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]


28 October 2013

The patents of Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori (1870-1952), the famous Italian educational reformer, had a number of patents for inventions for teaching aids. Although her two American patents have been noted elsewhere, I don't think her eight British patents have been listed. All are available for free online.

Her first application for a patent was in 1908 and was patented in France, Switzerland, Austria and in the USA as US 1103369, Educational device. It was to help children to write.

Her second American patent was applied for in 1913 as US 1173298, Cut-out geometrical figure for didactical purpose. It was a method of teaching geometry.

In Britain, she had patented her first of the eight patents with GB 1912/6706, Apparatus for use in teaching children. That link includes the amended version, from 1916, after a hearing before Justice Sargent where one claim was lost. This probably means someone took her to court but I have not traced the action. It has complex ideas on writing and mathematics and is perhaps in reality two or three separate inventions. The main drawings are given below.

Next there was GB 1914/14481, Apparatus for teaching children geometry. It is similar or identical to the second US patent mentioned above. Below are the main drawings.

Then there is GB 1913/17890, Apparatus for teaching children arithmetic. It is for an abacus with each row having differently coloured beads, to be used in conjunction with cards. Below is the main drawing.

After World War I the British system changed to numeration from 100,001 onwards so the numbers look different. Based on an Italian filing in 1918 is GB 141053, Device for teaching grammar (Italian patents are not available online, and only the Swiss equivalent patent to her first US patent is in Italian). A box contains compartments which are used to house cards of different colours for different parts of speech.

In 1929 Montessori applied from Spain (as for the following British patents) for GB 330422, Teaching young children elementary mathematics. Again it involves different colours, for strips of paper of different widths, each with a number on one side and adhesive on the other.

Also from 1929 is GB 330788, Artificial lighting. A hollow porcelain column has a light at the bottom and a transparent cover at the top. The idea was to provide shadowless light for a children's nursery. It is illustrated below.

Also from 1929 are two patents with the same titles, Teaching young children elementary mathematics. These are GB 332726 and GB 334319. This second patent is again based on the abacus idea and is illustrated below.

Once again this shows how much can be found in patents. In Montessori's case it is probable that books or journal articles cover the same ground, but this is not so for numerous inventors who have put forward their ideas. There are for example 79 British patents between 1914 and 1950 on the principle of teaching counting as listed here.

20 October 2013

The Adidas watch that checks your pulse: patent classification problems

There has been a lot of publicity about wearable technology that diagnoses you -- checking your heartbeat or pulse and so on.

When I first heard of this idea I thought of shirts incorporating technology, but most of the interest is in wristwatches. An example is in Adidas' new sensor for athletes, so that training programmes can be planned, and there is a BBC news story on it, Adidas Micoach smartwatch has heart-rate sensor

Now, supposing you wanted to identify inventions by Adidas in that field. You could ask a patent database for Adidas plus keywords such as watch. Better would be to take the patent classification A61B5/024, "Detecting, measuring, or recording pulse rate or heart rate."

This is an IPC -- it will be used by patent offices when they publish patent specifications. A61B5/02438 is a CPC which is a more precise class, not used on the specifications but added to those published by leading Western nations plus the World PCT system. It is for portable devices worn by the patient (or any user, really). It might seem obvious to use that class combined with the company name but it is easy to miss material, so while any detailed search would certainly use it, a second search should always be used with the broader class plus keywords.

Let's call using A61B5/024 for Adidas Search 1, and A61B5/02438 Search 2.

It is still necessary to decide which search box in Espacenet you use: CPC or IPC. The results below give first CPC and then IPC for Search 1 (Search 2 doesn't have an IPC option, as it is not a valid class).

Search 1 gives in CPC 4179 hits, with 2 by Adidas; in IPC 7127 with 5 by Adidas.

Search 2 gives in CPC 3129 hits, with 4 by Adidas.

How can this be ? The apparently broad search found fewer hits by Adidas as CPC, but more with the IPC than the apparently more precise CPC.

Besides the fact that the company may be working in related fields, and double-counting when more than one entry appears for the same invention, a problem is that using simply A61B5/024 says that only that class is wanted. Any specification classified by a more detailed class instead is missed.

Espacenet deals with this problem by allowing anyone searching the classification to enter the class in the search box which automatically selects the subordinate classes. They can then be copied to the search form. This results in a CPC search which we can call Search 3.

Search 3 gives in CPC 12,925 hits, with 7 by Adidas.

These include the intriguingly named Method and system for extracting cardiac parameters from plethysmographic signals, illustrated below.

Six of the seven are for similar coats that do the monitoring etc., while the seventh is not obviously for a watch -- it is a "portable electronic unit" which monitors congestive heart failure patients, and hence obviously not athletes.

So which is the best approach ? If asked to search for inventions for the concept by Adidas, I would use broad classes in both CPC and IPC (as the company has relatively few inventions). I would use the "In my patents list" ability (below the title in the bibliographic format) to list patent specifications by Adidas in the general field for later retrieval. I would also use the descriptions and the search reports at the end of European or World publications to see if they mentioned related material by Adidas.

I also searched the very broad A61B together with timepiece, watch and wristwatch (and their plurals) for Adidas and got zero hits (but beware their clever use of "portable electronic unit", which includes most watches).

It does seem that Adidas has not yet published the details -- hardly surprising, as it takes 18 months for a new specification to be published.

17 October 2013

The patent for the Resusci Anne mannequin

The BBC news site yesterday published an article titled Rescusci Anne and l'Inconnue: the Mona Lisa of the Seine.

It was very interesting, and I can add that the invention of the resuscitation mannequin was patented by the same Norwegian toymaker named in the story. In 1961 Asmund Laerdal filed for a British patent with a lengthy title beginning Improvements in training dolls (phantoms). Below is a drawing from it showing the mouth area, which incorporates a valve so that air from previous users is not taken in by a fresh user.

Laerdal took out a further 8 British patents on the subject and 9 American patents in the health area. These lists do overlap.

16 October 2013

The Le Corbusier chaise longue

Many architects have designed furniture. Presumably the idea is that having designed and hence controlled the exterior, they might as well do the same with the interior.

One of these is the Swiss architect Le Corbusier. He, with two others, applied for a French patent for his Chaise longue invention. Below is what it looks like.

It looks incredibly modern, yet dates back to 1929. The base is independent of the recliner, with curved tubular steel runners enabling the chair's position to be easily modified. It is still in production, and has become a design classic as it looks fantastic as well as carrying out its function. "Form follows function".

The three inventors are named on the patent as Le Corbusier, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand. She was a designer who had asked to join Le Corbusier's Paris studio. He rejected her, saying that they did not embroider cushions. A few months later he had to apologise when he asked her to join him to head his furniture activities, as the same cousin had shown him a bar made of aluminium, glass and chrome at an exhibition. Perriand had renovated her apartment with that design and had then recreated it.

I must admit that I had never heard of the chair or of Perriand, but we had an example of the chair delivered to our new flat yesterday. It is very comfortable and looks elegant in its mock calfskin (the early models are available in canvas of calfskin). Here it is in our living room.