When Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Pro laptop this week, he took a few minutes to highlight a nifty little feature called the MagSafe Connector.
As Jobs explained, MagSafe is a "new power adaptor...that's magnetically held in and when the cord gets yanked it just pulls right off. It works beautifully."
And he's right--that's why it's been a standard feature in many kitchen appliances for several years.
According to this CNN article from 2001, the breakaway cord is a standard that was developed by Underwriters Laboratories and is used on countertop deep fryers, fondue sets and similar kitchen gadgets. It was designed to reduce burns caused when a child pulls on the cord.
This is not to take away from Apple's thoughtfulness in applying the concept to laptop power cords. However, Jobs noted that the MagSafe is "patent pending," and to get a patent you generally have to be first to the market. The patent office looks for earlier, similar inventions, known as "prior art." Or in this case, fryer art.