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]


5 January 2015

Patents for the windproof umbrella

Many like me have been infuriated by umbrellas that were ruined by being turned inside out. How do you invent an umbrella that shields the user from rain while not inviting the rain to destroy it ? This is a fascinating technical problem.

I am indebted to William Davis for an interesting post on the British Library innovation and enterprise blog on the Senz XL storm-proof umbrella, an idea which was new to me.

Gerrit Hoogendoorn was a Dutch engineering student, later an industrial designer, who had had three umbrellas broken in a week. There had to be a better way, he thought (often the origin of inventions), and he set out to invent a solution.

Normal umbrellas are round, or close to that shape, but Hoogendoorn came up with an asymmetrical shape, more like a wing. This apparently is windproof.

In 2006 his Canopy device was published as an international patent application, as illustrated below.

Like all good inventors he thought of improvements, and in 2013 another international patent application, Parasol with asymetrical canopy, was published. Below is its main drawing.

What is interesting, for those who want to know about forerunners, is the list of patents cited as relevant for them. For the 2006 invention, here are the citations, while for the 2013 improvement, here is another list. The oldest is from 1910.

The 2013 document has no fewer than 11 CPC classes assigned to it to describe its technical features. One of these is A45B25/22, Devices for increasing the resistance of umbrellas to wind. This is a list of the international (PCT) applications published on the subject, which numbered 52 at the time of writing.

Hoogendoorn did not neglect the look. While it could be argued that the look and the function were closely linked, he managed to register (at the time of writing) three US Design patents, This is a list of the designs by his company, Senz Technologies, in the EU.

The third main aspect of intellectual property, after function and look, is the name or logo. Senz is the trademarked name, as recorded by OHIM, and applied for in 2006. I would have chosen a name that hinted at its properties, but then the problem is always, which language.

The rather bland Senz website lists stormproof umbrellas and does not tell the story behind them -- I suspect buyers would enjoy a bit of razmatazz. It has won awards -- why isn't this mentioned ? Davis' post says it was launched in 2006, selling the initial 10,000 umbrellas in nine days, and his umbrella is still intact after six years. It looks like this particular technical problem has been solved !

I finish with a charming three minute video showing umbrellas being wind tested, and even tried out in a skydive.

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