I’m never exactly sure how patents like this work, when they’re attempting to patent a concept that’s been around for a good long while. In this case, the good idea is having a curtain/screen to turn the area below a van or hatchback or SUV’s tailgate into a little private area, suitable for doing shameful things without everyone knowing. Companies have been selling things like these for a while, and people have been rigging their own, but now Ford is attempting to patent the idea of the tailgate privacy curtain.

As far as how Ford can patent a concept that is already out on the market, Paul Fucito, my very helpful contact at the U.S. Patent Office, pointed me to this clarification:

In the language of the statute, any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the conditions and requirements of the law. The word “process” is defined by law as a process, act, or method, and primarily includes industrial or technical processes.

So, it’s possible the patent is for such a new and useful improvement.

To be fair, Ford’s implementation here appears to be quite well thought-out. As you can see from the drawings, the curtain seems to form a pretty good-sized private area under the open tailgate, suitable, as the image shows, for tying shoes, which nobody wants to be caught doing in public.

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The patent also seems to show that the curtain assembly folds into the tailgate quite seamlessly when not in use, and there’s a variation where instead of a curtain, it’s a pull-out awning, complete with telescoping support legs.

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Either or both of these would be very welcome additions to any of Ford’s SUVs or, really, anything they sell with a tailgate. While we tend to think of camping uses first, I can see these proving useful pretty much anywhere you may be outside with your car, from parking lots in stadiums to a parking lot by a beach or lake, or even in your own driveway. When you can make a vehicle useful even when it’s not in motion, that’s a good thing.

Also interesting is “the curtain comprises a photoluminescent structure.” Is Ford planning a glowing curtain assembly? Here’s a diagram of what seem to be LEDs embedded in a curtain material:

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It’s interesting stuff, and I’d love to see something like this make it to market, glowing or not. I’m sick of being mocked for my public shoe-tying.

Oh, also, I promised my Patent Office pal I’d mention this: On June 19, the U.S. Patent Office is expecting to issue its 10 millionth patent! Holy shit, right? We’ll comb through and find some of the best automotive-related ones at some point.

(thanks to AutoGuide for showing us this!)