There are the staples of school supply lists: Elmer's glue, crayons, loose-leaf paper, pocket folders, three-ring binders and pencils. And then there are those less essential but highly desirable things—gel pens and scented markers, pencil cases and locker decorations—that spark store-aisle debates between parents and kids embarking on a new school year.
A search through the United States Patent and Trademark Office archives turns up loads of inventions that parents and children can appreciate this time of year. A walkie-talkie pen? How about a gumball-dispensing t-shirt for the first day? These 17 quirky products could ease the sometimes rocky transtion back to school.
The Robot Lunch Box
Open a special compartment in this lunch box, and it turns into a robot! The inventors of the product, patented in 1987, wanted to make their very own "Transformer," given the popularity of the cartoon series.
The Smelly Alarm Clock
Why wake up to a piercing buzzer or nagging parents when you could set an aromatic alarm clock to coax you out of bed with a pleasant-smelling mist?
The Gumball-Dispensing T-Shirt
Guaranteed to make you some friends, just make sure that you have enough inventory for the entire class.
The Walkie-Talkie Pen
No need to pass notes with this "walkie-talkie pen." Just be prepared for teacher to confiscate it, especially if you try swapping test answers.
The Creepy Pet Vest
This vest with transparent passageways and pockets for pets, like gerbils and hamsters, is a show (and tell) stopper!
A Ring That Mutes the TV
Nothing says "It's homework time!" like this TV mute finger ring, patented in 2004.
The Talking Lunch Box
Mom or Dad can record a voice message in this lunch box patented in 2002, so your kids will never forget to leave dessert for last.
Socks With Secret Pockets
Stash your lunch money in these socks, with hidden pockets.
The Backpack Jacket
This clever backpack has a built-in jacket.
The School Bus Locator
Before GPS tracking apps, this "school bus locator system," patented in 1992, could save you from missing the bus. It consists of a radio transmitter on the bus and a receiver in your home that lights up, as a first warning, and then emits a sound when the bus is about one quarter mile away.
The Ultimate Locker Organizer
Pens, books, a cell phone and snacks all have their place in this locker organizer.
Disposable Gym Clothes
Perfect for gym class, this "disposable clothing" is made to withstand physical activity and lined with perspiration-absorbent material.
A Shopping Cart That Keeps Track of Your Spending
This shopping cart, with a scanning device mounted to it, gives back-to-school shoppers a running total of their spending.
Be One With Your Bike
If you have a downhill commute, consider biking to school on this "body-connected bike." Or pull it out at recess. Squeeze your knees together to brake.
A Cuddly Sleeping Bag
Moms and Dads, when you are not there to hug your napping kindergartner, this "child's security enhancing sleeping bag," patented in 1996, will.
The Lip Balm Pen
Pen on one end, lip balm on the other. Simple as that.
The Game of School
To be first-day ready, it wouldn't hurt to play this board game that simulates the school experience. According to the 1983 patent, the game "gives insight into the roles, values, desires and goals of both teacher, student and others within the school environment and perhaps a better understanding of the underlying institution."