I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


27 November 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.