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]


27 November 2013

The patents of Jonathan Ives for Apple

London's Evening Standard had tonight an interesting article about "Jonty" Ives of Apple, the London-born designer who together with Steve Jobs created the distinctive look of the company's products: How Jonty Ive saved Apple from bankruptcy.

I found the five ways listed in detail by which Ive made Apple's products iconic particularly interesting (they include using white, plastic and touch screens), but wonder if the statement that he was "named in more than 600 patents" is quite right. The article is written for a British audience and should, I suggest, recognise local practice.

The USA recognises several variants of patents.

The main one is the utility patent (which is what Europeans would call simply a patent), and which is basically for functional products or methods of making them, and which is normally published first as an application and then later as a granted patent.

Next in popularity is the design patent, which is for a look deliberately given to things. In the UK they are called registered designs and are never referred to as patents.

These rights can be searched for on the free Espacenet database. Entering in the "publication number" field the following codes restricts the hits found to that variety:

USA = utility patent applications (published 18 months after applied for); numbered as e.g. 2013256346 with the publication year as the first four digits
USB = utility patent grants (published after application stage when examiners at the US Patent Office have approved it); numbered as e.g. 8000000 in a series that began in 1836
USS = design patent grants; numbered as e.g. D600000

If each of those codes is entered, plus Apple as the applicant and Jonathan Ive (his real name) in the inventor field, the number for each variety is:

USS = 619, listed as Jonathan Ive's US design patents
USA = 31, listed as Jonathan Ive's US patent applications
USB = 26, listed as Jonathan Ive's US patent grants

While Ive is certainly prolific, this shows that his main influence is as a designer and not as an inventor. The second and third groups largely overlap, as most of the grant entries list corresponding applications. Incidentally, Apple is famed for giving numerous people credit for utility patents -- ten names is normal. Steve Jobs, as Steven Jobs, appears 545 times if a search is done for him on Espacenet. Here are the 36 granted patents by him; here are the 291 US Design patents by Jobs, where he (like Ives) really came into his own.

So what sort of work has Ive been involved with ? The inventions are mostly for the appearance of things and, to be frank, the drawings do not look that exciting. However, I did like Armband for holding an electronic device, illustrated below.

The much more numerous designs show that no detail is too small. If you like the sleek, minimal look (including the famous rounded corners) that Apple likes so much then you like Ive's design work. For example



At the end of the newspaper article is given the fact that Jony Ive by Leander Kahney is being published on Thursday by Portfolio Penguin.

25 November 2013

Kingston's inventors club

I recently moved to the Surbiton, Surrey area, and to my delight found that I was just 5 minutes' walk from an inventors' club, the Kingston Round Table of Inventors.

When I worked for the British Library I went several times to clubs in the London area giving talks on patent searching. Besides Kingston, these were the Croydon Round Table of Inventors and the East London Inventors Club. I recall them fondly as lively meetings, and it was just plain fun talking about the problems involved in looking for inventions on the Web, and feeling the creative vibes. Outside of London, I've also spoken at similar groups at the main public libraries at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Leeds and Sheffield.

When I attended the monthly meeting recently it was the first time that I'd attended a club just to sit back and enjoy the presentation and discussions (and to make a few comments). Many think of creativity as being limited to writing, music and art, but it also includes identifying and assessing possible solutions for a technical problem. The solutions should ideally be simple and economical manner -- and should have fewer problems than previous solutions. Unlike, say, Thomas Midgely, who thought he had solved two problems by inventing leaded fuel and CFCs. Yes, the same man invented what turned out to be heavily polluting answers to problems.

We heard about a project to design an electric motorcycle and about an app to help young people coming out of care to communicate with their social workers. There was a lot of expertise in the room, and comments, questions and suggestions quickly flowed. I found it incredibly stimulating.

Anyone involved with inventing would find the atmosphere in such a club stimulating and enjoyable, but it is especially valuable for those who feel isolated because they are not working on inventions in a corporate environment. Lone inventors should, I suggest, join a club if they are lucky enough to live or work near one.

It certainly helps to have an experienced engineer leading the group. Bob Lindsey is the Kingston leader, and has plenty of experience as a consultant engineer. He also runs one-to-one product development clinics at the British Library.

I look forward to the next meeting, in January.

21 November 2013

The Morpher® folding helmet

The Morpher® folding helmet is an invention by Londoner Jeffrey Woolf. The idea is (simply ?) a helmet that folds up neatly to make it easier to take with you before or after cycling.

There is a detailed website which links to a video about it (which, unfortunately, has a strange echo when Woolf explains the idea). The site claims that it has been "patented worldwide" but I couldn't find any granted patents -- I think they mean that they have applied for patents worldwide which is a different matter.

World patent application Collapsible helmet has the main drawing shown below.

There are a number of panels joined to each other so that it folds down the middle to form a slim shape. The World search report at the end of that document cites an American patent as having some similarity, Roy Shifrin's Foldable padded helmet. Its main drawing is shown below.

I notice that the website, while once correctly using the form Morpher®, again and again simply mentions that the product is called Morpher. If you have taken the trouble to register your trade mark, as Woolf has done in the EU, you should always use the ® suffix as it shows that you have a registered trade mark, and are serious about your intellectual property.

Incidentally, while many British cyclists use protective helmets, they are little used on the European continent.

20 November 2013

Doctor Who and trade marks

The TV series Dr Who is at its 50th anniversary. Here, in a reworking of an old post from my old work blog, is a look at trade marks associated with the show.

There were 1976 filings for the name itself as a logo:

These are no longer active. Then there were filings for a new version, in 1984:

Also no longer active. Then there were filings for a new version, in 1988:

The series ended in 1989 but oddly there was a 1996 filing, so presumably money was still being made from fans:

There was the filings in 2005, when the show was relaunched.

In 2009 the last look, in versions including a black and white look:

There were more than one application for each as different services and product areas were involved. Each logo reflects a different cultural look, suitable for its time, and the last two certainly reflect the expensive look of the modern show.

The official database I used to find these trade marks doesn't provide a link to lists of results (why not ?), so to find the 28 registrations listed for DOCTOR WHO go to the official website and enter that wording as a Word search, search type "contains string", The results, if clicked on, show the services or products involved for each registration. Some are EU registrations, available from the newish OHIM office.

Turning to the means by which the Doctor travels, there's the image of the Tardis in UK trade mark 2104259:

It was applied for in 1996, and was the subject of a dispute with the Metropolitan Police, as it is a police telephone box, where members of the public telephone the police for help. It was registered in 2002 after a Patent Office examiner in a hearing pointed out that the police boxes weren't used for that anymore. The decision gives 15 pages discussing the matter, and rejecting the Metropolitan Police's objection.

THE TARDIS, meanwhile, was safely registered in 1976, as was, oddly enough, a registration for that word plus a black and white image of a police box, also in 1976, as UK trade mark 1068700, though only for toys and games, as shown below.

THE DALEKS was registered as long ago as 1964, while CYBERMEN dates back to 1996 (these are enemies of the good Doctor). Even SONIC SCREWDRIVER has been registered (sadly, not for tools).

I see that two 2012 applications through the European system by Canal + Image UK, DR WHO AND THE DALEKS and DALEKS' INVASION EARTH: 2150 AD have been opposed by the BBC and hence are awaiting a decision.

Happy anniversary, Doctor Who.

17 November 2013

Snapchat®, a patented app

Snapchat® is an app that has become very popular in just two years. It deletes any messages received on a mobile phone within 1 to 10 seconds (the sender controls the length) of its being viewed. This can include videos, images and texts. It does so by spotting that eye contact has occurred. after which the timer kicks in.

Its demographic was originally teenagers, and 80% of its usage is in the USA. It is handy for rude or obscene messages (“sexting”). “Selfies”, self-portraits, are also popular. So, good when teachers or other adults are around. The idea reminds me of the Mission Impossible TV series’ openings, where a tape recording self-destructed after instructions were heard.

The logo used by the company on the app is of a ghost with a face. Oddly, the US registered trade mark is of the ghost without a face – apparently they redesigned it later, in which case they should have applied for the variant. Here is registration 4573338, claimed to be first used in June 2011.

Here is the logo as commonly used.

The two inventors devised the app as a project at Stanford University where Spiegel was a product design major. When he explained it in April 2011 before his fellow students, they disliked the fact that the messages would be deleted. Nevertheless he persisted, and launched the app that September from his father’s living room. Venture capital was raised and the company worked on sorting out technical issues rather than branding, or trying to make money from it.

I am puzzled by the fact that the granted patent for the invention, Single mode media visual capture, was only applied for in August 2012. It should have been applied for before it was marketed,as patent applications are supposed to cover new concepts. It was swiftly granted, in April 2013. It is one of the rare apps that to be patented. Here are two of the drawing pages from the patent.

In November 2013 Facebook’s offer of $3 billion for the company was rejected. As the company apparently has no revenue this is brave, and makes me wonder about conditions imposed by the backers -- it seems that they did not insist that a good offer must be accepted.

Problems are that an app called SnapHack has appeared which enables the recipients to store Snapchat messages, while Forbes magazine claims that it is not too difficult to actually retrieve supposedly deleted messages. In addition, a fellow ex-student has claimed that they took the idea from him and has filed a lawsuit, as explained by an interesting article by TechCrunch.

14 November 2013

Modular robot toys

The BBC has an interesting story Build-your-own robot construction kits unveiled, though I did wonder why the principle had to be restricted to toys.

Modular Robotics, based in Boulder, Colorado, is responsible for the World patent application Modular Kinematic Construction Kit and also the older Modular Robotics , which has the drawing shown below.

The idea is mixing cubes to form new structures. Many toys follow that theme, but here magnetic balls act as joints and hinges, and internal flywheels enable movement, or wheels can be attached. No software needs to be written to operate them, and a Bluetooth module means that a smartphone or tablet can control them.

Each cubelet will cost about $25 and up. The video below shows how it works.

Shipping in January or February is envisaged by the company.

MIT has also been devising cube-shaped robots, as explained in an article from MITNews. They are called M-blocks, and look rather similar.

If the price can be got down I can see such cubes as a brilliant entry point for robotics classes in schools.

They also reminded me of the World patent application Programmable materials, applied for in 1994 by Joseph Michael of London, as illustrated below.

Cubes are used in all three concepts. It is the obvious shape: they neatly stack together, and are compact, but more importantly they mean that the surfaces are adjacent to each other, allowing all sorts of interactions without using wifi. I love the way such toys make the imagination soar by enabling students to "mix and match" to create new shapes and ideas.

12 November 2013

Apple's store design trade mark

I've just come across a story on Apple registering a trade mark for the appearance of their stores.

Steve Jobs was responsible for Apple opening sleek, attractive and expensive-looking stores in busy central city sites rather than in out of town sites. People said it would never work, yet the stores typically have the highest sales per square foot in each city. There is a minimum of stock, and the emphasis is on getting consumers to try out the products and receiving free advice -- and, of course, placing orders. There are  now over 400, with 37 plus in the UK alone.

Apple always wants to protect the look of their products, and it seems that their stores are no exception. I was alerted to this by a story on Mashable called Apple Store Design gets trademark approval.

There are two, one in black and white and the other in colour, and were both registered on the 22 January 2013 as # 4277913-14.. Below is the colour version.

Below is the black and white version.

Trade marks (trademarks in US use) must be registered for one or more classes or activities rather than for everything, and these are in Class 35, with their specific activity spelt out (as required):

Retail store services featuring computers, computer software, computer peripherals, mobile phones, consumer electronics and related accessories, and demonstration of products relating thereto. FIRST USE: 20060900. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20060900

As the article says, a description of what the trade mark looks like is given. In full, for the color version it states:

Color is not claimed as a feature of the mark. The mark consists of the design and layout of a retail store. The store features a clear glass storefront surrounded by a paneled facade consisting of large, rectangular horizontal panels over the top of the glass front, and two narrower panels stacked on either side of the storefront. Within the store, rectangular recessed lighting units traverse the length of the store's ceiling. There are cantilevered shelves below recessed display spaces along the side walls, and rectangular tables arranged in a line in the middle of the store parallel to the walls and extending from the storefront to the back of the store. There is multi-tiered shelving along the side walls, and a oblong table with stools located at the back of the store, set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall. The walls, floors, lighting, and other fixtures appear in dotted lines and are not claimed as individual features of the mark; however, the placement of the various items are considered to be part of the overall mark.

I must say that it's hard to see all that detail in the drawings.

What surprises me is how they intend to use the trade mark. Are people really going to identify the stores by seeing these drawings in advertising ? And why such a detailed description of the interior ?

A cynic might say that the aim was to discourage others from using the distinctive look of the stores. That is the role of registered designs (design patents in the US).

The distinctive staircases are the subject of two design patents and one utility patent application, as shown on the IfoAppleStore website.