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]


13 October 2016

Heath Robinson Museum

William Heath Robinson was a British artist who drew extraordinary machines, all from his imagination. He was the UK's Rube Goldberg.

A few years ago I visited Pinner in north London and saw an exhibition on his work. It was delightful. Now the same building, West House, is opening on the 15 October 2016 as a museum dedicated to him (as he had lived nearby) as the Heath Robinson Museum.

There is a detailed article on Heath Robinson from the BBC website. I was alerted to the museum by a clip on the BBC TV showing people who had invented silly ideas -- such as an ironing board which tilts so that the (hot !) iron slides back to you.

However, the clip was spoilt by the presenter at the end suggesting that people send their inventive ideas in to the BBC. When I worked as a librarian in the patents area, private inventors tended to fall into one of two groups: naive inventors, who happily told everyone about their ideas, and those who were so suspicious that while asking for help they refused to give even the slightest hint about what the invention was about, even though I offered them a non-disclosure agreement. Often the first group migrated to the second group after being stung by someone running off with their idea.

If you have what you believe to be a new idea and it appears to fall within the area of patentable inventions, do NOT post your ideas off to anyone without at the least serious undertakings by the other party, preferably together with a non-disclosure agreement signed by them.  Otherwise you are "disclosing" the idea which means that novelty is lost for the invention.

For example, even if a law court accepted that an organisation was looking at your ideas in confidence, explaining the ideas in for example in a film shown to others, or in a lecture, would disclose the ideas and make any patent application null and void. I lost count of the number of times I tried to explain this to the media, as did the Patent Office (now in the UK the Intellectual Property Office), but they never seemed to understand. Oddly enough, they were always fiercely protective of their own rights if you tried using their material elsewhere without permission.

My recommendation is always to take advice. In Europe, try your closest Patent Information Centre; in the USA, try your closest Patent and Trademark Resource Centre.

In cases where you want some help but for some reason a non-disclosure agreement is out of the question, is it possible to explain why you idea is good without explaining how it works ? For example, a well known product could be said to be a cheap but effective way of sealing up gaps in clothes together without using a zipper/ zip, and which is easy to use by those who cannot handle small objects. Hint: it begins with a V.