How to be a “Smooth Criminal”

Written on: April 1, 2011 | 3 Comments

You may think that the National Archives is an unlikely place to learn the secrets of Michael Jackson’s dance moves — but you’re wrong!

Within Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, patent 5,255,452 gives us the secrets behind one move in particular — Michael’s “lean” as done in the music video, “Smooth Criminal.” *

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On October 26, 1993, Michael Jackson was granted his patent for a “method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion.” The application abstract describes the patent as:

“A system for allowing the shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be detachably engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe wearer’s foot forward, thereby engaging with the hitch member.”

Figure 6 (above) and Figure 7 and 1 (both below) are drawings from Michael Jackson’s patent application. The images below shows the slot on the heel of the shoe, as well as the straps used to secure the ankle for Michael’s “lean” dance move.

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At the National Archives, researchers can explore patent drawings and patent applications online and in person at our College Park, MD facility.

Another good source of information is Google Patents. In June 2010, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) entered into an innovative two year agreement with Google to make over 7 million patents and trademarks available on Google.

Patents constitute an invaluable part of the documentary record of our nation’s technological history as well as empowering the mandate in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of our Constitution:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

I particularly enjoy patent drawings because you can see creativity and ingenuity solving real live problems, as well as the weird and wacky.

The slideshow below has 28 images from patent drawings at the National Archives, including: a hat to prevent drowning, a lifeboat that looks like a portable bathtub, a submarine telescope, an artificial limb, a muzzle for pigs, and Edison’s patent for a kinetographic camera. You will also find several pages from Michael Jackson’s patent application, including two with his signature.

*Update on 3/5/2014 for clarification: Within Record Group 241, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, patent 5,255,452 is for a shoe which allows the “wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity.” It was created by Jackson and two other designers, so he could perform live on stage a signature move that he’d done in the “Smooth Criminal” music video. The trick had previously been accomplished for the video using wires.  

3 Responses to “How to be a “Smooth Criminal””

  1. Kelly Woestman said:

    great story!


    (April 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm)

  2. howtosing said:

    I always thought that it was some kind of visual technological effect. I had no idea that there was actually a patent for him creating an anti-gravity illusion.

    This doesn’t surprise me since he was so original in everything that he did. His extraordinary voice and songs were and still are difficult for others to be able to sing.


    (April 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm)

  3. Maureen said:

    Wonderful post.


    (April 8, 2011 at 11:01 am)