel with you, which is not exactly a new idea.

Notable passage from the patent filing: “Advantageously, the rolling drink coasters as described herein are capable of securely storing and holding a beverage container in an upright position and are also mobile due to the inclusion of one or more rollers or wheels that protrude from the underside of the rolling drink coasters. The structure and design of the rolling drink coasters, as described in one or more non-limiting embodiments, is unique because the rolling drink coaster is designed in a manner to be sturdy and to prevent the beverage container from toppling over when located within the inner compartment or tray of the rolling drink coaster. Further, the rolling drink coasters, as described in one or more non-limiting embodiments, include stabilizing pieces distributed around the interior of the rolling drink coaster that act to support and grip the sides of the beverage container to keep the beverage container upright and in place within the rolling drink coaster.”

Random fact: This is literally the same type of invention that George Washington is credited for coming up with for wine bottles nearly 250 years ago. I guess we’ve come full circle.

Beyond the many coaster patents I’ve already listed above, there are many patent filings that don’t have in-depth text to support their given use cases. Some of these patents are very unusual novelty designs that are sort of self-explanatory from the images used. A coaster that looks like a folding chair, or that includes a basketball hoop.

Screen Shot 2022 09 07 at 7 31 51 AM

Speaks for itself, I guess.

The most unusual such design, perhaps, is one designed to look like a high-heel shoe.

This design is all about the look, and kind of speaks for itself, as highlighted by the fact that its claims list is literally, “The ornamental design for a drink coaster, as shown and described.”

This design is made by a company called Thirstystone, a company that specializes in coasters made of sandstone. These designs are all over Amazon, though I have not seen any that match the inventive ornamental designs that the company has patented.

Nonetheless, I do think it highlights a modern evolution of the coaster, into a statement piece just as much as a type of advertising. A fun or interesting coaster is one that gets notice.

No, these coasters aren’t smart. They won’t post to Twitter every time you finish a beer. And like umbrellas, they only really have a single use. But they are perhaps more true to the spirit of the original beer mat than anything else that’s out there.

--

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