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 January 2014

Manchester City's intellectual property

The annual report of Manchester City football club states that in the year to 31 May 2013 they made £47 million from selling "intellectual property". Of this, £22.5 million was sales to related parties, and £24.5 million from selling to third parties, such as, perhaps, a rumoured New York franchise. No other details were disclosed.

These helped bring their losses down from £97.1 million to £51.6 million. Their revenue was £271 million, up from £231 million. The wage bill of £233 million helps account for the loss. And sounds huge to me ! There were also big losses in buying and selling players (that is, they were paying a lot more than they were receiving).

But what is the intellectual property of the club ? Some may be sponsorship and partnership deals with companies such as Nike and Etihad Airways, but much I guess is trade marks in the form of sportswear and other items where the club sells rights to use the club regalia in return for, probably, royalties, or perhaps for cash sums. Hence you can buy their shirts as made by clothing companies in sports wear shops and the like.

In 1972 Manchester City applied for the following, still current, trade mark.

This was for six classes. You don't just register for everything, but for specified goods or services in specified classes. The idea is to allow different owners to use say Swan for different activities, so long as they don't conflict. Nobody expects a maker of matches to rent cars as well. In this case, Class 6 with key rings and key chains turns up, as it nearly always does for sports clubs and bands, as they are cheap memorabilia.

In 1997 they applied for this modified version. Still the ship, but no rose. It has less detail which makes it easier to reproduce clearly on small items.

This time there were 9 classes, which include such items as teddy bears, romper suits and baby boots. If you think you might sell it, just put it in, as failure to do so could mean someone trying to sell it.

Also in 1997, there was a version using the club's Latin motto, superbia in proelio. It means "Pride in battle".

And there is a colour version as well. Judging from the Manchester City FC website this is the favoured, modern version.

MCFC, Man City and Manchester City F.C. have also been registered, among other variants. This is a complete list of the UK registered trade marks. The same eagle is Manchester's symbol as a city, it seems, as the City Council registered it for many uses in 2008 as EU 6804462 through the pan-European EU system, as shown below.

Such registrations only cover the UK, and big sports clubs are global in their ambitions nowadays, especially with syndicated broadcasts and the reach of the Internet. The same colour insignia shown above was only published for "opposition", prior to registration, in the USA on the 21 January 2014, having been filed for in 2012. Many foreign countries were designated in a filing for the same, also in 2012, through the Madrid Agreement, which is an international treaty.

Hence we have football, business and intellectual property all coming together.

28 January 2014

Humidity as a source of power

I have just received a Gizmag e-mail telling me about, among other things, Could humidity power join the list of renewable energy sources ?

It tells the story of Dr Ozgur Sahin of Columbia University and his discovery that tiny bacteria coated silicon "planks" reacted to changes in humidity. Before he got a chance to examine the planks under a microscope, he could see the planks visibly bend. The force exerted was one thousand times that of a human muscle. What was happening was that Bacillus subtilis was drying up to a husk when it was very dry which can occur naturally, and then coming back to life when water is restored to the atmosphere. He realised that he had come across a new source of energy harvesting.

The story was presumably timed to coincide with the electronic publication (for paying subscribers) on the 26 January 2014 of a "letter" on the discovery in Nature nanotechnology, which is summarised at Bacillus spores as building blocks for stimuli-responsive materials and nanogenerators. Sahin was joined by three other authors in writing the paper.

Out of curiosity I looked and found that a World patent application had been published as long ago as May 2012, Bacterial spore based energy system, by Sahin on behalf of Harvard and, unusually, Sahin himself as co-applicants. The specification contains 28 pages of text on the concept. And all free to look at.

Normally these "World applications" are coded A1 and have a search report listing what has been done before. This A2 was published without a search report, but the A3 with a list of background references only, not judged to be similar, was published as WO 2012071426 A3. The 5 patent documents it refers to can be seen on this list.

The problem presumably will be scaling up the idea to produce sizeable amounts of power. This will include genetic engineering to make bacteria which react even better to the humidity changes.

27 January 2014

Discussion on genes and patents

The British Library is hosting a discussion on genes and patents on 4 March, Talkscience: patently obvious ?

Four speakers will take questions from the audience in Cafe Scientifique style in the British Library's terrace restaurant. The theme is controversial: are genes patentable, or are they really discoveries ? Do patents encourage or hinder research and commercialisation ? The lure of money is strong, and may attract research, but being told that a patent blocks industrialising a technique is discouraging, to put it mildly.

Much more than in mechanical or electrical engineering, these are knotty problems, as the genes are actually there already -- unless modified ? I will be going, and will listen to the arguments with interest.

The discussion will be chaired by Dr Jackie Hunter, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The others giving short speeches, and then responding to question, will be Professor Alan Ashworth, Chief Executive of the Institute of Cancer Research; Dr Nick Bourne of Cardiff University; and Berwyn Clarke, Chairman of NALIA Systems Limited.

Ashworth was in the team that discovered and patented the BRCA2 gene, the gene for breast cancer. I learnt something on investigating: I was aware of Myriad's claim to having discovered it, but apparently there was a rival team that have posted their flag. This is a list of the 41 "World" patent applications that mention BRCA2 in their abstract. That's just for the one gene ! Also, as a patent searcher, I am aware that keyword searching alone rarely finds all the relevant material.

It's not a field I was involved with much when I worked at the British Library, as most of my clientele were private inventors or small companies, and they tended to be involved with non-biological inventions.

I look forward to learning a lot on the evening.

26 January 2014

The patents for e-cigarettes

Electronic or e-cigarettes are designed to aid smoking cessation by being a replacement. Users still get the nicotine kick, but without the tar-related side effects. Its rapid growth has been helped, if not necessarily caused, by the widespread bans on smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants and workplaces.

Now the UK government has announced that it wants to stop its sale to under 18 year olds, which will be its first restriction in the country.

The first patent specification is widely attributed to A non-smokable electronic aerosol cigarette, filed in 2003 -- which is in Chinese. This invention, by Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist, used a piezoelectric ultrasound-emitting element to vaporise a pressurized jet of liquid containing nicotine diluted in a propylene glycol solution. The smoke-like vapour is inhaled so that nicotine is delivered into the bloodstream via the lungs. Propylene glycol dilutes nicotine and places it in a disposable plastic cartridge which serves as a liquid reservoir and mouthpiece. The drawing is given below.

A different design, though, was used in the electronic cigarettes that were first introduced to the Chinese domestic market in May 2004 as an aid for smoking cessation and replacement. The company that Hon Lik worked for, Golden Dragon Holdings, changed its name to Ruyan (which means "Resembling smoking"), and started exporting its products in 2005. They have a number of patents. This is a list of US patent documents (some for designs rather than utility) by Hon Lik.

An important variant, and improvement, is the "cartomizer", which was invented by brothers Umer and Tariq (“Taz”) Sheikh, from Woking, Surrey. They had worked in IT recruitment but soon realised, Umer has said, that “rather than working for someone else and making them lots of money, we would do it for ourselves,” and formed their own company in that business. A smoking ban in enclosed work places in England was to come into force in 2007, and Umer wanted to quit smoking, so the brothers decided to "have a punt" and to invent a product for the market.

They worked with an engineering team in China to develop a prototype. In 2008 they filed for what was patented in the UK as A method and apparatus related to electronic smoking-substitute devices, with a US application pending, and is sold as the Gamucci brand, which is growing fast. The Gamucci website has the slogan "Like smoking, only better." The heating coil is integrated into the liquid chamber. This is instead of the original three components: a cartridge containing a nicotine dilution, an atomisation device and a battery. It has been named as the first European electronic cigarette. The above information on the Sheikhs is largely based on the interesting article in City AM, Brothers who took a punt on a new market. The drawing from their patent is given below.

While e-cigarettes are promoted as a way for smokers to control or even stop smoking, there are concerns that it could be a way for young people to take up smoking. Many electronic cigarettes look like “the real thing”. Worries about possible health risks have led to some countries talking of restricting its use, as in the UK. Others argue that they are as safe as other nicotine replacement products such as patches. Another problem is that someone told off for smoking in a non-smoking area may be innocently “smoking” an electronic cigarette.

A forerunner, though not actually an “electronic” cigarette, was Herbert Gilbert’s Smokeless non-tobacco cigarette, filed in 1963. A nicotine solution was heated and steam came out of the smoker’s lips. Gilbert was approached by companies interested in commercialising his invention, but this did not come about. Its drawings are given below.

24 January 2014

Aquion's battery to store renewable energy

MIT's Technology review has an article titled Startup thinks its battery will solve renewable energy's big flaw, by Kevin Bullis.

The flaw is that using renewables for power demand means a dangerous reliance on the wind blowing and the sun shining. The ability to store excess power for use when supply is low is, to put it mildly, fundamental in any big move towards renewables.

Now Aquion Energy has installed, at an old Sony TV plant near Pittsburgh, an assembly line for non-toxic batteries. Samples are being sent out to potential customers for evaluation. $55 million has been raised by the company, which was formed in 2008, and production is expected in the Spring of 2014.

The article quotes Jay Whitacre, the Carnegie Mellon University professor of materials science who led the research effort, as saying that the new batteries cost as much as lead-acid batteries, the cheapest around, but last more than twice as long.

Sodium-ions instead of conventional lithium-ions are used. The battery is ideal for isolated locations or for use at power plant locations, but because sodium-ions are less efficient in storing by weight or volume than lithium-ions, the batteries are not practical in for example a car or a phone because of the bulk required.

There are five "World patent" applications by Jay Whitacre for Aquion Energy. The most recent, published in September 2013, is titled Large format electrochemical energy storage device housing and module.

Here is a video featuring Whitacre talking about the company.

21 January 2014

i-hut®: the seriously cool caravan

i-hut® is the trade mark of what the company calls a "seriously cool caravan". It is made of wood which to me gives a Scandinavian look, and is designed so that it can function as a second home. 

UK law allows certain designs to be classed as temporary so that they can be sited in, for example, your garden without the need to ask for planning permission. Although really a structure, the i-hut® has wheels and a towbar so it can go anywhere with planning permission for a caravan. The website gives lots of details including photographs. 

The brochure I have in my hand, most of which is reproduced on the website, states that

The i-hut name and logo is a registered Trade Mark and the i-hut design is registered at the Patents Office. If you try to pinch it, we'll set the dogs on you !

It is commendable that a company takes so much interest in its intellectual property. Maybe the dogs are a bit much. It is in fact the Patent Office, not the Patents Office, and I would have preferred to have seen the familiar ® logo attached to each use of the trade mark, which is indeed registered for the UK for caravans and other classes, in the brochure and the website. I also prefer to see specific design or patent numbers listed. 

I found two relevant UK registered designs for the distinctive look. Below is the drawing page sent in for UK Design 4021158.

Below is the drawing page sent in for UK Design 4021159. 

They were by Charteroak Estates, who also registered the trade mark. 

There are two models, with each available as a road legal or non road legal version. Full use is made of space above head level, in the apex of the roof, for storage or sleeping. The longer version is 36 feet long and the shorter 18 feet. The costs run from just under £30,000 to £45,000 plus optional extras. 

The need for space is of course paramount in cramped spaces such as caravans or small yachts. This is why the idea of a room that slides out when the caravan is at rest has become popular. An example, given below, is taken from US2006117673

Here is a list of some US patent specifications for slide-out provision in "recreational vehicles"

16 January 2014

The top brands in 2013: YouGov's BrandIndex

Today's City AM free newspaper had an article about the top brands of 2013 in the UK. It was taken from a source I'd never heard of before: YouGov's BrandIndex website.

Thousands of interviews are carried out daily to identify the best known brands. The UK brand rankings listed as the top ten:

1.iplayer [broadcasting]
2 John Lewis [retailer]
2 Samsung [electronics]
4 Aldi [food retailer]
5 Dyson [consumer products]
6 Marks and Spencer [retailer]
7 bbc.co.uk [broadcasting]
8 Waitrose [food retailer]
9 Sainsbury's [food retailer]
10 YouTube

No Apple, as the newspaper article pointed out (it was no. 6 last year).

The top 25 US brand rankings, of which the top ten are:

1 Amazon [online retailer]
2 Ford [car manufacturer]
3 Subway [takeout food retailer]
4 History [broadcasting]
5 Lowe's [retailer]
6 YouTube [broadcasting]
7 Walgreens [retailer]
8 V8 [vegetable drinks]
9 Cheerios [breakfast cereal]
10 Kindle [e-book reader]

Again no Apple.

Older figures are given, and even rankings within sectors. A dozen other countries such as Germany, France, China and Japan are also available.

It is clear that "brand" is widely interpreted, and while some of the names or words are trademarked some may not be. I'm very surprised that online sites such as Amazon aren't more prominent for the UK. Samsung's strength in the UK doesn't surprise me -- I myself have one of their Android phones (it could work better, though) and one of their laptops. A lot depends on how the interviews are conducted -- do those interviewed volunteer names or are they prompted, is it only knowing a brand rather than approving of it that matters. I must admit I'm amazed a breakfast cereal made it into the top ten for the US.

The site is worth exploring -- there's a list of the top five social media sites for the US, for example.

15 January 2014

Nest Labs' patents

Google has announced a takeover of Palo Alto-based Nest Labs, paying $3.2 billion.

It was only founded in 2010, by Tony Fadell, who had been Senior Vice President of Apple's iPod Division. While building an energy-efficient house he was frustrated by the limitations of thermostats. The company started, almost inevitably, in a garage.

This is yet another indication that Google is expanding into high-tech areas. Nest Labs is a designer of thermostats with a difference: the Nest Learning Thermostat, a smart device that can perform a variety of functions, to help create an intelligent or smart house.

In December 2013, for example, they were granted the US patent Dynamic distributed-sensor thermostat network for forecasting external events. Here is one of its drawings.

Here is another drawing from the same patent, showing the whole house wired up.

Much of their work is based on assessing occupancy in rooms to reduce energy usage, as in Occupancy pattern detection, estimation and prediction, illustrated below.

This is a list of the US granted patents published in their name, with the two at the top published only the 14 January, yesterday, and hence not yet available on the Espacenet database. Eleven were published in 2012. There is an overlap with the US patents applications published from 2012.

The company does not restrict itself to thermostats. Their smoke detector is discussed in a New Yorker article by Matt Buchanan, Can smart design make you love their smoke detector ?

This is a list of granted US patents by Tony Fadell.

Below is a video of a (half hour)  interview with Fadell.

14 January 2014

Toy tank inventions from World War I

Toys invented during a war often reflect that war. Tank toys in World War I are an example, and here are some patents as illustrations. I looked through both British and American patents.,

In November 1916, a patent application was made at the British Patent Office for this design, as illustrated below by the American equivalent patent:

The British document, accepted for publication in August 1917, was titled Improved mechanical toy and was by Duncan Rice, who described himself as "No. 522,853 Canadian Army Medical Corps, a Private in the Canadian Army at present stationed in France and at present attached to Headquarters of the Third Canadian Divisional Ammunition Column." As a corporal he applied, just after the war ended, for a combined shaver and stropper, GB130872. Meanwhile, the US patent for the toy did not get published until 1920, as Toy. He only applied for it in May 1919, from Aberdeen.

How did Rice know about the tank ? The first use of tanks by the British was in September 1916, before the first significant use of tanks at the Battle of Cambrai, in November 1917.

In date order of application, the next one to be filed was in January 1918 from New York City. The inventor was Koh Ono, who said he was a Japanese citizen. The patent, "Toy", was published as US1364513 and is illustrated below. It has considerably more detail than the Rice patent.

In February 1918 there was GB121848 was filed by William Ellis Pickford, a company director in Sheffield. It was for a "military tank" to be ridden by the child. Below is a view from above.

First page clipping of GB121848 (A)

Again in February 1918 there was Toy tank-car by Robert Potter Breese of New York City. It is illustrated below.

Next, on March 1918, there was Toy fighting-tank by Walter Huth of Chicago, IL. In it he mentions that it was made to "resemble the so-called tanks now in use by the British Army in France."The illustration below is from the patent.
In September 1918, a couple of months before the end of the war, was US1294237 by Edward Cloonan of St Louis, MO.

Further toy tank patents followed, for years all or most using the same general design of a vehicle with guns on the side instead of the now standard frontal view. A rare toy showing the general appearance of the now conventional tank dates backs to March 1919, by toolmaker William Osman of East Ham, as illustrated below. It is, apparently, based on the French Renault FT model.

First page clipping of GB142960 (A)

What impact did these militaristic toys have on the children, one wonders. It would have made them more interested in the military, as war-related toys and games generally flourished in World War I. 

13 January 2014

How precise should patent searches be ? Purring pillows

Before I retired, I interviewed or received instructions for numerous patent searches, and frequently the clients were unaware of what they actually wanted.

They might sound sure, but did that mean that they really understood what they needed ? They might ask for a search to see if an invention is patentable, but many do not understand what is essential to achieve that. They usually understand that it has to be new, but may focus on incidentals like saying that the search must be for a certain device which is "light, or portable" -- besides the fact that "light" can mean illumination as well as an absence of weight, it is what the device actually does that should be looked for. The general concept itself may not be of a patentable nature. Someone once asked me if making a known device much larger meant that a monopoly could be secured for just that -- I replied no, it's obvious and hence not permitted. He was amazed.

It is always recommended that someone thinking of applying for a patent consults a patent attorney -- and while some searching may be done before that visit, a search, if possible based on their recommendations, should be carried out after the consultation. There's no harm in the novice having a go so long as it's understood that not finding anything doesn't mean it's not in the patents, it may simply be hard to find.

Even then, the attorney is unlikely to be aware of the linguistic and classification challenges involved. Suppose an inventor says that the invention is for a purring pillow to encourage sleepiness. Can't it be any sort of animal noise ? Indeed, any method of generating sound using the outlined technology ? If a patent application says it's for pillows it means, even if the method is new, it is only protected for pillows. Could the search at least be extended to neck supports or soft toys, for example. In addition, it often turns out that the inventor just has the basic idea and doesn't know how to describe a working example -- in which case a patent is likely to be denied, or will be worthless.

Having said that, there would certainly be no harm in looking for purring pillows to show what sort of concepts were already out there and hence not patentable.

There is for example Purring pillow apparatus by Scott Flack of Illinois, published in 2003. Here is its main illustration.

There were three citations to it, where the examiner found previous patent specifications, including the delightfully titled Austrian specification Katzenschnurr Therapiegerat

Those citations can be found in the bibliographic format for this patent specification as "Cited documents" (on the left). This application, incidentally, did not progress beyond the published application stage as the only document listed is one starting with 2003 and not a document in say an 8 million number range -- prefixes using the year are applications, it's the other series which have enforceable patent rights in the USA.

In the same format there are three classifications. Only the "cooperative" class is a clickable link, H04R 5/023, which is for stereophonic arrangements for a chair or pillow. It's used by ticking the little box next to it, then (on left) "Find patents" (to find the 838 with that class) or, more usefully, "Copy to search form". This means that additional terms can be added -- such as, say "purring or cat? or animal? or feline" to the second box in the search mask, where both title and summary are searched. ? means that an extra letter, normally an s, can be searched for.

This gives a list of five hits, and at this stage I would study the wording used, to see if the strategy needs to be revised; look at the first description page, to see if it mentions previous work (this is common among private inventors and small companies); and again look at the citations. Any patent specifications I found relevant would have their star ticked to change from black to red so that they appear in the Patents list for more detailed study or listing later on.

These cooperative or CPC classes are not printed on the patent specifications (this is likely to change soon) and will be mainly Western inventions, while the other classes are printed there. CPC as in this case is often a more precise class than the "international" or IPC class, which can also be looked up in the CPC schedules, and is this case are:

H04R 1/02, transducer casings
H04R 5/02, constructional arrangements of loudspeakers
H04R 9/06, loudspeakers

It might be thought a good idea to combine one of those classes (in the IPC box on the search mask) with words such as pillow, cat, etc. Relying just on CPC means that huge amounts of Far East patent documents are not searched. It typically takes 6-12 months for English titles and/ or summaries to be included in the Espacenet database, which is a problem which in theory can be tackled using automatic translation patent databases.

Running a search may be quick, but a variety of searches, each improved or perhaps covering different aspects of the invention, need to be thought through and built. In my career as a patent searcher I never relied on free databases but rather used them as a useful starting point to get an idea of how much was likely to be found, to get a feel for wording that ought to be used, and (if little seemed to exist) to use citations to find older ("cited") or newer ("citing") patent documents referring to the one I knew about. Citations are particularly useful when it is hard to describe how an invention works, as the patent examiners have done much of the work for you. First, though, you have to find a relevant document.

Ideally, of course, the inventor would have been persuaded to augment the search for purring pillows by also searching for how the mechanism worked. Also, the inventor should assist the searcher by explaining terms likely to be used in the industry and hence in relevant patents. I was often struck by how often the novice would wave a piece of electrical apparatus around and say that he had improved it, only to admit he didn't know what it was called when I asked. If he didn't know, how was I supposed to know....

Is all of this easy, or quick ? I would respectfully say no on both counts. I vividly remember the son of a lady client coming in and, in her silent and rather horrified presence, angrily berating me for having the temerity to charge £137 for a search, as he said that patent searching wasn't "rocket science".

He was right. It's often far more complicated.

9 January 2014

Bizarre human powered flight patents

The dream of human powered flight has been around since Daedalus and Icarus tried it, and inventors have certainly tried to patent methods for flying using human muscle alone.

The earliest US patent on the topic is thought to be Delaware doctor Watson Fell Quinby who in 1867 patented his Flying apparatus, illustrated below.

Quinby proceeded to patent variations on the concept, with, in 1869, his Flying machine, illustrated below...

...and, in 1872, his Flying apparatus, as shown below. Quinby was also the author of Solomon's seal: a key to the pyramid (1880).

In 1889, there was Reuben Spalding of Colorado, with his Flying-machine, illustrated below. He explains that it was meant to provide a "simple, comparatively inexpensive, easily-operative, and efficient apparatus of this character."

.In 1970 there was the patent with the detailed title Fluttering wing aerial propelled apparatus suitable for carrying a man, illustrated below. The inventor was Alfred Ernst, writing from an Italian address.
For the UK, there is Susan Atkins, who in February 2013 had published her British patent application Human powered flying garment. It has an interesting description, stating that it is made to resemble a bat and has a wingspan of 13 feet, "made to measure its inventor". Despite this hint, I do not know if it's actually been tried out (the same goes for the previous patents). Helium-filled balloons are included to aid lift. Below is its main drawing.

Six patent specifications were listed by the patent examiner as being of some similarity.

So, is this old dream impossible ? Not so. In 1979 the English Channel was flown using muscle power alone, in the Gossamer Albatross, which won it the 2nd Kremer Prize for human-powered flight. An amateur cyclist managed it, flying at a top speed of 29 km per hour at a height of 1.5 metres above the waves. Taking off from the cliffs on the British side did help, but he still took 2 hours and 46 minutes. A patent for the aircraft was published as Lightweight aircraft by Dr Paul MacCready and others. The main drawing is given below.

This was a successor to his Gossamer Condor, which had already won the 1st Kremer Prize -- and was flown by the same intrepid cyclist, Bryan Allen. New and light man-made materials as well as clever design were essential.

Below is a video about the English Channel crossing of the Gossamer Albatross.

8 January 2014

The British registered design database: a critique

Registered designs (called design patents in the USA) can be a significant part of an innovator's arsenal if the looks, rather than the function, of an article is important. This post is an assessment of the free UK official online registered designs database.

It is not explained how far back the database goes, but there is certainly material as far back as 1984, and maximum protection is 25 years. Hence all currently protected designs ought to be on it. In 2012, 5,144 designs were registered, of which 3,797 were of UK origin. The numbers were about double that in 2002, when half were of foreign origin, but the EU designs at OHIM has had a big impact since then, as it offers an attractive alternative to using a national office.

Searches can be carried out by design number, by proprietor name; by classification; or by a combination of the last two.

Searching by number is easy (if you know it), as each seven digit number is unique (and none in the database have fewer digits). At present designs are in a 4 million range.

The results are 32 images appearing in a tile like pattern which is very useful for checking for similar images. This can be altered so that display is of up to 132 images. The US Patent Office's examiners uses this as a convenient way to scan for prior art. The UK gave up checking for novelty some years ago.

More recent registrations are usually photographs, often coloured, but earlier designs are often line drawings and are difficult to see on the screen. The design number and the first letters of the proprietor are also given. Here are examples.

Clicking on the image leads through to the results. See for example UK Design 3019248. I tried copying the data and sticking it into this post, but that was a failure.

The format is awkward to use, to put it mildly. Clicking on boxes opens data or images. It needs a complete overhaul to meet modern expectations, such as easy printing or downloading. Anyone needing to read or print off the full data should access the "View full Bibliography" page at top right. Fees are due every 5 years to keep the design in force, and data on payments plus address details are given. That format can indeed be printed, buit it lacks any image.

For images, "Best View" at top left is the representative image selected for the results list. The "Formal Rep" pages are the pages showing the design as sent in. Anyone wanting to print them has to save each page and print them individually, and had better keep good records, as none of the pages state that they are British registered designs. The number is stamped or written on the Formal Rep pages, admittedly, but a novice could easily think that that was a patent number as that's it: a number, nothing else. I'd like to see at least e.g. "UK registered design xxxxxxx" stamped on each page, but preferably the presence of a formal front page containing data and a main image, or even everything incorporated in one document as a PDF, such as US Design 696744.

Subject searching is not possible by the title of the design (why not ?) but only by clicking open and selecting classes in an enhanced version of the Locarno classification. The enhancements is the best part of the database. Locarno provides classes such as 14/02 (data processing equipment and peripherals) or 21/01 (games and toys). These are big classes, so the ability to add a third level is very useful. Hence 14/02 is subdivided into 15 classes, such as 14/02/02, input devices. Hence 21/01 is subdivided into about 100 classes, such as 21/01/04B, flat game boards for football and cricket.

However, many of these third level classes are described in such detail that the full title runs off the screen (21/01 has many examples). They are unusable since what they represent cannot be identified.

Turning to searching by name, individuals can only be searched by the surname. Knowing the first name is no use at all. You can combine a name search with a class search, but only down to e.g. 25/1 or 25/2 level, not just 25 level. Often you only need the approximate class area to reduce the results found.

In conclusion, the database is valuable but I would like to see some substantial changes to make it even better. These are:

(1) Providing "UK registered design xxxxxx" data stamped on the drawings.
(2) Changing the format of the individual results to ease printing and downloading.
(3) Enabling searching by title
(4) Enabling the full titles of all third level classes to be viewed
(5) Enabling combined proprietor and class searches to be down to e.g. Class 22 and not 22/01 level

7 January 2014

Google's driverless cars

Google has made a name for itself in driverless cars, and this is a list of the 10 PCT or "World Patent" applications [now 15, 5 Aug. 2014] by them which mention "autonomous" driving (they do not use the term "driverless" in their summaries). Seven were published in 2013 alone.

These include Vehicle control based on perception uncertainty, and below are two drawings taken from the equivalent US patent application. The first shows the way the software determines what to do, the second shows what the vehicle might look like if equipped with the sensing device.

Google are not the only company interested in the technology. A rather crude listing of 150 PCT patent applications in the B60 class, which is "vehicles in general", which include autonomous or driverless in the summary is listed here.

I still find it incredible that we might relatively soon have self-driving cars. A very informative article by Robert Calem called Driverless cars on the rise from the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show discusses the issues involved with such cars.

I also enjoyed the New Yorker article by Burkhard Bilger, Auto Correct: Has the self-driving car at last arrived ?

Below is a short video showing the Google car in action.

5 January 2014

Country shares in PCT patent publications, 2013 versus 2012

Using data for PCT patent publications (the so-called World Patent) in the free Espacenet database, I have made some calculations comparing countries for 2013 over 2012. For those new to patents, it customary to file abroad within 12 months of the domestic filing to gain foreign protection and all applications are published as 18 months from the first "priority" filing. The PCT enables a single document to be published rather than each office publishing its own version at 12 months.

In 2012 there were 178199 published patent specifications in the PCT system, while in 2013 there were 192620. This is an 8.0% increase.

This means that when comparing the numbers each country was responsible for, any gain under 8% is in fact a decline in "market share", as total numbers grew by that amount.

The national shares were worked out by asking the database for the number of Paris priority applications from that country (in the form of country codes such as GB for the UK) This is not quite the same as the nationality of the first named applicant (a common measure requiring the use of priced databases), and there will be some oddities, such as a Finnish applicant using a German priority, or a Hong Kong applicant using a UK priority. I expect that most countries' shares will not be substantially different, but suspect that Switzerland has probably suffered -- it had only 389 applications in 2013 in my calculations, when I would have expected it to be in the top ten applicants.

However, two related problems reduce the actual shares for each country.

It is possible to quote an EP priority to show that the first filing was not national but rather regional: the European Patent Office. In 2013 10328 applications gave that office as the priority and hence could not be allocated to a country. I expect that these were mostly EU nationals. There were 10409 in 2012.

Another is that the Geneva office that handles the PCT filings can itself be quoted as a priority, using the WO code. These numbered 21205 in 2013, and were 17852 in 2012. While many Western applicants do so, some Chinese applicants at least do so as well.

I am unclear of the impact of these EP and WO priorities, which if added together would reach third place in the list of countries applying for rights in the PCT.

The table below gives the top ten countries in 2013, and the percentage gain or loss in actual numbers (not in % of market share) over 2012.

2013 publications
2012 publications
% gain or loss
United States
United Kingdom
No change

Germany's decline in actual numbers surprised me, and may partly be accounted for by the use of EP priorities as the office is in Munich. India's figures hardly moved, while China's small gain in market share may be a signal that as some commentators suggest its years of spectacular growth are coming to an end (in 2011 its figures were 9878, in 2010 just 7051).

If we look at the three major blocs, the USA's numbers made up 33.0% of all published PCT specifications in 2012, and rose slightly to a share of 33.9% in 2013. Numbers for the Far East (Japan, China and Korea) data went up from 54452 in 2012 to 59775, a change from 30.6% to 31.0%. The EU countries in the table (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain) went from 29037 to 28243, a decline from 16.2% to 14.6%.

Of course another way to look at the data is to see how many applications were published per million population. Italy is only a little smaller than France or the UK yet has half the number of applications, for example. China has a population much larger than Korea or the UK yet its numbers do not (yet) reflect that disparity.

It could be argued that the PCT data reflects a country's interest in exporting its innovation. Countries that traditionally manufactured other countries' technology but that are shifting to innovating themselves will do well. Korea and China are examples.

In addition, if the principle that the claimed national priority is mostly the same as the actual country is not correct then the data itself is suspect and hence any conclusions.

The 2013 PCT Yearly Review gives a great deal of analysis for applications made (not published) in 2012.

3 January 2014

The patent for the Mills bomb

The Mills bomb was the first modern fragmentation grenade.

Earlier grenades used in World War I used a stick attached to the grenade, and often were caught in barbed wire when thrown, often with fatal results to the users. The Germans remained faithful to that type.

William Mills' invention was published as Improvements in, or relating to, grenades or other like apparatus. He described himself as an engineer at the Atlas Aluminium Works, Grove Street, Birmingham. That publication incorporated two filed inventions, 1915/02468 and 1915/03559, and refers to an earlier 1915/02111. That, dated 10 February 1915, had also been published, but the later specification is usually given the credit, although they do look rather similar. The American patent specification, filed in June 1915, was published as US1178092. Here is a page from its drawings.

It was a grooved cast iron “pineapple" with a central striker and close hand lever over it which was secured with a pin. It exploded four seconds after the pin was removed -- seven seconds had been found to be too long, giving time for the enemy to take cover or to even throw it back.

According to Mills' notes the casing was grooved to make it easier to grip, rather than to increase fragmentation. The grooves mean that when the grenade explodes, an increased number of fragments are produced. It was quickly adopted by the British Army as their standard hand grenade, although it was repeatedly modified. There is a Wikipedia article on the Mills bomb.

According to that article there was a patent dispute with a Belgian Captain, Leon Roland. This is presumably based on Roland's patent GB1913/18766, which is illustrated below.

According to Anthony Saunders' 2011 book Reinventing warfare 1914-18: novel munitions and tactics of trench warfare Mills did base his design on Roland's invention, but the crucial difference was that the Mills grenade worked and the Roland one did not.

Besides patenting in the USA and France, the 1915 invention was patented in Germany (as DE339387). It was filed there in September 1919, taking advantage of a dispensation for foreign patents having to be filed within the normally required 12 months of the original filing. The problems of World War I for intellectual property -- such as trying to patent in an enemy country -- were covered by the Berne Arrangement of 1920, and were presumably anticipated by Mills when he filed it.

Mills claimed to have lost money from his invention, which was manufactured by his own factory. He was awarded £27,750 by the government for the invention, and apparently tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid paying income tax on this sum.