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]


3 March 2014

Clear Notes® on Dragons’ Den

Last night Clear Notes®, a stationery product, was promoted on BBC2's Dragons’ Den by John MacLeod. UK residents can see it for a week (only) at this site.

It was an intriguing product: a transparent sticky label where the ink could be wiped off for reuse. ThePost It® semi-sticky label has been around since the Boise Blitz of 1978 publicised it, and was published as US 3691140. Could this be the next step forward ?

MacLeod made his pitch. As he spoke, I made notes, but failed to notice the name of his company. As it emerged that he hadn't actually made any sales -- just a promise of being in a stationery catalogue in November 2014 -- I saw the packaging and, while still watching, began my research on Web databases.

It was mentioned that the name had been trade marked, while a British patent was pending. I used the British official trade mark database to find that Clear Notes had been registered as UK00002612356 in July 2012 in Class 16, for stationery, by Lux Creations Limited. Trade marks are registered for one or more classes of services or goods to allow a trade mark to be used in different activities, provided no confusion is likely to arise among consumers. To provide extra clarification the nature of the goods must be spelt out. 

The same database also has European trade marks, as these are also valid for the UK, and I consider the company lucky that its application was apparently not objected to by Taiwan Hopax Chemicals, the owner of EU002156050, for Clearnote. It was registered in 2002, also for Class 16, including "self-adhesive labels". While not 100% identical it would be, I believe, easy to confuse the two.

I next turned to the search engine on the UK IPO website. In most countries patent specifications are totally secret until they are published, which is 18 months from application. In the UK a title and the name of the applicant are disclosed a few weeks after application, and I was hoping to find this, so that I could determine roughly when the details would be available. The search engine searches, among other things, the Official Journal (Patents) which records such data on a weekly basis. I could have confined my search just to the Journal by using a searchable format (but be careful to adjust the default date ranges). This has the advantage of highlighting the requested words in yellow. 

There were four patent applications for "Lux Creations", one a refiling of an earlier one, as shown in the results (shown here from the searchable journal format). Note the different title information, and the note also that the company is sometimes not given by small companies, as the application might have been initially in the name of the inventor. If I hadn't found hits by using the company name I would have tried John MacLeod's name. 

The patent specifications ought to be published 18 months from the earliest date given in the entry. Apparently new filings sometimes are amended applications, with additional matter, with the original application abandoned. 

I next turned to the free Espacenet database, and found a British patent application in the name of Lux Creations, Note pad formed of removable transparent sheets. It was based on two of those applications and was published as long ago as March 2013. 

I next turned to the search report at the end of that specification. Unlike US patent applications, a list of relevant "prior art" is listed there. In this case, there were 6 patents listed as "X" for claims 1-18. That is, every part of the claimed technology had been anticipated by those six patents. They can be looked at by using the "Cited patents" tab at the left hand side, or can be seen here. Top of the list is one by the same Taiwan Hopax Chemicals who had the European trade mark Clearmark. This is their Transparent plastic writing sheet. The mention of "pending" on the showwas a little vague: I had thought that nothing was published, when in fact there was a 9 month old, rather damning report suggesting the concept was not new. 

With the patent application number, GB2494982, it is then possible to search the UK IPO's Ipsum database (which is only searchable by number). The results may not look interesting but by clicking on "Documents" at top right a list of correspondence becomes available. The September 2013 item is a letter from the IPO saying that substantive examination -- asking for the Patent Office to use the search report to determine if they think it ought to be granted -- had not yet been requested. It explained that the application would be regarded as abandoned if a request had not been received within two months of the 27 September 2013. Yet the initial record simply says status is "awaiting first examination". I'd expect it to say it was not valid. Filming of the show presumably does occur some months before the transmission date, so "pending" would have been correct, though questions on the show about the search report would have been useful. 

The next step would be to consider the possibility that the later patent filings might be published and considered in their turn. If nothing else, this little case study shows how complicated it can be to find data. Not everything is on the Internet, and it's often near impossible for novices to find things in some cases -- let alone interpret correctly what has been found. 

The dragons decided not to invest. They thought it was overvalued (MacLeod wanted £50,000 in return for 10% of the equity, and so was valuing it at £500,000), and they were doubtful if the concept could be patented. 

Yes, it could, the problem actually being that others seem to have got there first.  

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