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]


22 December 2014

Do you know English : The challenge of English for patent searchers

An article by me, Do you know English ? The challenge of the English language for patent searchers has been published in World patent information, December 2014, vol. 39, pages 35-40. It is a light-hearted look at the problems that the English language present to patent searchers when using databases. These include Patentese, Americanisms and Anglicisms, nouns used as verbs, compound nouns, and the problems for those using English as a second language. I wrote it from the viewpoint of a searcher as I am not a linguist.

It is a revised version of a talk I gave in May 2014 at The Hague at the annual conference Search Matters, by the European Patent Office [the 2015 conference is in Munich in March 2015, see the webpage]. Probably, in my career as a patent searcher at the British Library, the biggest problem I had was dealing with the problem of the word "light" -- many clients persisted in asking that I search for the idea of portability, but that would include the word "light". Hence patents covering, say, illuminated walking sticks would be retrieved when all the client wanted was a small one...

...nor did I really trust the man who, convinced that I was trying to cheat his mother, say that patent searching wasn't rocket science. He was right -- it's usually a lot more difficult. Presumably he would have been happy to have an appendectomy carried out by someone who'd read up on the subject the night before rather than by an expert.

20 December 2014

"Eight great technologies": analysis of patenting in key areas

The UK Intellectual Property Office has recently finished publishing a series of reports analysing the patent landscape in eight high technology areas which the government feels are important areas for the UK to carry out research in in the future.

A concluding report is titled Eight great technologies: a summary of the series of patent landscape reports, and it links on page 22 to PDFs of separate reports on each of the eight areas, or, with related papers, they can be found on this page.

These eight areas are the big-data revolution and energy-efficient computing; satellites and commercial applications of space; robotics and autonomous systems; life-sciences, genomics and synthetic biology; regenerative medicine; agri-science; advanced materials and nano-technology; energy and its storage; quantum technologies; and the Internet of things (IoT). That last topic is intriguing: it is about Bluetooth technologies,where objects talk to other objects, but also the ability of objects to automatically identify themselves to other objects.

The reports discuss the world patent scene in each technology, such as the major players (by entities and by country) and growth by year, followed by a look at the UK scene. For example, in IoT, the top UK player is Neul, a company based in Cambridge which I had not heard of. This is a list of World patent applications by Neul.

A command paper, Innovation and research strategy for growth, by Vince Cable MP (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills), published as Cm 8239 in 2011, is of interest as it discusses in detail the subject. The measures it advocates include the annual publication of an innovation report on the UK, the latest being Innovation Report 2014, published in March. It also talked of helping the Technology Strategy Board, now called Innovate UK. All this sounds excellent so long as well-trained scientists and technicians can be funded (whether by public money or by industry) to create useful products to benefit the UK economy. For too long there has been lip-service rather than real action.

Eight great technologies is also the title of a discussion paper by David Willetts MP (until July 2014 the Minister for Universities and Science), published in 2013 by the Policy Exchange think tank.

Graphene in patents

John Colapinto has written an interesting article, "Material question", about the nature of graphene and research on its uses, in the current New Yorker (22 and 29 December 2014, 50-63).

Graphene is a an atom-thick layer of graphite which has special properties. These include the ability to transmit electrical charges 250 times more rapidly than silicon. It may be the successor material to silicon for use in electrical devices, a silicon is reaching its apparent limits as miniaturization continues. Graphene is also 150 times stronger than the equivalent amount of steel, and is the only material which is totally impermeable to gases.

It was discovered by two scientists at the University of Manchester, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. Adhesive tape was used to isolate the first ever two-dimensional material. Their paper describing it was apparently twice rejected by Nature, as being "impossible" and not a "sufficient scientific advance", according to the journal's reviewers. It was published instead in Science in October 2004 as "Electric field effect in atomically thin carbon films" [it can be read at this link] and caused much excitement among scientists. They were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.

A report, Graphene: the worldwide patent landscape in 2013, was published by the UK Intellectual Property Office in 2013, Over 8,000 patents on the subject are covered in it, which shows that the UK is far behind in the race to develop the material -- the leading entity, the University of Manchester, has 6 patent families, which puts it at joint 163rd place, with Samsung first with 210 patent families.

Colapinto discusses in detail the work of James Tour and his colleagues at Rice University in Texas. The World patent applications by Tour for Rice in the field of carbon are listed here.

All in all, a very interesting article written for non-specialists in a fascinating field.

27 November 2014

The "patent" for Oreo® cookies

We bought a packet of Oreo® cookies today at the local supermarket, and it made me wonder about the history of the product, a kind of "sandwich cookie."

I had a look on Google (for Oreo + cookies + either history or patented) and found several sites which mentioned the 6 March 1912 as the date of origin, and some which said that it was patented on "March 6, 1912, U.S. Patent No. 0093009." For example, the New York Daily News obituary of Sam Porcello.

The TimeToast timeline for Oreo® cookies also attributes that date to the patenting of the cookie.

According to the Wikipedia article on Oreo cookies,Sam Porcello held five patents relating to the cookie. A 2012 obituary for him in Time magazine was cited for this.

Well, I was surprised. There are a few patents for food products -- Toblerone® and Tabasco® sauce come to mind, as respectively Swiss patent 46708, filed for in 1909 and US patent 107701, filed in 1870. Yet I did wonder what was novel, even then, for the concept of two sweet layers with a creamy layer between them.

As I collect the patent numbers for the first patent for well-known products or processes I began some research. "Patented", in theory, meant the date the rights were granted, and would be the same day as publication.

The 6 March 1912 was a Tuesday, and American patents were at the time only published or "issued" on Wednesdays. So the date couldn't be the issue date.

Could it be the date a patent was applied for ? No apparent patent fitted -- and Sam or Samuel Porcello did indeed have five American patents between 1976 and 1989, mainly for Nabisco, for e.g. filler cream containing soybean oil, but this was obviously far too late for my purposes.

What about the number 0093009 ? It was wrong as a published utility patent number or as a design patent number as the dates would have been published in 1869 or 1934 respectively.

What about it being a filing number ? I wondered if it was a trade mark filing number. I went to my old standby, the free TMQuest database by Minesoft and asked for Oreo as an exact mark and the year 1912. I did not specify filing, registration or publication.

I got the one result, and said to myself "Bingo." US trade mark Registration number 0093009 was applied for on the 14 March 1912 and was registered on the 12 August 1913. The number matched perfectly if not the date.

I can't account for the 6 March 1912 -- perhaps that was the day the name Oreo was chosen to be a trade mark -- but this little saga does show how careful one has to be in carrying out research. Far from being patented (for the cookie itself or how to make it), the product was simply, and quite rightly, given a brand name.

I suspect that people have been innocently repeating the wording without checking further.

15 November 2014

Inventors' groups in London

A few days ago I gave a talk about my life in patents, with anecdotes, and the problems of subject searching the patents. This was at the Croydon Round Table of Inventors' premises near Norwood Junction. Here are a couple of pictures from the evening: me smiling at the camera...

...and a clearly rapt audience taking it all in.

This is me again talking about the free Espacenet patent database, as displayed on the screen.

As with the same talk given recently at the Kingston Round Table of Inventors and at the East London Inventors Club there were plenty of questions and lots of interest. I get a real buzz passing on my knowledge of 25 years, and never tire of going over the same problems. Such as how do you protect an idea, what patents can you legally use, who should you trust, how do you negotiate, etc., etc.

I always suggest that inventors join clubs such as these if they can. Besides the talks given, they can comment on other people's inventions, and learn from others, who are very often with their advice and comments. It always helps when someone had years ago the same problem you are encountering now, and it is easy for a private inventor to feel very alone.

I also took the opportunity to sell some copies of my most recently published book, Inventing the 21st century.

I'm happy to repeat the same talk to other groups in the London/ Surrey area.

12 November 2014

Green power: pressurising air underwater

I'm all for green power but the problem is with fluctuating supply, as with wind or solar. Supply rarely marches demand, so being able to cheaply and simply store power is vital. Batteries has been the usual approach when studying the problem, though pumping water uphill when there is little demand (and running it out through turbines) has its fans as well. The UK has been using this concept for decades.

Seamus Garvey, Professor of Dynamics at the University of Nottingham, has come up with a solution to the problem: when wind power isn't needed, it's stored in canvas bags under pressure in the sea.

I came across the idea in the article "Bottling the wind" by Abigail Beall in the 1 November New Scientist issue. She explains that the mechanical engineer was driving on a motorway when he thought of the idea of storing unwanted power underwater. When the power was needed, it would become available again, as simply venting it would drive a generator.

He tried to prove it was a bad idea and then realised it was a very good idea. If you want to store compressed air you need a lot of pressure, and there is no lack of that deep in the sea. Garvey was quoted as saying "It's important to take advantage of the stuff around you".

What about the patents ? As long ago as 2007 a World patent application in his name was published, with the University of Nottingham as the applicant, titled Power generation. Here are two patent drawings from the (American) patent specification.

The corresponding European patent application is still, all these years on, undergoing examination and has not therefore been granted protection. The European Register entry EP1971773 lists the various actions and by clicking on All Documents, at top left of that page, the correspondence with the European Patent Office can be read. Maybe the 10 patent documents cited against the World application were causing a problem. Meanwhile, in 2011 US8030793 was published.

At the time of writing, 16 patents since 2007 have had the Garvey specification cited against them, and are listed here. Clearly, there is interest in the topic.

There are a lot of videos about the concept or Garvey available. Garvey is now working on a commercial system with Canadian wind power company Hydro-Star Energy, LLC.

31 October 2014

Giving talks in London

Last night I gave a talk to the East London Inventors Club, and on the 11th I will be giving the same talk at the Croydon Round Table of Inventors.

"My life in patents" told about my 25 years as a librarian working in inventions, with some anecdotes, and then about the main problems involved with devising a patent search strategy, ending with two case studies showing how relevant patents might be identified by using keywords and classifications.

I am glad to say that the East London members are a lively bunch, and I was frequently asked questions or "interrupted" -- no shrinking violets they. I spoke for about an hour and then spent a further hour talking to individual members about their inventions, and making suggestions. Those suggestions often came down to using a patent attorney to drafting the specification, asking the British Library's Business and Intellectual Property Centre (BIPC) to carry out a priced search, or visiting the BIPC to understand how to use databases and to get other help. It's a lonely furrow to plough if you don't get expert help.

I had a great time and I think the members appreciated it. I enjoy giving ad hoc advice in such situations, as it is so important that no inventor feels isolated. That's why it's so important that private inventors join clubs as the more experienced members, in my experience, are generous with their time.

25 October 2014

Hoverboards a reality in future ?

The dream of working hoverboards seems to have been achieved, and Back to the Future fans may soon be able to emulate Marty McFly's antics.

On the 18 September 2014 D. Gregory Henderson, for Arx Pax LLC, both of San Jose, California (same state as McFly, almost inevitably) had published a US patent application, Magnetic levitation of a stationary or moving object. A week later a World patent application with the same title, WO2014/149626, was published. It is 73 pages long, of which 20 pages are drawings. The final pages cite relevant prior art, and they only found "A" citations -- background, unlikely to invalidate the application. Taken from the US document, there is for example this spectacular drawing:

Here are three others.

The World patent summary states "In one embodiment, the moving magnetic field can be generated by a rotor with arrangement of permanent magnets which is driven by a motor. In operation, the rotor can be spun up from rest to above a threshold velocity, which causes the magnetic lifting device to rise up from the conductive substrate, hover in place in free flight and move from location to location. In free flight, the magnetic lifting device can be configured to carry a payload, such as a person."

Wired has a piece by Rhett Allain called The physics of the Hendo Hoverboard.

Arx Pax themselves seem to be a bit of a mystery. Their emblem is a dove between olive branches, and their mission statement is to be "a revolutionary technology company with the sole purpose of innovating solutions to some of the most pressing global problems of our age." I'm not sure I'd regard the problem of levitating a pressing problem, to be honest. How expensive would it be, I wonder ?

Hendo Hover is the name of the website with a rather cool and fun video showing the device in action. Below is the same video, from Youtube.

The same inventor and company had, in July 2014, a US patent granted for Methods and apparatus of building construction resisting earthquake and flood damage. The basic idea is to put buildings on a concrete structure which can float on a "buffer medium". A drawing from it is given below.

I recently wrote on the related Frankie Zapata's Hoverboard by ZR.

17 October 2014

Inventions that didn't change the world: book review

Inventions that didn't change the world, by Julie Halls, has just been published by Thames & Hudson in association with Britain's National Archives.

It explains the story, with 240 colour illustrations, of Britain's Useful Designs, which were available from 1843 to the early 1880s, with over 6000 registrations. At a cost of £10 it effectively provided, for some, an alternative to the very expensive and cumbersome patent system, although in theory it was for a new shape or configuration rather than for a new concept. Protection though was limited to 3 years unlike patents' 14 years. Besides the Useful Designs, there were the much more numerous Ornamental Designs.

There is a preliminary chapter, explaining the context, but the large bulk of the book consists of the illustrations in seven themed sections. They have clearly been picked for their visual impact, and some are distinctly odd -- anti-garotting devices, fan riding whips, and so on, besides the expected cornucopia of Victorian life. It is fascinating to leaf through the pages, where very often a detailed handwritten explanation of how the design worked (by the designer) appears below the illustration. Anyone interested in design generally, or social history, will enjoy the book.

There is a very detailed index, and a list of the displayed designs with its reference at the National Archives and the name and description of the designer (address and sometimes an occupation).

I would have liked to have seen some investigation into the actual designers by using census and other data, and regret the absence of any mention (as far as I can tell) to women as designers. My own research suggests that there were at least 55 women who took out these designs, with 17 of those for clothing, hats or shoes. The remainder covered quite a variety, including carriages.

I would also have liked to have seen a mention of Alexis Soyer, a celebrated chef in his day, who came up with six designs, as listed here. That came from the Discovery catalogue where these Useful Designs can be searched by entering BT45 as the "reference" and then entering words (such as title words, surname, address, occupation) in the boxes above. Images, though, are not available. Two Crimean stoves and one Crimean cloak can be found, for example.

These are minor quibbles, and I recommend the book as an excellent browse. There are illustrations, and a short video, at a Thames & Hudson page, and more images at the Guardian's book review.

Julie Halls will be giving a talk at 2 pm on the 28 October about her book at the National Archives.

16 October 2014

Solar energy for power, heat and water: Airlight's Sunflower

The Sunflower is a versatile solar energy "harvester" by Swiss company Airlight Energy. It provides power, heat and water, and can be transported in a shipping container.

I love ingenious solutions to environmental problems, and this is one of the most interesting ones I've seen in years. I came across it in a New Scientist article by Paul Marks published in the 4 October 2014 issue, and available online as Sunflower solar harvester provides power and water. Below is what it looks like.

As it fits inside a single container, transport is relatively easy to any location. The dish is ten metres high and tracks the sun. Besides clean water and electricity, it can even provide refrigeration if a heat pump is used.

The article explains that the technology for the water-cooled solar panel was developed by Bruno Michels and colleagues at IBM, and Airlight have licensed the patents. I have noticed several possibly relevant World applications by Michels at the Swiss base of IBM, listed here.

Photovoltaic module cooling devices is obviously relevant, and is illustrated below.

The article explains that each panel holds 25 photovoltaic chips cooled by water flowing in microchannels. The cooling effect means that the panels operate at their optimal temperature, so a quarter of the panels are used to produce the same power as conventional panels.

The heated water can then drive a low-temperature desalinator in coastal areas, going through three cycles, producing 2500 litres of fresh water daily. Away from the coast a water purifier can be fitted. A relevant IBM patent document, Desalination system and method for desalination, is illustrated below.

The dish itself consists of numerous 1-metre mirrors, which direct the sunlight onto six panels which produce the panel. Normally the mirrors would be heavy, polished glass, but instead they are made of metallised foil, like chocolate bar wrappers.

Tests on an 18-mirror prototype showed a 30% efficency rate and a 50% heat efficiency rate. A 36-mirror version should be able to provide 12 KW of electricity and 20 KW of heat from 10 hours of sunlight.

I have found 18 World patent documents by Airlight which are on solar energy.

Tests are to be carried out in seven sites, probably in Morocco and India, with sales beginning in 2017. As might be expected, the entire design is meant to be low maintenance.

21 September 2014

Dragons' Den: The YoungOnes

A week late, I watched an episode of Dragons' Den which was first shown on the 15 September. I was interested in the pitch for YoungOnes by Chris Rea, 21, and Tom Carson, 23, with their price competitive "onesies" for university students. They are themselves from Exeter.

The name of the business (with a website) refers to student rebellion and to a BBC programme shown 1982-84, with a truly anarchic sense of humour that I for one found hilarious. I'm not sure how much young people respond to something three decades old, but maybe that doesn't matter. They knew their facts, even if they were nervous under the questioning. They were confident that the vogue for onesies would continue.

They offered 15% of the equity in exchange for £75,000, which valued the company at £500,000. The dragons had fun putting the onesies on, but for some reason they were marked YO rather than YoungOnes. Peter Jones pointed out that Yo was owned as a trade mark by Simon Woodrofe's Yo ! Limited. You don't actually own every business sector with a trade mark (unless it's a "famous" trade mark) but indeed Yo! does own a European trade mark for it in Class 25, which covers clothing, EU 637637. The boys should have done their homework.

(So, to be honest, should have Evan Davis, the respected economics voice on the programme, who spoke of concerns over "copyright" -- trade marks are not the same as copyright, as you cannot copyright a few words).

What the boys do have is the British trade mark for YoungOnes for clothing, with UK2648803 (owned by youngones apparel ltd.). That's the far more attractive (and safe) name they should have put on the onesies.

The verdict ? Duncan Bannatyne offered them, with his usual poker face, the whole £75,000 in return for 40% of the equity. He was asked if he would take 30%. No, he said, it was a fair offer. They discussed it, and one said he didn't know he would say to his father, and they accepted. Duncan was very pleased, saying it was a great opportunity for him. The mentioned father had said they should never give away more than 30%, incidentally.

There is more about the business on an Exeter business page. Their degrees are very relevant -- Chris' was in business and psychology, Tom's in business management and marketing. Watch out for the product on university campuses !

9 September 2014

Apple's new wearable technology patent applications

Apple is about to make a big announcement today about their next big product, after a gap of four years. As usual, presumably, they will announce any totally new product at the end, with "One more thing...". The Toronto Star among others speculates as the faithful wait.

There is a lot of speculation that it might be a wearable device, an iWatch. Not sure what they will call it -- there is already US85703706, a filing for that word as a trademark registration for class 38, telecommunication services by OMG Electronics -- though, fatally perhaps, not for devices worn on wrists. Thanks to Minesoft's tmquest for that information.

I've checked for any US patents filed by Apple since 2013 that mention the word "wearable" (anywhere in the text). There are an amazing number published in just 2014, over fifty. None have "wearable" in the title.

These include Configurable buttons for electronic devices, published 28 August. This from a quick look is the most obviously relevant. A couple of its drawings are given below.

And what about their Bi-stable spring with flexible display, published in February 2013. It doesn't sound promising, but the drawings are interesting. Here is the main drawing.

I did find it independently, but that one was well covered at the time, quite rightly in my opinion, by sites such as an Appleinsider posting.

4 September 2014

Listing patent status registers

Patent status covers things like when was a patent specification published in its different stages, is it awaiting grant, have renewal fees being paid, has it run its full term and expired.

Some patent authorities have made free data available either on separate status databases or have incorporated it in their ordinary databases. The alternative is to ask them. Below is a list of those that I am aware of.  Many are in English.

Those that can be accessed via the free Espacenet database are marked by an asterisk *. If a certain record is found, then a link is provided to the status data. For example, see the record for GB2471438, where the link to "GB Register" is just below the Bibliographic data in big, bold type, below the top banner.

I am sorry to say that I gave up trying to find the individual sites for Belgium, Greece and Italy.

Belgium *
Denmark *
European Patent Convention *
Finland *
France *
Greece *
Italy *
Norway *
Sweden *
Switzerland *
United Kingdom*
United States

Otherwise, Espacenet has an "Inpadoc legal status" tab on the left hand side when viewing information on a patent specification. There is often little data, or it is hard to understand it, but still, better than nothing.

The existence of the legal status databases is not given in the valuable data on Intellogist's Interactive Patent Coverage Map, and I would like to suggest that it would augment an already very useful site. For some reason the French site, at least, is indeed listed and explained. You find data on what online sources (some priced) cover a country by clicking on the continent, then on the country.

It would be helpful if the same software was used by new countries, partly to avoid duplicate effort and partly to help searchers using databases from different patent authorities.

Although I use patent status to determine if a patent is in force, ownership information is also very important for due diligence searches. If a company takeover is contemplated or occurring you obviously want to know what is owned by the company. As companies are not required to record changes in ownership or assignments (to my knowledge it is everywhere voluntary), you cannot rely on the owner name on a published patent specification. There may be false positives (it apparently has patents it doesn't have) or false negatives (it doesn't appear to have patents it does actually have).

Data on litigation (such as links to court cases) is rarely provided, and would again be useful.

3 September 2014

Negative lists for patent searchers

The free Espacenet patent database contains a vast number of patents and can be searched in a number of  ways. One of its features is the ability to create lists of important patents.

When a search is run, each entry in the results has a blue star on the left hand side. By clicking on the star, it turns red and the same entry is available in the "My patents list" folder above the hit list.

This means that useful patents can be noted for future study. In addition, if another search is run, those already marked in this way appear with a red rather than a blue star to show that they have already been put in the folder.

This is a useful feature and avoids wasted time looking at the same patents again and again in modified searches. Two small suggestions are that it would be useful if additional folders were available, and if they could be named, as a searcher might be dealing with more than one search.

However, this post is really about supplementing this concept of a folder of "positive", wanted, hits with a second folder of unwanted hits -- a negative folder.

Just as you can indicate that you "like" a patent, you should be able to indicate you "dislike" a patent that might seem from the brief details on the hit list to be relevant. In the same way as with the "likes", the searcher can simply disregard the entry on a revised search. There is no need to look at it again, you are reminded that you have already seen it and found it to be irrelevant.

Maybe the red star could be replaced by a "thumbs up" for positive and "thumbs down" for negative documents.

20 August 2014

Everyday miracles TV series

Last night was the first episode of Everyday miracles: the genius of sofas, stockings and scanners on BBC4.

The hour-long programme had Mark Miodownik of the Open University explaining in a very engaging style the stories behind how products we take for granted such as plywood, razors and stockings have their specific properties. It is often a matter of combining two materials to give a product specific desired properties. I particularly loved the example of how nylon could be drawn endlessly from a beaker with two liquids in it, with the material being generated where the two layers meet. The excitement of making something work was, for me, vividly conveyed.

I always say that we can't take any manufactured product for granted -- no matter how mundane it is, someone had to think it up, design it, and work out an efficient and cost-effective way of manufacturing it.

That was the "home" episode" and there will be a further "away" episode (on travel) on the 26th. They can be seen for a limited period by UK residents on the BBC website for Everyday Miracles.

15 August 2014

Patents for chopsticks !

Many novices are amazed at the kinds of things that get patented, or published as patent applications (many do not realise is a subset of the latter). Surely, they think, there is nothing new that can be done in a many trades, that have existed for centuries.

Sometimes new materials will enable something not previously possible. Sometimes, as with chopsticks, there may be a need to train children in the correct use. And there may be a need to enable disabled persons to carry out a function or to use a tool.

An interesting article on the BBC news site, Disability and the Japanese art of mastering chopsticks, covers these topics. A Japanese craftsman, Katsuyuki Miyabi, has adapted chopsticks into pincer like tongs to help those unable to handle normal chopsticks.

What I found interesting in looking at patent documents for chopsticks was that many were teaching aids for the use of chopsticks from Far East countries. There are no fewer than, at the time of writing, 155 patent documents for "chopsticks" plus any of correct*, learn*, teach* or train*, where * indicates truncation.

No doubt others can be added by using classification, for example where the word "chopsticks" is omitted. Espacenet does not permit the creation of a single set of results from two sets of results (which is a pity). Other words could be added as well, such as "practice" or "aid" (Espacenet allows up to ten), although as a general rule in patent searching the more synonyms you add the more "false drops", unwanted hits, you get. It becomes a matter of judgment when to stop adding words which simply provide many unwanted hits while only adding a few extra hits. Another possibility is using the "Cited", "Citing" buttons on the left hand column to pick up references to older or newer documents referred to, or referring to, the known patent (a trick I use a lot with, especially, European and World documents because of the precision of their citations).

One example of the patent specifications that can be found is Chopsticks for training, from Korea, with its main drawing shown below

If nothing else, these results do show that correctly using chopsticks has to be taught to children.

One comment might be made that the results are of limited use as they are in non-Western languages (of the 155, 92 are from China, 28 are from Japan and 16 from Korea -- so only 19 are from other patent offices). Espacenet provides for this. Although there is a delay in loading text, most records will have a "Description" button on the left hand side of the "Bibliographic" format which shows the original text. You can then ask for a translation into a Western language. All free and with no need for registration.

For example, take the Japanese-language Chopsticks for training manner of holding. Click on Description, then on patenttranslate.

There are in fact 6 from the USA, such as Mark Major's Training device for using chopsticks, published in 1998, which has a useful discussion of prior efforts in the field. Its main drawing is shown below.

Even a seemingly simple subject such as this turns out to be quite complicated. After the search, of course, there is the selection of relevant material and the interpretation of their significance.

28 July 2014

The IcyBreeze cooler for outside use

IcyBreeze is a new portable cooler for use outdoors, invented by Clint Donaldson of Oklahoma.

When you are indoors in hot weather it is normal to crank the air conditioning up or at least switch on a fan. However, what about suffering from the heat when you are outside, say at a picnic. Donaldson thought of the idea while watching baseball on a hot day while sitting next to a cooler full of cold drinks. He took an idea normally used to warm houses and applied it instead to the outdoors.

Heat exchangers work by putting outlets for warm but stale air next to inlets for cold, fresh air. The pipes run along each other so that the outgoing air warms the incoming air.

The 34 litre capacity cooler can hold up to 49 cans as well as ice topped up with about 2 litres of water. A battery powers a fan which draws air into the radiator. The air coming out, either by vents or via a hose, makes the air outside up to 20 degrees C cooler. The batteries last for 2.5 hours on a high setting or 6 hours on low.

A World Patent application was published in September 2013 as Ice air conditioner, and its main drawing is shown below.

When I showed patent specifications to clients, I always placed much emphasis on search reports -- the list compiled by patent examiners at patent offices of relevant patents and other published material. The final pages of the Donaldson application contain a report, which lists first US7188489. It works in the same general way -- a portable cooling device using a heat exchanger. The search reports in many European, and the World, patent systems use X and Y indications to show that a particular claim is anticipated (X) or is obvious (Y) in light of the cited document. American search reports, which are on the front of the granted patents, simply cite patents -- often very many -- without giving the X and Y indications.

The IcyBreeze company is pricing models from $279 and plans to begin shipping from August 2014.

Much of the above is taken from the Gizmag article on the IcyBreeze.

22 July 2014

Vigoro, a hybrid sport

The BBC website has a story titled Vigoro: the Edwardian attempt to merge tennis and cricket. It is an entertaining account of a hybrid sport invented by John George Grant, a London commercial traveller, who even took out a trade mark for it. It is rather like playing cricket with a racket. The sport continues to be played in Australia, mainly by women. There is a Wikipedia article on Vigoro. Below is a video showing the sport being played.

I can add that George took out a British patent for the sport by applying in 1901 for his Improved game for affording recreative exercise with bat and ball. One feature that appears to have been dropped was the need to "defend a netted structure" as shown in the patent drawing given below. The batter, incidentally, is described as a "striker".

The inventors are given as John George Grant, commercial traveller, of 36 Savernake Road, Hampstead, and William Saunders Edwards, net manufacturer, of "Thornleigh", Bridport, Dorset.

Grant also had a later patent, GB 1909/02717, for bats, but this while published was not granted protection. Its drawings are given below.

Hybrid games were popular in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. There is for example US442438 by Edward Horsman Jr. of Brooklyn, applied for in 1890, "Parlor tennis". It is for playing tiddlywinks on a miniature tennis court. The delightful drawing is shown below.

20 July 2014

The XHhose®: no more kinks !

I don't normally watch shopping channels, but this morning saw the XHose® on one of those irritating, fast speaking shows that repeatedly tells you the same facts.

It is a garden hose which has no kinks as it work on a new principle. There is an inner hose and the outer hose has expandable material ("non elastic, soft tubular webbing" such as nylon). The pressure of the water in the inner hose causes the outer hose to expand both outwards and lengthways so that it grows to three times its length (says the TV), or six times (says the patents). It is also very light -- just over a pound in weight.

It is the invention of Michael Berardi, who thought of the idea while working out in the gym back home in Florida. While using an "elastic resistance tube", whatever that is, he wondered what would happen if you ran water through it.

In 2011 he filed for what became four US granted patents. Here is a drawing from one of them, US8291941.

Patents have been filed in numerous countries. Blue Gentian LLC is the company that has applied for the US patents and for the US trade mark, but in Europe the owner is F. Mishan and Sons, a New York company.

There is a video available from this site where Berardi is interviewed,which claims that in a year 25 million hoses were sold at a value of $500 million. He began experimenting in his house and in his backyard. In March 2012 the first commercials appeared on "direct response TV", and there was a huge response. Things looked good. Then his wife saw a similar commercial for a very similar product by a large company. She told him not to look, which of course meant he had to look. They were both shocked.

Berardi says that there are imitations by many companies available for sale, and it makes him feel ill and angry. Once his first patent was granted, in October 2012, he began filing patent infringement suits.

British firm Wilson Gunn explains that they successfully took a company, Tristar, to court over an infringement of the UK patent owned by Blue Gentian. The court case can be seen here. It shows that the owner of the European trade mark, Mishan, is working with Blue Gentian, which cleared up for me a small mystery.

Telebrands is being taken to court in the USA.

What I'd have liked to know was how the whole enterprise was financed as, when I had one hours talks with inventors in my British Library job, how to finance and manufacture the product was a big problem to resolve.

Below is an enthusiastic video about the product.

11 July 2014

Statistics for academic institution patents

There is much interest in statistical analysis of patenting trends by academic institutions (where they are an applicant), but there are problems in gathering the data.

Their names vary -- university, college, institute, school, and so on, besides foreign language equivalents. Many terms could mean something else, as in institute. Also, in the UK, there are at least two major players which do not use any of these terms -- Isis Innovation (for Oxford University) and Imperial Innovations (for Imperial College). There is also the complicating fact that some institutions license their innovation to companies such as BTG, sometimes before any patent application is actually published, or between the application's publication and the grant.

These factors make it hard to get true figures.

There is a very useful survey on pages 16-28 of the PCT Yearly Review 2014 of how universities and public sector organizations use the PCT system. The PCT, or Patent Cooperation Treaty, offers a way to simplify, cheapen and delay expenditure when an applicant wishes to secure protection in foreign countries. Instead of applying to many countries for foreign protection within the permitted 12 month period after the initial filing, a single application is made to WIPO in Geneva and a single document is published 18 months after the initial filing (coded as WO among patent documents). A search report listing relevant prior art is either included with the publication (in which case it is coded A1) or follows later (in which case the A3 search report supplements the already published A2).

Only after the A1 or A2 is published do requests come to the applicants from member states of the PCT listed on the application asking if the applicant wants to go ahead with requesting an examination to decide if a patent can be granted. If relevant a translation into an acceptable language is requested. Each country or regional system then decides individually whether or not to accept the application. All this means that in cases where the applicant wants to withdraw because the invention does not seem to be new, or there is a lack of finance, or the market is not perceived to be adequate, the applicant can withdraw and save the cost of translations and other costs.

The survey states that nearly 7.5% of all received applications through the PCT in 2013 were from academic institutions. While traditionally these were largely from America or Europe, Asia was catching up fast.

The survey goes on to say that only 4% of German or Italian academic institutions patent in their own name,12% in France, 20% in The Netherlands, 32% in the UK, and 53% in Spain. The source quoted is from a 2011 paper in Research Policy, 40(1), 148-164, The European university landscape. An abstract and an opportunity to purchase the paper is at the ScienceDirect website.

The survey tends to distinguish between university and public research organizations (PROs) in its figures and pie graphs, giving numerous facts and analysis. The survey says that its use of "filed" really means published -- which is confusing !

Allowing for the factors mentioned above, in 2013 universities published through the PCT published 9,804 applications, and PROs 4.411. Both were increasing more rapidly than the private sector, especially universities. They are becoming more aware of the potential value of their inventions.

On pages 22-24 there is discussion of co-applicants, where more than one applicant is named on an application. Typically this is when some sort of collaboration occurs, either in the actual research or in financing (or both). During 2011-13 13.7% of published PCT applications had co-applicants. This was 16% for universities and 19% for PROs.

Page 25 gives the top five university applicants from each continent and the continent's figures as a whole for 2005-13. Of the total of 28,153, 11,823 were from North America. 9,065 were from Asia. 6,421 were from Europe, including Isis Innovations, and Imperial Innovations, which are known as surrogates for Oxford University and Imperial College. A similar table for PROs is on page 27.

There is also analysis by technical field. It confirmed my impression that academic patenting is biased towards biology and chemistry.

All in all, a very useful survey. All of this comes down to technology transfer as any exploitation of the value of the patents is done by licensing out, selling or spinning off companies. There is much research into this topic, such as the 2013 book by the OECD, Commercalising public research: new trends and strategies.

20 June 2014

Putting pillows in their pillowcases

Putting pillows in pillowcases may not seem much of a problem, but if you cannot use your arms properly it can be a genuine difficulty.

Birmingham, UK resident Dave Northcote has come up with a solution, tells free newspaper Metro in its 19 June edition. Basically, it's a curved tray which is covered by the pillow so that the pillowcase goes over it, when the tray is removed. The drawings imply that it is deformable but the description didn't seem to mention that (I found it hard going).

There is a granted UK patent for it, dated April 2014, but I link to the published British application, as page 12 lists several previous patent specifications which have a certain similarity. In recent years these search reports have become more detailed, helping anyone looking for related prior art to get a feel for what other solutions are about. The publication is Device for placing a pillow in a pillowcase, and those citations can be seen by going to the cited patents listing for it. Below is the main drawing.

Mr Northcote is 68 years old, and had thought of the idea when having problems when recovering from an operation. He has tried several major stores, but all have rejected it.

He has spent £55,000 on "prototypes, patents, design rights, a registered trademark and materials", says the article. This sounds rather a lot to me, as design rights, a short-term version of copyright on the appearance of things, are free and merely have to be asserted, and a UK trade mark costs just £170 in official fees. I checked, and while Pillow Tray was rejected, zoox was accepted and is indeed a registered trade mark. I can't say I find it that exciting a trade mark.

When I worked at the British Library I, like my colleagues, always suggested using a patent attorney. The attorney listed on the patent is Swindell & Pearson, of Derby. We also suggested working on a business plan to work out strategy and how much expenditure, and hopefully income, was expected.

"Once you've started, you're committed to carrying on", Mr Northcote is quoted, continuing "We're living on our uppers but we are happy as pigs in muck because we have the patent and I have a lot of faith in this." It will cost £15, presumably as a recommended retail price.

I have many inventors and nearly all will say, as money gets spent and problems seem insurmountable, that they want to keep on spending time and money on it. It becomes, truly, an addiction. It is like someone spending £10 a week he can't afford on a gambling habit being advised to stop -- he won't lose any more money, but he also loses the chance of a big win. So he goes on gambling.

Of course, all inventors will claim that their invention is both unique and valuable. Mr Northcote in the article compares it with Cat's Eyes, where reflecting studs encased in hardened rubber, set at intervals along the middle of roads, help illuminate the road at night as they reflect car headlights.

There is supposed to be a website for zoox but it gave me an error message when I tried to load it.

18 June 2014

Frankie Zapata's Hoverboard by ZR: the patent

Frankie Zapata and his new aquatic hoverboard are taking the sporting world by storm. Yet another variation on the surfboard is his Hoverboard by ZR. An obvious reference to Back to the Future antics ! The product does not disappoint, either, in that respect.

Zapata, a French jet ski (or waterski, depends on the web page !) champion, had already come up with the Flyboard, which was launched in 2011. Swimmers were sent skywards by a jet of water from a pack on their back.

Now a jet ski or similar is 18 metres behind the board, connected by a hose that couples under the board. This supplies the force so that the rider of the hoverboard can safely (for the jet ski driver) soar up to 10 metres upwards, propelled by a powerful jet. It won't be cheap -- about $6000 plus the cost of the jet ski. Here is the main drawing from the US patent, Device and system for propelling a passenger...

...and here is a video showing the incredible tricks that can be done. Will this become an Olympic sport someday ? Certainly it qualifies as an extreme sport.

Yet another variation on the surfboard concept. So many twists have been done, mainly from Californians. Not in this case.

There is also a Maneuvering and stability control system for jet-pack patent application.

The official web site warns of heavy usage so pages may be difficult to load.

14 June 2014

Finding Tesla's electric car patents

Tesla has apparently decided to make its electric car patents available to use to encourage development in the technology. This is according to the BBC story Tesla confirms plans to open up electric car patents, which linked to a blog post from the Tesla website with the ungrammatical title All our patent are belong to you.

This is potentially exciting as I regard electric car technology as very important. It means that the fuel doesn't have to be petroleum, and results in quiet cars, which would greatly improve the quality of life in urban areas and for those living near highways. The electricity might be generated by fossil fuel but could be that generated uselessly at night, and it might be renewable energy.

Let's look at Tesla's patent specifications. Figures stated are as of today, 14 June 2014: there are lots more now.

It has 373 US patent applications, where an attempt has been made to secure a patent, and 168 granted US patents. Of these, 76 and 21 respectively were published in 2013-2014. There are also 8 US design patents, for the look rather than function in the listed utility patents (that list is from Google Patents). For example, D683268:

These utility patents include Dual mode range extended electric vehicle;and Charge state indicator for an electric vehicle, which is illustrated below.

So why do it ? If Tesla can expand the market for electric cars there will be more charging stations and hence more people will be tempted to buy one. Also, inventions based on Tesla's work will presumably be compatible and hence can be incorporated into future work by Tesla.

5 June 2014

Football trade marks

With the World Cup almost here, let's look at some football (soccer) trade marks from the European Community trade marks database, e-Search.

They always say you should start at the beginning. Some years ago I heard a talk by someone about Sheffield FC, a club which started in 1857 as the first football club ever. My question is, who could they play against ? Here is their rather magnificent trade mark, applied for as 008592339 (with a much clearer image) by the awkwardly named "1857 Sheffield F.C. the World's First Football Club Ltd." for numerous classes of goods.

Then there was the first World Cup tournament, which was won by Uruguay in 1930 (they also won in 1950). A good quiz question: how many South American countries have won the World Cup ? Those who know little of football assume it's two, but Argentina in 1930 and Brazil in 1950 lost the finals.

The image below is presumably from a contemporary poster. It was applied for by FIFA in 2006 as 0896057.

In 1938 Italy beat Hungary 4-2 in the 3rd tournament. Here is another poster by FIFA marking the tournament. A better image can be seen at 00896056.

The 2006 tournament was held in Germany. Very different artwork was used for the following image, which was in fact withdrawn and was not registered. A better image can be seen at 002741296.

Turning to this current tournament, here are two trade marks by FIFA, 009283921...

...and 011529311.

In 2013 FIFA applied for an image of the Jules Rimet Cup itself, 012100125.

Of course it's not all about the World Cup. I have only posted on the trade marks of one football club, and it was Manchester City, in January, who are now England's champions.

Coming second, after looking like about to win it, were Liverpool, with this impressive trade mark, 002695146.

Manchester United, who have won so many championships, were not a contender this season. 000761312.

There are often in fact multiple registrations covering variants or different activities. And in case anyone is wondering, Football World Cup has been registered by FIFA as 006939298 for numerous classes.

4 June 2014

Jyrobike: the stable bicycle for beginners

I have just watched a BBC piece on the Jyrobike, a stable bicycle for beginners. It uses a gyroscopic effect to ensure that the bicycle corrects any tendency to topple over. A flywheel within the front wheel spins faster than the front wheel, providing an effect which keeps the front wheel stable if it has a tendency to topple over.

The Wikipedia article on the Jyrobike explains that it came out of a graduate project at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, between 2004 and 2007. Unusually, of the four students, three were women. In 2010 fellow Dartmouth student Daniella Reichstetter licensed the technology and set up a company called Gyrobike. Once attached, their Gyrowheel changed a bicycle into a Gyrobike. This apparently caused confusion, as the company didn't make actual bicycles. Thousands of the hubs were sold.

Further confusion may have been caused when in 2013 Robert Bodill, an Australian entrepreneur based in the UK, acquired the rights (see the Thayer press release) and renamed the company Jyrobike. The official Jyrobike website says it is asking for funds on Kickstarter. Over $33,000 has so far been raised in its goal of $100,000 says their Kickstarter page, which includes a video.

So far a US patent has been granted, US7314225, as long ago as 2008, System for providing gyroscopic stablilization to a two-wheeled vehicle. Notice the use of "vehicle" rather than "bicycle". Here is the main drawing.

The control hub is shown in the drawing below.

A European patent is awaiting grant as examination is underway. The European Register documents for EP1907270 show that in March 2014 the applicant's name and address was given as Gyrobike Ltd. in London, England rather than Gyro-Precession Stability LLC, the name used on the published US grant. The confusion over Gyrobike and Jyrobike is, I suggest, unfortunate. Gyrobike is registered as a US trade mark but Jyrobike is not even pending, according to valuable free database tmQuest. Jyrobike is pending registration in the European trade mark system.

It is possible that a US patent from 1981, Powercycle, is causing problems for the European grant as a source of prior art. That in turn has been cited by 18 documents which are for similar technology by other published inventions.

28 May 2014

Amazon and patents

I've just finished reading Brad Stone's book The everything store: Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon. If you are interested in how businesses are created and change, and the Web, then this is the book for you.

It emphasized for me how Amazon is so good at grinding costs down in every conceivable way, and deliberately offering promotions which lose it money, in order to build up market share. This is a very Japanese idea, by the way, increasing market share (although when Japanese banks tried applying it to loans they soon built up big books of risky loans). Nice for customers -- not so good for others trying to compete. What will happen if Amazon becomes the last one standing as a retailer ?

Amazon has vast numbers of patents. The company has over 1600 granted US patents, with 221 so far this year -- more than one a day. Some are about the details of how the stock is handled at the fulfilment centres (warehouses), such as Filling an order at an inventory pier, illustrated below, and

Replenishing a retail facility, illustrated below.

The book also talks of the way multiple vendors would be offering items on the Amazon website -- so that the company makes a percentage on vendors who are shipping the items themselves. Out of curiosity, I made a list of the 38 US patents by Amazon which had the word "multiple", and it's quite a mixture, with many involving software algorithms. As Stone says, Amazon is in many ways more a technology company than a retailer.

I would have liked it if Stone had gone into more details about the company's turnover, profits and taxes. Especially its arrangements and efforts to avoid paying sales tax in American states, and tax in European countries, channelling income through low-tax Luxembourg. Also more on compensation for the fulfilment centre workers.

I have only bought books from Amazon -- and now try to avoid doing so if possible.

13 May 2014

The Spanish-American War in US design patents

American design patents can be a valuable source of images for studying social history, but are little used. Here is an example: reactions to the Spanish-American War. They may not be typical, of course, as the number is small. Nor does the issuing of a design patent mean that the item was actually manufactured.

There is no doubt that there are numerous souvenir, commemorative or patriotic pins, badges, etc. in the American design patents, and how to find them is explained at the end of this post. The British registered designs, the same sort of right for the look of a design, are not online for historical material, and do not cover such subjects. They also lack explanatory text which could be searched in this way.

The background to the Spanish-American War is that Cuba, a Spanish colony, was fighting a war for independence from Spain. The American battleship Maine was moored in Havana harbour when, on the 15 February 1898, she blew up with the tragic loss of 266 sailors. Sabotage, screamed many American newspapers (although the evidence is inconclusive), which whipped up patriotic enthusiasm which led to war being declared (by the Spanish) in April 1898. The fighting was mainly in Cuba and the Philippines, and ended swiftly, in August 1898.

What follows is a list of the design patents that I have identified as being relevant, in order of being filed at the US Patent Office. Some of the images are attractive; others are dull.

In fact before the war those wishing to express pro-Cuban sympathies were assisted by Henry Caldwell of Hartwell, OH with his "Badge", D27621, filed 30 January 1897. It shows the Cuban colours and is meant to "indicate sympathy with the cause of Cuba", says the patent.

On the 2 April 1898 Willis Hart of Unionville, CT filed for D28629, "Spoon". It shows the Maine and its commander, Captain Charles Sigsbee.

On the 25 April 1898 Julius Becker of New York City filed for D28787, "Pipe", in the appearance of the Maine.

On the 26 May 1898 Charles Bailey of Cromwell, CT filed for D29049, "Toy bank". Again in the guise of the Maine. Bailey had numerous Design Patents to his name.

On the 16 June 1898 William Smith of Philadelphia, PA filed for "Woven fabric", again showing the Maine.

On the 18 June 1898 Amos Standing of St Louis, MO filed for "Game device". I strongly suspect that this is for a game based on the Battle of Manila Bay on the 1 May 1898, when Commodore Dewey's ships defeated the Spanish.

On the 28 August 1898 John Croskey of Dunkirk, IN filed for D29364, "Pitcher". The text explains that it commemorates the Battle of Manila, artillery, the flags of Cuba and the USA, and "the United States Admiral".

On the 28 September 1898 Frank Zecher of Lancaster, PA filed for D29686, "Toy bank", again as the Maine.

On the 29 September 1898 Conrad Stein of Bridgeport, CT filed for D29649, "Game board". The text says that the Spanish and American flags are above the forts.

On the 30 September 1898 William Brown of New York City filed for D29661, "Spoon". The text explains that it commemorates Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders volunteers, who fought in Cuba.

On the 6 October 1898 Charles Bailey of Cromwell, CT filed for D29687, "Toy money bank" -- almost inevitably, as the Maine. On the 26 May he had already filed for an earlier version.

On the 27 October 1898 Ole Prestholdt of Clarkfield, MN filed for D29812, "Medal or similar article". The text explains that Uncle Sam, while feeding chickens, is shooting a hawk that represents Spain while in the background is yes, the Maine. On the other side are images of notable Americans such as President McKinley.

On the 21 January 1899 Josephine Altshuler of New Whatcom, WA filed for D30210, "Game board". The big map is Cuba, the small map Manila Bay.

On the 11 April 1899 Morrison Swan of Manilla, IA filed for D30714, "Breastpin". It shows Dewey.

There is then quite a gap until the 8 July 1899, when Charles Kaiser of Rockport, IN filed for D31313, "chair seat and back". It shows President McKinley and the wrecked Maine. I wonder if the inventor considered if it was polite to sit on an image of the wrecked ship.

On the 11 July 1899 August Grametbaur of New York City filed for D31434, "Plate". Dewey is in the middle, surrounded by his leading naval officers.

On the 30 August 1899 Warren Greveling of New York City filed for D32001, "Lamp body". It shows Dewey.

Finally, on the 8 March 1900 Anson Bacon of Halliwell, ME filed for D32728, "Pencil". It shows Dewey.

The slogan "Remember the Maine" only turned up once -- as an example of what could be used in setting up type, in "Printing form". Filed on the 7 July 1898, it was published as utility patent 626649.

I found the designs on Google Patents Advanced by specifying a time period and designs and then searching the accompanying explanatory text for each design by keywords such as Dewey, Cuba, etc. The database seems to contain a full set of design numbers for showing PNG images of the drawing pages, but as the remainder is scanned content it is likely that some material has been missed. Of course, if no keywords were mentioned then relevant Design Patents won't turn up. There is a classification scheme, but this would simply define badges, pins, flags and so on.

A specific design can be found on that database by asking for e.g, D27621.