Odd patents and the patently odd

Today I'm taking a dip into the most interesting patents -- and patently silly ideas -- and what manner of messed-up services may be coming to your handset before too long, including the fertility phone, smellophone and Feng Shui phone.

Today I'm taking a dip into the most interesting patents -- and patently silly ideas -- and what manner of messed-up services may be coming to your handset before too long, including the fertility phone, smellophone and Feng Shui phone.

Exhibit A: The smellophone. Sometimes when you're making a call to your bank manager, do you ever wish your device would pump out the smell of lavender? No, me neither, but that hasn't stopped Sony Ericsson producing devices for the Japanese market that can generate scent. By slipping a perfumed sheet into your mobile, the handset will create wafts of smell. Motorola, too, has reportedly patented a similar odorous system.

As new additions to feature-stuffed mobiles go, this one gets a tick for daftest. It sounds like a product that was dreamt up by marketing managers over a long pub lunch and for some reason not discarded once sense and hangovers set in.

Exhibit B: The fertility phones. Samsung has apparently filed a patent for a device which, by reading a women's temperature, can tell her when she's most likely to conceive. (For anyone of an unfortunately curious bent, I'd like to make it clear the phone reads body heat from the ear). Not so much an innovation, more just the inclusion of existing technology onto a phone (which is not a slight on Samsung -- RIM made a fortune doing just that, after all).

DoCoMo has already starting peddling a similar idea, albeit without the thermometer. Last year, the Japanese operator announced a female-centric phone, which carries software that calculates fertility cycles based on menstruation dates.

It's interesting, but to my mind the phone has an even better feature -- a so-called camouflage ring. By pressing a button on the mobile, the device will pipe up with a pretend ring, allowing you to skip out of dull dates or dodge the attentions of undesirables by faking an urgent call. These buttons should come as standard, surely? In an eyeball meltingly-dull meeting? Press the camouflage button and fake a call from your spouse saying your pipes have burst/cat's been run over/offspring has won Australian Idol and you're out of that meeting faster than Kevin Rudd leaving a strip club.

Exhibit C: The solar-powered phone. Bring out the champagne, for someone at Motorola skipped the smellophone design meeting and spent some time coming up with something genuinely useful. A solar powered phone -- a device entirely powered by the sun. While it's a good-to-have functionality for the developed world and generates an environmentally-conscientious warm and fuzzy feeling, it's a massive boon to those in developing countries.

Take Africa for example -- a hunger for mobile connectivity, unreliable electricity infrastructure and plenty of sun: the perfect combination for solar-powered phones. Solar-powered base stations are already in use, not only in Africa but in Australia too, where economics for providers in remote areas can make it cheaper to use such technology than to pay the utility companies to extend the grid to rural base stations.

Exhibit D: And from the sublime to the ridiculous. Motorola, please take a bow. The smellophone design team, flushed with their scented success, presumably took a dare to see who could get this little beauty past the executive approval team. They got it as far as the patent office, presumably carrying bundles of paper in front of their faces to stifle the giggles.

Looking at the specs, the idea of that much clever tech in a single device is rather pleasing -- until you realise that the best application designers could come up with for a blend of sensors, GPS, imaging technology and noise analysis is a Feng Shui mobile.

With so much creativity in the water at mobile phone designers, I'm looking forward to the next great innovation. If anyone's taking suggestions, may I put in a vote for a phone that's networked to my keys, my wallet and my umbrella and can direct me to any of them once they're lost?