I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


21 May 2013

The Google Glass patents

I t's been fun having a look for the patents associated with Google Glass, the spectacles that enable its wearers to interact with the Web and, above all, to see projections of information.

Google Glass itself is the subject of a US trade mark application which, oddly enough, was published 18 June 2013 for opposition -- several weeks in the future, as I write.

The key term seems to be "wearable" although it is possible that some new technology involved does not depend on a wearable frame and therefore may be hard to find.

There are seven US Design patents for the look of variant models, all with the title "Wearable display device" (although one adds the word "frame", and one "section").

An article on the CNET website, published 21 February, suggests that US20130044042A, is highly relevant. The article is called Google Glass patent application gets really technical. I prefer to link to the corresponding World patent application, Wearable device with input and output structures. One of its drawings is given below.

However, three other patent applications were published in March or April and there are in all eight World patent applications by Google containing the word "Wearable".

None of these have been granted rights as B documents. One advantage of using the World documents rather than the corresponding US applications (listed here) is that search reports listing prior art found by patent office officials is often available.

These are either on A1 documents (at the end) or in separate A3 documents. The USA only publishes search reports on its granted patents, where a brief summary is given on the front page.

[24 May -- the New Yorker website has an interesting article on forerunners, Glass before Google, which links to a copy of a patent by Morton Heilig, applied for in 1957]

[7 Dec -- see my article Google surging ahead with patenting for update on wearable technology]

20 May 2013

Photographs of strange inventions

The Netherlands' Nationaal Archief has a collection of photographs of strange inventions, which can be seen at the Brain Pickings website in the page 27 of history's strangest inventions by Maria Popova.

Some of them, at least, seem to have been patented, and it would be fun to try to identify them...

15 May 2013

Frank Hornby's inventions

I see that today marks the 150th anniversary of Frank Hornby's birthday. He was the originator of Meccano and also Hornby trains. Google has honoured him by using imagery from his products on today's page.

12 British patents by Frank Hornby are listed on the free Espacenet database. The earliest of these is that for Meccano itself, Improvements in toy or educational devices for children or young people, with its drawings page shown below.

A curious one which involves running trains on circuits is An improved toy or game.

9 May 2013

Paint can as a camera invention

I was recently at the National Maritime Museum and saw in the shop a paint can that had been modified into a pinhole camera. Here it is -- with the patent number given near the bottom as (American) patent 6618556.

The patent's title is Chemically resistant pinhole camera. It is an ingenious example of recycling, and it works
by as the patent summary explains "The inner surface of the camera is coated with a chemically resistant light absorbing material such as a black epoxy paint. The inner surface also forms a curved image plane to support the photographic material."

Below is the main drawing for it.

I love it when apparently simple new products have patent numbers on them, so that people can learn how they work.. in this case, with 18 pages of information.

There is a website for those who want to buy one.

2 May 2013

Squirrel-proof birdfeeders

I've just watched a 2011 episode of Dragons' Den with Julian Lipton pitching for money for a squirrel-proof birdfeeder.

I normally expect to see new products or services on the show, but the particular variation involved had been invented nearly twenty years ago by his father. I was delighted to see the featured product, as it is a concept which I use a lot when I run workshops on searching for patents, as the concepts are easy enough for everyone to understand, and why it's a good idea.

The main drawing from the patent application is shown below. The original World patent application by Leslie Lipton, Food dispensers for birds, gives details of how it works.

First page clipping of WO9418824 (A1)
The basic idea is that the squirrels are kept away from the food by the big bars on the exterior, while small birds can slip through the bars.

The official entry states that the British patent, GB2275408B, is no longer in force as it has run its term of 20 years from the filing date and so anyone can use the invention.

The concept is a good example of how patent classification works. The invention was classified as A01K39/0113 in the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) and 372 patent specifications are listed for that class on the free Espacenet database. It can be amusing to look through them -- some have great drawings -- and to contemplate the various strategies used. Most involve using the squirrels' weight, or their lack of flying ability to try to outwit them.

So what happened ? Julian failed to secure any finance as the patent was shortly going to expire, and the dragons like monopolies. Also, the company was making losses.

The company website is The Nuttery.

1 May 2013

Technology and fitting clothes

Technology is advancing into more and more spheres of life, and making sure your clothes fit is no exception.

The BBC website has published a story, Fear of fitting rooms, about an invention by Dr Nadia Shouraboura. She had found the experience of trying clothes on slow and exasperating, and of course wanted to do something about it. She had a useful background -- she was the former head of supply chain and fulfillment technologies for Amazon.

So she created Hointer, a concept store in Seattle, initially aiming it at men. The clothes are on simple rails. You tap the ones you want with your smartphone, if it has Near Field Communication, or else scan a QR code. A fitting room is allocated to you and when you go there the clothes are waiting for you.

So goes the BBC story (with more details of course). Dr Shouraboura's name was easy to check for and I found a US patent by her, with the main drawing shown below.

Six inventors are credited with Placement of inventory in a materials handling facility. Amazon Technologies, Inc. is the applicant. It's certainly a very technical patent in its wording. I haven't looked through it in detail, but it occurred to me that it would be very useful if someone looking for a particular size and perhaps colour, particularly for say trousers where two sizes are needed (waist and leg), could present their needs and in some way the right clothes would be flagged up when scanned by the phone.