News reports suggest Colgate-Palmolive applied to patent a caffeinated toothbrush, but the actual patent application only referred to a proposed device that hypothetically could release caffeine or any other substance or flavoring, and create sensations in a user's mouth.
So maybe they did plan a caffeinated toothbrush. Maybe not.
Colgate-Palmolive did not return a request for comment.
In any event, Colgate's application for an "oral care implement" actually was rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, but for reasons that had nothing to do with caffeine.
Caffeine-addicted people and the media were drawn to the story after backlash over other caffeine-laced products.
Earlier this month, Wrigley said it was withdrawing its new caffeinated gum from stores after the Food and Drug Administration said it would investigate into the safety of caffeine-added foods.
In April, Wrigley released Alert gum, a stick of which had an amount of caffeine equivalent to half a cup of coffee, the AP reported.
In Colgate's application, the company described the technology as "an oral care implement [that] includes a releasable sensory material that invokes a sensory response when in contact with tissues or surfaces of a mouth of a user."
The company added that "the oral care implement may also include a soft tissue cleaner provided with the sensory material."
The word "caffeine" was mentioned only once in the company's application. That sentence read: "Other homeopathic teething or inflammation soothing additive include, but are not limited to Belladonna (atropa belladonna), caffeine and Passiflora Incarnata (Passionflower)."
The application also showed drawings that seemed to depict a toothbrush with various flavors or "sensory materials" such as lemon and mint.
Tracy Durkin, a director at the law firm Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox and a registered patent attorney, said the fuss over what sounded like Colgate's plans for a toothbrush with caffeine actually appeared to be a material that only included caffeine as a possible element.
"They're not trying to patent any material or flavoring," Durkin said. "It's about Colgate patenting a user experience."
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office actually rejected the patent last month after an initial review showing that the combination of two other patents issued to parties other than Colgate had similar elements.
One was a chewable toothbrush and the other was a flossing patent.
"There are all sorts of crazy things patented," Durkin said.
The application was filed in October 2012, and Colgate-Palmolive had three to six months to respond to the initial review.
Durkin said it typically takes three or four years to get a patent issued from the time it is filed.