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]


22 July 2014

Vigoro, a hybrid sport

The BBC website has a story titled Vigoro: the Edwardian attempt to merge tennis and cricket. It is an entertaining account of a hybrid sport invented by John George Grant, a London commercial traveller, who even took out a trade mark for it. It is rather like playing cricket with a racket. The sport continues to be played in Australia, mainly by women. There is a Wikipedia article on Vigoro. Below is a video showing the sport being played.

I can add that George took out a British patent for the sport by applying in 1901 for his Improved game for affording recreative exercise with bat and ball. One feature that appears to have been dropped was the need to "defend a netted structure" as shown in the patent drawing given below. The batter, incidentally, is described as a "striker".

The inventors are given as John George Grant, commercial traveller, of 36 Savernake Road, Hampstead, and William Saunders Edwards, net manufacturer, of "Thornleigh", Bridport, Dorset.

Grant also had a later patent, GB 1909/02717, for bats, but this while published was not granted protection. Its drawings are given below.

Hybrid games were popular in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. There is for example US442438 by Edward Horsman Jr. of Brooklyn, applied for in 1890, "Parlor tennis". It is for playing tiddlywinks on a miniature tennis court. The delightful drawing is shown below.

20 July 2014

The XHhose®: no more kinks !

I don't normally watch shopping channels, but this morning saw the XHose® on one of those irritating, fast speaking shows that repeatedly tells you the same facts.

It is a garden hose which has no kinks as it work on a new principle. There is an inner hose and the outer hose has expandable material ("non elastic, soft tubular webbing" such as nylon). The pressure of the water in the inner hose causes the outer hose to expand both outwards and lengthways so that it grows to three times its length (says the TV), or six times (says the patents). It is also very light -- just over a pound in weight.

It is the invention of Michael Berardi, who thought of the idea while working out in the gym back home in Florida. While using an "elastic resistance tube", whatever that is, he wondered what would happen if you ran water through it.

In 2011 he filed for what became four US granted patents. Here is a drawing from one of them, US8291941.

Patents have been filed in numerous countries. Blue Gentian LLC is the company that has applied for the US patents and for the US trade mark, but in Europe the owner is F. Mishan and Sons, a New York company.

There is a video available from this site where Berardi is interviewed,which claims that in a year 25 million hoses were sold at a value of $500 million. He began experimenting in his house and in his backyard. In March 2012 the first commercials appeared on "direct response TV", and there was a huge response. Things looked good. Then his wife saw a similar commercial for a very similar product by a large company. She told him not to look, which of course meant he had to look. They were both shocked.

Berardi says that there are imitations by many companies available for sale, and it makes him feel ill and angry. Once his first patent was granted, in October 2012, he began filing patent infringement suits.

British firm Wilson Gunn explains that they successfully took a company, Tristar, to court over an infringement of the UK patent owned by Blue Gentian. The court case can be seen here. It shows that the owner of the European trade mark, Mishan, is working with Blue Gentian, which cleared up for me a small mystery.

Telebrands is being taken to court in the USA.

What I'd have liked to know was how the whole enterprise was financed as, when I had one hours talks with inventors in my British Library job, how to finance and manufacture the product was a big problem to resolve.

Below is an enthusiastic video about the product.

11 July 2014

Statistics for academic institution patents

There is much interest in statistical analysis of patenting trends by academic institutions (where they are an applicant), but there are problems in gathering the data.

Their names vary -- university, college, institute, school, and so on, besides foreign language equivalents. Many terms could mean something else, as in institute. Also, in the UK, there are at least two major players which do not use any of these terms -- Isis Innovation (for Oxford University) and Imperial Innovations (for Imperial College). There is also the complicating fact that some institutions license their innovation to companies such as BTG, sometimes before any patent application is actually published, or between the application's publication and the grant.

These factors make it hard to get true figures.

There is a very useful survey on pages 16-28 of the PCT Yearly Review 2014 of how universities and public sector organizations use the PCT system. The PCT, or Patent Cooperation Treaty, offers a way to simplify, cheapen and delay expenditure when an applicant wishes to secure protection in foreign countries. Instead of applying to many countries for foreign protection within the permitted 12 month period after the initial filing, a single application is made to WIPO in Geneva and a single document is published 18 months after the initial filing (coded as WO among patent documents). A search report listing relevant prior art is either included with the publication (in which case it is coded A1) or follows later (in which case the A3 search report supplements the already published A2).

Only after the A1 or A2 is published do requests come to the applicants from member states of the PCT listed on the application asking if the applicant wants to go ahead with requesting an examination to decide if a patent can be granted. If relevant a translation into an acceptable language is requested. Each country or regional system then decides individually whether or not to accept the application. All this means that in cases where the applicant wants to withdraw because the invention does not seem to be new, or there is a lack of finance, or the market is not perceived to be adequate, the applicant can withdraw and save the cost of translations and other costs.

The survey states that nearly 7.5% of all received applications through the PCT in 2013 were from academic institutions. While traditionally these were largely from America or Europe, Asia was catching up fast.

The survey goes on to say that only 4% of German or Italian academic institutions patent in their own name,
12% in France, 20% in The Netherlands, 32% in the UK, and 53% in Spain. The source quoted is from a 2011 paper in Research Policy, 40(1), 148-164, The European university landscape. An abstract and an opportunity to purchase the paper is at the ScienceDirect website.

The survey tends to distinguish between university and public research organizations (PROs) in its figures and pie graphs, giving numerous facts and analysis. The survey says that its use of "filed" really means published -- confusing !

Allowing for the factors mentioned above, in 2013 universities published through the PCT published 9,804 applications, and PROs 4.411. Both were increasing more rapidly than the private sector, especially universities. They are becoming more aware of the potential value of their inventions.

On pages 22-24 there is discussion of co-applicants, where more than one applicant is named on an application. Typically this is when some sort of collaboration occurs, either in the actual research or in financing (or both). During 2011-13 13.7% of published PCT applications had co-applicants. This was 16% for universities and 19% for PROs.

Page 25 gives the top five university applicants from each continent and the continent's figures as a whole for 2005-13. Of the total of 28,153, 11,823 were from North America. 9,065 were from Asia. 6,421 were from Europe, including Isis Innovations and Imperial Innovations, which are known as surrogates for Oxford University and Imperial College. A similar table for PROs is on page 27.

There is also analysis by technical field. It confirmed my impression that academic patenting is biased towards biology and chemistry.

All in all, a very useful survey. All of this comes down to technology transfer as any exploitation of the value of the patents is done by licensing out, selling or spinning off companies. There is much research into this topic, such as the 2013 book by the OECD, Commercalising public research: new trends and strategies.

20 June 2014

Putting pillows in their pillowcases

Putting pillows in pillowcases may not seem much of a problem, but if you cannot use your arms properly it can be a genuine difficulty.

Birmingham, UK resident Dave Northcote has come up with a solution, tells free newspaper Metro in its 19 June edition. Basically, it's a curved tray which is covered by the pillow so that the pillowcase goes over it, when the tray is removed. The drawings imply that it is deformable but the description didn't seem to mention that (I found it hard going).

There is a granted UK patent for it, dated April 2014, but I link to the published British application, as page 12 lists several previous patent specifications which have a certain similarity. In recent years these search reports have become more detailed, helping anyone looking for related prior art to get a feel for what other solutions are about. The publication is Device for placing a pillow in a pillowcase, and those citations can be seen by going to the cited patents listing for it. Below is the main drawing.

Mr Northcote is 68 years old, and had thought of the idea when having problems when recovering from an operation. He has tried several major stores, but all have rejected it.

He has spent £55,000 on "prototypes, patents, design rights, a registered trademark and materials", says the article. This sounds rather a lot to me, as design rights, a short-term version of copyright on the appearance of things, are free and merely have to be asserted, and a UK trade mark costs just £170 in official fees. I checked, and while Pillow Tray was rejected, zoox was accepted and is indeed a registered trade mark. I can't say I find it that exciting a trade mark.

When I worked at the British Library I, like my colleagues, always suggested using a patent attorney. The attorney listed on the patent is Swindell & Pearson, of Derby. We also suggested working on a business plan to work out strategy and how much expenditure, and hopefully income, was expected.

"Once you've started, you're committed to carrying on", Mr Northcote is quoted, continuing "We're living on our uppers but we are happy as pigs in muck because we have the patent and I have a lot of faith in this." It will cost £15, presumably as a recommended retail price.

I have many inventors and nearly all will say, as money gets spent and problems seem insurmountable, that they want to keep on spending time and money on it. It becomes, truly, an addiction. It is like someone spending £10 a week he can't afford on a gambling habit being advised to stop -- he won't lose any more money, but he also loses the chance of a big win. So he goes on gambling.

Of course, all inventors will claim that their invention is both unique and valuable. Mr Northcote in the article compares it with Cat's Eyes, where reflecting studs encased in hardened rubber, set at intervals along the middle of roads, help illuminate the road at night as they reflect car headlights.

There is supposed to be a website for zoox but it gave me an error message when I tried to load it.

18 June 2014

Frankie Zapata's Hoverboard by ZR: the patent

Frankie Zapata and his new aquatic hoverboard are taking the sporting world by storm. Yet another variation means his Hoverboard by ZR. An obvious reference to Back to the Future antics ! The product does not disappoint, either, in that respect.

Zapata, a French jet ski (or waterski, depends on the web page !) champion, had already come up with the Flyboard, which was launched in 2011. Swimmers were sent skywards by a jet of water from a pack on their back.

Now a jet ski or similar is 18 metres behind the board, connected by a hose that couples under the board. This supplies the force so that the rider of the hoverboard can safely (for the jet ski driver) soar up to 10 metres upwards, propelled by a powerful jet. It won't be cheap -- about $6000 plus the cost of the jet ski. Here is the main drawing from the US patent, Device and system for propelling a passenger...

...and here is a video showing the incredible tricks that can be done. Will this become an Olympic sport someday ? Certainly it qualifies as an extreme sport.

Yet another variation on the surfboard concept. So many twists have been done, mainly from Californians. Not in this case.

There is also a Maneuvering and stability control system for jet-pack patent application.

The official web site warns of heavy usage so pages may be difficult to load.

14 June 2014

Finding Tesla's electric car patents

Tesla has apparently decided to make its electric car patents available to use to encourage development in the technology. This is according to the BBC story Tesla confirms plans to open up electric car patents, which linked to a blog post from the Tesla website with the ungrammatical title All our patent are belong to you.

This is potentially exciting as I regard electric car technology as very important. It means that the fuel doesn't have to be petroleum, and results in quiet cars, which would greatly improve the quality of life in urban areas and for those living near highways.

Let's look at Tesla's patent specifications. It has 373 US patent applications, where an attempt has been made to secure a patent, and 168 granted US patents. Of these, 76 and 21 respectively were published in 2013-2014. There are also 8 US design patents, for the look rather than function in the listed utility patents, (the list is from Google Patents). For example, D683268:

These utility patents include Dual mode range extended electric vehicle;and Charge state indicator for an electric vehicle, which is illustrated below.

So why do it ? If Tesla can expand the market for electric cars there will be more charging stations and hence more people will be tempted to buy one. Also, inventions based on Tesla's work will presumably be compatible and hence can be incorporated into future work by Tesla.

5 June 2014

Football trade marks

With the World Cup almost here, let's look at some football (soccer) trade marks from the European Community trade marks database, e-Search.

They always say you should start at the beginning. Some years ago I heard a talk by someone about Sheffield FC, a club which started in 1857 as the first football club ever. My question is, who could they play against ? Here is their rather magnificent trade mark, applied for as 008592339 (with a much clearer image) by the awkwardly named "1857 Sheffield F.C. the World's First Football Club Ltd." for numerous classes of goods.

Then there was the first World Cup tournament, which was won by Uruguay in 1930 (they also won in 1950). A good quiz question: how many South American countries have won the World Cup ? Those who know little of football assume it's two, but Argentina in 1930 and Brazil in 1950 lost the finals.

The image below is presumably from a contemporary poster. It was applied for by FIFA in 2006 as 0896057.

In 1938 Italy beat Hungary 4-2 in the 3rd tournament. Here is another poster by FIFA marking the tournament. A better image can be seen at 00896056.

The 2006 tournament was held in Germany. Very different artwork was used for the following image, which was in fact withdrawn and was not registered. A better image can be seen at 002741296.

Turning to this current tournament, here are two trade marks by FIFA, 009283921...

...and 011529311.

In 2013 FIFA applied for an image of the Jules Rimet Cup itself, 012100125.

Of course it's not all about the World Cup. I have only posted on the trade marks of one football club, and it was Manchester City, in January, who are now England's champions.

Coming second, after looking like about to win it, were Liverpool, with this impressive trade mark, 002695146.

Manchester United, who have won so many championships, were not a contender this season. 000761312.

There are often in fact multiple registrations covering variants or different activities. And in case anyone is wondering, Football World Cup has been registered by FIFA as 006939298 for numerous classes.

4 June 2014

Jyrobike: the stable bicycle for beginners

I have just watched a BBC piece on the Jyrobike, a stable bicycle for beginners. It uses a gyroscopic effect to ensure that the bicycle corrects any tendency to topple over. A flywheel within the front wheel spins faster than the front wheel, providing an effect which keeps the front wheel stable if it has a tendency to topple over.

The Wikipedia article on the Jyrobike explains that it came out of a graduate project at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, between 2004 and 2007. Unusually, of the four students, three were women. In 2010 fellow Dartmouth student Daniella Reichstetter licensed the technology and set up a company called Gyrobike. Once attached, their Gyrowheel changed a bicycle into a Gyrobike. This apparently caused confusion, as the company didn't make actual bicycles. Thousands of the hubs were sold.

Further confusion may have been caused when in 2013 Robert Bodill, an Australian entrepreneur based in the UK, acquired the rights (see the Thayer press release) and renamed the company Jyrobike. The official Jyrobike website says it is asking for funds on Kickstarter. Over $33,000 has so far been raised in its goal of $100,000 says their Kickstarter page, which includes a video.

So far a US patent has been granted, US7314225, as long ago as 2008, System for providing gyroscopic stablilization to a two-wheeled vehicle. Notice the use of "vehicle" rather than "bicycle". Here is the main drawing.

The control hub is shown in the drawing below.

A European patent is awaiting grant as examination is underway. The European Register documents for EP1907270 show that in March 2014 the applicant's name and address was given as Gyrobike Ltd. in London, England rather than Gyro-Precession Stability LLC, the name used on the published US grant. The confusion over Gyrobike and Jyrobike is, I suggest, unfortunate. Gyrobike is registered as a US trade mark but Jyrobike is not even pending, according to valuable free database tmQuest. Jyrobike is pending registration in the European trade mark system.

It is possible that a US patent from 1981, Powercycle, is causing problems for the European grant as a source of prior art. That in turn has been cited by 18 documents which are for similar technology by other published inventions.

28 May 2014

Amazon and patents

I've just finished reading Brad Stone's book The everything store: Jeff Bezos and the age of Amazon. If you are interested in how businesses are created and change, and the Web, then this is the book for you.

It emphasized for me how Amazon is so good at grinding costs down in every conceivable way, and deliberately offering promotions which lose it money, in order to build up market share. This is a very Japanese idea, by the way, increasing market share (although when Japanese banks tried applying it to loans they soon built up big books of risky loans). Nice for customers -- not so good for others trying to compete. What will happen if Amazon becomes the last one standing as a retailer ?

Amazon has vast numbers of patents. The company has over 1600 granted US patents, with 221 so far this year -- more than one a day. Some are about the details of how the stock is handled at the fulfilment centres (warehouses), such as Filling an order at an inventory pier, illustrated below, and

Replenishing a retail facility, illustrated below.

The book also talks of the way multiple vendors would be offering items on the Amazon website -- so that the company makes a percentage on vendors who are shipping the items themselves. Out of curiosity, I made a list of the 38 US patents by Amazon which had the word "multiple", and it's quite a mixture, with many involving software algorithms. As Stone says, Amazon is in many ways more a technology company than a retailer.

I would have liked it if Stone had gone into more details about the company's turnover, profits and taxes. Especially its arrangements and efforts to avoid paying sales tax in American states, and tax in European countries, channelling income through low-tax Luxembourg. Also more on compensation for the fulfilment centre workers.

I have only bought books from Amazon -- and now try to avoid doing so if possible.

13 May 2014

The Spanish-American War in US design patents

American design patents can be a valuable source of images for studying social history, but are little used. Here is an example: reactions to the Spanish-American War. They may not be typical, of course, as the number is small. Nor does the issuing of a design patent mean that the item was actually manufactured.

There is no doubt that there are numerous souvenir, commemorative or patriotic pins, badges, etc. in the American design patents, and how to find them is explained at the end of this post. The British registered designs, the same sort of right for the look of a design, are not online for historical material, and do not cover such subjects. They also lack explanatory text which could be searched in this way.

The background to the Spanish-American War is that Cuba, a Spanish colony, was fighting a war for independence from Spain. The American battleship Maine was moored in Havana harbour when, on the 15 February 1898, she blew up with the tragic loss of 266 sailors. Sabotage, screamed many American newspapers (although the evidence is inconclusive), which whipped up patriotic enthusiasm which led to war being declared (by the Spanish) in April 1898. The fighting was mainly in Cuba and the Philippines, and ended swiftly, in August 1898.

What follows is a list of the design patents that I have identified as being relevant, in order of being filed at the US Patent Office. Some of the images are attractive; others are dull.

In fact before the war those wishing to express pro-Cuban sympathies were assisted by Henry Caldwell of Hartwell, OH with his "Badge", D27621, filed 30 January 1897. It shows the Cuban colours and is meant to "indicate sympathy with the cause of Cuba", says the patent.

On the 2 April 1898 Willis Hart of Unionville, CT filed for D28629, "Spoon". It shows the Maine and its commander, Captain Charles Sigsbee.

On the 25 April 1898 Julius Becker of New York City filed for D28787, "Pipe", in the appearance of the Maine.

On the 26 May 1898 Charles Bailey of Cromwell, CT filed for D29049, "Toy bank". Again in the guise of the Maine. Bailey had numerous Design Patents to his name.

On the 16 June 1898 William Smith of Philadelphia, PA filed for "Woven fabric", again showing the Maine.

On the 18 June 1898 Amos Standing of St Louis, MO filed for "Game device". I strongly suspect that this is for a game based on the Battle of Manila Bay on the 1 May 1898, when Commodore Dewey's ships defeated the Spanish.

On the 28 August 1898 John Croskey of Dunkirk, IN filed for D29364, "Pitcher". The text explains that it commemorates the Battle of Manila, artillery, the flags of Cuba and the USA, and "the United States Admiral".

On the 28 September 1898 Frank Zecher of Lancaster, PA filed for D29686, "Toy bank", again as the Maine.

On the 29 September 1898 Conrad Stein of Bridgeport, CT filed for D29649, "Game board". The text says that the Spanish and American flags are above the forts.

On the 30 September 1898 William Brown of New York City filed for D29661, "Spoon". The text explains that it commemorates Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders volunteers, who fought in Cuba.

On the 6 October 1898 Charles Bailey of Cromwell, CT filed for D29687, "Toy money bank" -- almost inevitably, as the Maine. On the 26 May he had already filed for an earlier version.

On the 27 October 1898 Ole Prestholdt of Clarkfield, MN filed for D29812, "Medal or similar article". The text explains that Uncle Sam, while feeding chickens, is shooting a hawk that represents Spain while in the background is yes, the Maine. On the other side are images of notable Americans such as President McKinley.

On the 21 January 1899 Josephine Altshuler of New Whatcom, WA filed for D30210, "Game board". The big map is Cuba, the small map Manila Bay.

On the 11 April 1899 Morrison Swan of Manilla, IA filed for D30714, "Breastpin". It shows Dewey.

There is then quite a gap until the 8 July 1899, when Charles Kaiser of Rockport, IN filed for D31313, "chair seat and back". It shows President McKinley and the wrecked Maine. I wonder if the inventor considered if it was polite to sit on an image of the wrecked ship.

On the 11 July 1899 August Grametbaur of New York City filed for D31434, "Plate". Dewey is in the middle, surrounded by his leading naval officers.

On the 30 August 1899 Warren Greveling of New York City filed for D32001, "Lamp body". It shows Dewey.

Finally, on the 8 March 1900 Anson Bacon of Halliwell, ME filed for D32728, "Pencil". It shows Dewey.

The slogan "Remember the Maine" only turned up once -- as an example of what could be used in setting up type, in "Printing form". Filed on the 7 July 1898, it was published as utility patent 626649.

I found the designs on Google Patents Advanced by specifying a time period and designs and then searching the accompanying explanatory text for each design by keywords such as Dewey, Cuba, etc. The database seems to contain a full set of design numbers for showing PNG images of the drawing pages, but as the remainder is scanned content it is likely that some material has been missed. Of course, if no keywords were mentioned then relevant Design Patents won't turn up. There is a classification scheme, but this would simply define badges, pins, flags and so on.

A specific design can be found on that database by asking for e.g, D27621.