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]


30 August 2013

Happy birthday, lava lamp

The BBC has a story on the 50th anniversary of the famous lava lamp. It is called Lava lamp creators mark 50 years of 1960s icon.The 50 refers to the 1963 date of setting up the original company.

I enjoyed it, and am providing links here to the two key patents.

In 1964 Crestworth Limited applied for what was published as the patent called Display device. Below is the main drawing.

However, there were four problems with this first model. This was explained in a second patent, filed in 1967 by Edward Walker, the former RAF officer who thought up the idea in the first place.

This was also called Display device. The first problem was that as it took a long time for the device to become ready when switched on, "It has now been found that some viewers may become impatient during the preliminary heating up period." The second was that if left on for a long time, overheating caused the globules to break up into "unattractive tiny droplets". The third was that the apparatus could freeze and therefore break in cold periods. The fourth was that draughts could cause problems, requiring careful positioning of the lamp.

All these problems were solved by adding something to the fluid. A "water-miscible liquid.".

Anti-freeze, in other words.

20 August 2013

The Blaze Light for bicycles

The James Dyson Awards will be announced on the 12 September (national winners) with the shortlist on the 10 October.

One of the applicants is the Blaze Light for bicycles. It is a lighting innovation for cyclists. During my career at the British Library I met numerous inventors who had ideas related to bicycles. Many were for promoting safety at night, usually either enhancing visibility or for indicating turns, and I quickly realised that there was lots of prior art out there. I remember, shortly before I retired, two very secretive inventors who insisted that I sign a non-disclosure agreement, only for me than to explain that their idea was very well known. They had spent six months developing the idea without spending half an hour doing even a simple look through the patents.

The inventor is Emily Brooke of Bath, Somerset. Her Light projection safety device for a two wheeled vehicle was granted a British patent in April 2013. The main drawing is shown below.

First page clipping of GB2490889 (B)
An image of a bicycle is projected in front of the cyclist by an LED. The idea is
that heavy vehicle drivers, in particular, are more likely to notice the cyclist.

The video on the Dyson website starts by welcoming Kickstarter, the
crowdfunding site, and with that hint I found that the project had been funded with
£55,000 by 782 backers. More power to crowdfunding ! I wish the concept had
started sooner as good ideas find it much easier to get funding than with banks or
venture capitalists.

According to the British patent, Brooke acted as her own patent attorney. I would
not advise that, as it is so easy to get things wrong. The claims on the final page, I would suggest, are unhelpfully restrictive ("broad yet precise", was what a patent attorney once said to me was the ideal).
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