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 July 2014

The IcyBreeze cooler for outside use

IcyBreeze is a new portable cooler for use outdoors, invented by Clint Donaldson of Oklahoma.

When you are indoors in hot weather it is normal to crank the air conditioning up or at least switch on a fan. However, what about suffering from the heat when you are outside, say at a picnic. Donaldson thought of the idea while watching baseball on a hot day while sitting next to a cooler full of cold drinks. He took an idea normally used to warm houses and applied it instead to the outdoors.

Heat exchangers work by putting outlets for warm but stale air next to inlets for cold, fresh air. The pipes run along each other so that the outgoing air warms the incoming air.

The 34 litre capacity cooler can hold up to 49 cans as well as ice topped up with about 2 litres of water. A battery powers a fan which draws air into the radiator. The air coming out, either by vents or via a hose, makes the air outside up to 20 degrees C cooler. The batteries last for 2.5 hours on a high setting or 6 hours on low.

A World Patent application was published in September 2013 as Ice air conditioner, and its main drawing is shown below.

When I showed patent specifications to clients, I always placed much emphasis on search reports -- the list compiled by patent examiners at patent offices of relevant patents and other published material. The final pages of the Donaldson application contain a report, which lists first US7188489. It works in the same general way -- a portable cooling device using a heat exchanger. The search reports in many European, and the World, patent systems use X and Y indications to show that a particular claim is anticipated (X) or is obvious (Y) in light of the cited document. American search reports, which are on the front of the granted patents, simply cite patents -- often very many -- without giving the X and Y indications.

The IcyBreeze company is pricing models from $279 and plans to begin shipping from August 2014.

Much of the above is taken from the Gizmag article on the IcyBreeze.

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 -- which is 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.