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]

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18 January 2015

Magic Leap and its augmented reality patents

Magic Leap is a Florida company, backed by Google, who have published some unusual patent applications about using googles to achieve a state of augmented reality, if not nirvana. They believe it is a wholly new approach.

I will admit that I had never heard of them when I accidentally came across a discussion of a brand-new patent application by them. It was from The Verge, and was titled See the beautiful, nightmarish patent illustrations for a Google-funded augmented reality device. They are indeed weird, and suggests that the invention is versatile in its use. It seems that you will always be in another reality -- a dystopia, perhaps, as the article comments. Commands can be found on your hand, or you can see data on your shopping cart. It seems it can do just about anything to entertain or instruct you. Here's one of the drawings.


And here's another.



The US patent application, US20150016777, was published on the 15 January 2015. Clicking on "Images" at the top of the link to Planar waveguide apparatus with diffraction element(s) and system employing same will take you to the full patent specification. It is 60 pages long, with the 14 claims to protection (which will be assessed by patent examiners) at the end. Interestingly, claims 15 to 27 are noted as "cancelled" and were not published.

That is from the official US Patent and Trademark Office website. I normally link to the Espacenet website, which links to patent documents from numerous countries, but at present the actual PDF is not available there.

On the same day was published the corresponding World or PCT patent application, WO2015006784 is available at the PCT's own site, PatentScope. It is an A2 document, which tells us that it was published without a search report listing relevant prior art that might mean it would not be allowed protection. An A1 would mean it is published with a search report. The A3 search report will at some stage be published on the website as an additional document.

These World or PCT search reports are more valuable than the US reports (which are anyway only published on the granted patents, not the applications), as they spell out which are cited as  X or Y documents (done before, or obvious improvements) against parts of the application.

WO2015006784 is a link to where the A3 will eventually be published on the Espacenet website.

This is a list of the (at the time of writing, six) US patent documents in the name of Magic Leap. All, at present, are only applications (you can tell as they are preceded with the year). Here's one illustration, from their System and method for augmented and virtual reality.


Rony Abovitz, the CEO, president and founder of the company, is named as an inventor on three of them. At present Espacenet lists 27 US patent records in Rony Abovitz' name. He is a busy man -- he has sold a company, MAKO Surgical, for $1.65 billion. He founded it in 2004. Business Inside UK has an interesting article on his life.

Google and other venture capitalists funded the company with $542 million in October 2014.

Apparently (I missed it) there was a lot of speculation about what Magic Leap were planning to do. An interesting article by Gizmodo is called How Magic Leap is secretly creating a new alternate reality, published in November 2014. Another, from YouRift, was published in December: Will Magic Leap kill the Oculus Rift ? This is a reference to a company in much the same field, Oculus VR. They were purchased by Facebook in March 2014 for $2 billion in cash and stock. Their are responsible for the World application Perception based predictive tracking for head mounted displays.

It remains to be seen if this invention will take off or if will turn out to be a damp squib, like Google Glass, which was recently taken off the market for more work. Augmented reality using goggles does seem to be the current fad.

Magic Leap has a company website. Their slogan is, It's time to bring magic back into the world, and they are currently looking for wizards to work for them.

16 January 2015

Young Enterprise and a trade fair at Kingston University

For the last few months I have been a mentor for Young Enterprise. School or university students try running a genuine if small business, with under £1000 in capital, and see how hard it is to run it, let alone to make a profit. They are lucky -- when I was at school there was never a chance to try what the real world was like.

The scheme I am involved in is with students from Kingston University: a "live business experience module", says the Start-up a Business website. The class is conducted by Dr Corrine Beaumont.

It's been an interesting, and novel, experience for me. There are about a dozen teams, with each person having a specific role. Mentors are assigned to each team, normally a business advisor of some sort. I think I'm the only retired one in the bunch.

We try to hint and make suggestions without telling the teams what to do. It's their business, after all, and the point is for them to learn for themselves what it's all about. Which is, there is a lot to keep in mind, a lot to do, and it's hard work to make money. Just choosing the products took many weeks of debate.

My most enjoyable experience so far was being part of a Dragons' Den scenario where several teams made a two minute pitch for (imaginary) funding, and three of us asked questions. As in interviewing, I'm sure it was more fun for us asking the questions than it was for them. It was good if it made them sweat !

Yesterday there was another interesting event. The teams paid £10 to set up a stall in a large hall at Kingston University. Having worked out what product to sell they would now advertise it, and in some cases have stock available. Here's a picture of the venue.


Most of those milling about were some of the 21,000 students, and some of the products were aimed at that market. To my surprise I happily spent two hours visiting all the stands and chatting to the teams, occasionally commenting on some aspect of what they were doing,

Here are some of the products, with a few more photos. Apologies for chopping some people's heads off !

The team that I mentor is called Complex Simplicity. Their product is Brace yourself, an undergarment for sporty young men to encourage good posture by tightly fastening across the chest. I tried it -- it certainly had a remarkable effect. Here's the team !


And here's me holding it. Sorry I'm not smiling. They anticipate selling it for about £20. It's black to appeal to its macho market.



Another team's product was the Rebrella, a poncho-like covering available in several designs and colours. The idea is that if it rains you slide it over a bag so that only the straps show. Simple but effective, and at just £3 I bought one for my wife. Here's Rebrella being talked about on the module blog site.

Then there was Beebra, a sports bra that comes in three sizes. Care was taken in the choice of fabric, and there is a zipped pouch so that keys and cards can safely be carried. Why aren't women's clothes designed with pockets ? Here are two of the team with the product.


Another product is Oliver George S.A., with an expensive "Kingston" wristwatch complete with a plush wooden box, the only product aimed at the luxury market. They have their own website.

Then there's Powerpal, a device sourced from China which uses solar power or overhead lights to power up mobile phones -- a charge provides enough power for eight cycles, so you can keep recharging it without access to the mains. Handy for hikers. Likely to be priced at about £40. Here it is.


The cheapest product on offer was Speacup Stickers, at £1.80, which are packets of labels to place on any sort of cup. When hot water is poured in, a message appears in seconds. Clever. Another product with their own website.

Then there is Touch, woollen gloves with a pouch for holding say an oyster card, and two fingernails showing free to enable using a phone and so on. Priced at £5. Perfect for using the bus on a cold winter's day.

The Uni Mug was aimed specifically at Kingston University students. An insulated drinks container, with a wraparound sheet in the university's blue and white colours. Here are two of the team.



There was also Ella, a support for a baby's head (£40), Veles, a "versatile sketchbook accessory" (great for artists, a nice assortment of differently-sized pouches), Imperial Inc, a range of numerous designs on white t-shirts (as shown on Twitter), and there were a few others which I regret I didn't note down.

Finally there was Zest, another drinks container. Inside the container is a perforated cylinder into which the users squashes fruit or vegetables. Water is poured in and the flavours gradually diffuse into the water. A neat idea. Priced at £15.


Of course I volunteered to be a mentor to help make a difference, but I've also found it an enriching experience for me. I love the positivity and enthusiasm. It almost makes me feel young again !

The teams varied in their approaches. Most use, or want to use, social media. I noticed that on a few stands it was not obvious when approaching what the product was, or the price (maybe that was the idea, to get you to ask). Some stands offered a discount on the day, or if two or three were bought. I liked that psychology, as everyone likes a bargain.

In theory the businesses are wound up at the end of March and the teams are assessed. If they want they can continue to run the business,

More power to Young Enterprise: I've always believed in learning by doing. I'm sure I would have enjoyed school more if it was more like life.

13 January 2015

National patent shares in major EU countries

This post examines the patent shares of five major EU countries from 1990 to 2014, using their publications in the PCT system. It is a follow-up to my Country shares in PCT patent applications, 2014 versus 2013 post, which I recommend should be read first. PCT stands for the Patent Cooperation Treaty, a world-wide agreement to simplify and cheapen patenting which countries can join (only residents or citizens of member states can use it).

I wanted to see how Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain did during this period. How had their numbers fared, by date-span or against each other ? Italy only joined the PCT in 1985 and Spain in 1989 and hence the data provided starts from 1990. I suspect that figures were low for these countries at least in the initial years due more to low interest or awareness of the opportunity, rather than necessarily to low innovation.

I found that during the 1980-84 period the three EU countries then in the PCT (Germany, France and the UK) together added up to 19.7% of all PCT total publications. Possibly this figure is boosted by the headquarters of the PCT being based locally, at WIPO in Geneva. The EU major countries' share rose to a high of 29.3% for the 1990-94 date-span but then declined, to just 13.6% in 2010-14. The Far East, and to some extent other countries, were fast increasing their numbers of applications, but the figures suggest that the EU is clearly in decline as a technological innovator. I am aware that EU countries such as Belgium and Sweden are missing but their inclusion would not significantly change the picture.

The first table gives the actual numbers of patent applications under the PCT within five-year date-spans from 1990 to 2014.

 

Germany

France

UK

Italy

Spain

Total

1990-94

14226

5570

12213

1441

351

33801

1995-99

34537

11429

19526

3454

1172

70118

2000-04

61807

19973

30108

6584

2278

120750

2005-09

71853

24358

28867

9493

4278

138849

2010-14

68888

28329

25535

11104

5657

139513


While this is of interest more analysis is needed.

The second table gives the national percentage of share of the major country EU total by date-span. This makes it clear that Germany has been the EU's powerhouse of innovation as well as of industry, and makes it clearer that the UK's performance has disastrously declined. Its "market share" has almost halved over the period. Italy and Spain greatly improved their figures, admittedly from a low base.

 

Germany

France

UK

Italy

Spain

1990-94

42.0%

16.4%

36.1%

4.2%

1.0%

1995-99

49.2%

16.2%

27.8%

4.9%

1.6%

2000-04

51.1%

16.5%

24.9%

5.4%

1.8%

2005-09

51.7%

17.5%

20.7%

6.8%

3.0%

2010-14

49.3%

20.3%

18.3%

7.9%

4.0%


The third table shows in a different wayt how each country has fared using 1990-94 as a baseline. Each country starts at 100 for that period, and if the number of patent applications goes up by say 20% that changes the country's number to 120.

 

Germany

France

UK

Italy

Spain

1995-99

242

205

159

239

333

2000-04

434

358

246

456

649

2005-10

505

437

236

658

1218

2010-14

484

508

209

770

1611


It dramatically shows Spain's rise (from a low base) but caution is needed as it may merely reflect more use of the PCT by Spanish patent attorneys rather than a rise in innovation. This is where looking at applications through the national and European Patent Convention routes may help.

The population size is important, of course. A country may be particularly large or small. The fourth and final table is in some ways the most revealing. For each nation, it shows the population and on the next line the ratio of PCT patent applications for 1990-94, 2000-04 and 2010-14. A figure of 2500 would mean that there was one application per 2500 people. The lower the figure the more innovative the population. Population statistics (for 1990, 2000 and 2010) are taken from the Geohive site.

 

Germany

France

UK

Italy

Spain

1990-94

80.4 M

56.8 M

57.2 M

56.8 M

38.8 M

 

1 to 5651

1 to 10197

1 to 4683

1 to 39417

1 to 110541

2000-04

83.5 M

59.2 M

58.9 M

56.9 M

40.2 M

 

1 to 1350

1 to 2964

1 to 1956

1 to 8642

1 to 17647

2010-14

83.0 M

63.2 M

62.0 M

60.5 M

46.1 M

 

1 to 1204

1 to 2230

1 to 2428

1 to 5448

1 to 8149


7 January 2015

Protheses patents in and after World War I

One result of the tragic loss of limbs during World War I was a huge increase in the number of patents for protheses -- artificial limbs.

This can be tracked by using the free Espacenet database. Its classification schedules can be searched to identify A61F2 as the patent class for protheses. This can be used in the Advanced search as the CPC class and combined with e.g. publication years 1911-13 (expressed as 1911:1913) and with national country codes (GB, United Kingdom; US, United States; FR, France; and DE, Germany). It does rely on both coverage of patents during the period by indexers, and on accurate usage of the classes. It also includes applications made by foreign residents. As countries took different attitudes to assessing novelty other discrepancies turn up although they are not obvious. Some patents which are clearly not relevant are included as they were misclassified.

I analysed the publication years 1911-22 by those four countries and assembled the following table. As some applicants applied for patents in foreign countries there is some overlap. The numbers of patent documents are clickable links to get to the lists (which are in order of "priority", the original filing) and from them to the actual patents ("original documents").

 

UK

USA

France

Germany

1911-13

 8

 61

 4

0

1914-16

 22

 61

 25

0

1917-19

 195

 115

 154

9 

1920-22

 117 

 116

 166

215


German patents were apparently not indexed by the CPC for much of our period, hence their absence for most of World War I.

The steep rise in patents clearly reflects concern, often by private inventors, about the subject. France and the UK had many more maimed soldiers than the USA, hence presumably the much bigger jumps in numbers.

It is also interesting how many Austrians and Germans were attempting to protect their inventions in foreign countries even during the war. The database's priority field can be used to ask for the original country, although it cannot be relied on. This is a list of the 22 German priority filings in the UK during 1911-1922, and of the 4 Austrian priority filings in the UK. Coded respectively as DE and AT. In theory as enemy aliens they would have been refused granted British patents. They do provide a translation of the concept, of course.

One thing we can't do, without a knowledge of the field, is to identify key patents. Similarly, only those familiar with the field can identify important inventors. Kim Norton's A brief history of prosthetics says that no major developments occurred in the field in World War I.

It also mentions Marcel Desoutter, a British aviator who lost a leg below the knee in a flying accident in 1913. Apparently he developed with the help of his brother Charles, an engineer, the first aluminium prothesis (this made it half the weight of a wooden leg). The database credits in our period Charles, alone, with three British patents, two of which were patented also in France and the USA. Here is the list. Desoutter continues to be an important British engineering company, mainly in tools. Below is one of the drawings.



Below is a drawing of an artificial hand from a patent by three Americans, US1380835.


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.