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 December 2014

Do you know English : The challenge of English for patent searchers

An article by me, Do you know English ? The challenge of the English language for patent searchers has been published in World patent information, December 2014, vol. 39, pages 35-40. It is a light-hearted look at the problems that the English language present to patent searchers when using databases. These include Patentese, Americanisms and Anglicisms, nouns used as verbs, compound nouns, and the problems for those using English as a second language. I wrote it from the viewpoint of a searcher as I am not a linguist.

It is a revised version of a talk I gave in May 2014 at The Hague at the annual conference Search Matters, by the European Patent Office [the 2015 conference is in Munich in March 2015, see the webpage]. Probably, in my career as a patent searcher at the British Library, the biggest problem I had was dealing with the problem of the word "light" -- many clients persisted in asking that I search for the idea of portability, but that would include the word "light". Hence patents covering, say, illuminated walking sticks would be retrieved when all the client wanted was a small one...

...nor did I really trust the man who, convinced that I was trying to cheat his mother, say that patent searching wasn't rocket science. He was right -- it's usually a lot more difficult. Presumably he would have been happy to have an appendectomy carried out by someone who'd read up on the subject the night before rather than by an expert.

20 December 2014

"Eight great technologies": analysis of patenting in key areas

The UK Intellectual Property Office has recently finished publishing a series of reports analysing the patent landscape in eight high technology areas which the government feels are important areas for the UK to carry out research in in the future.

A concluding report is titled Eight great technologies: a summary of the series of patent landscape reports, and it links on page 22 to PDFs of separate reports on each of the eight areas, or, with related papers, they can be found on this page.

These eight areas are the big-data revolution and energy-efficient computing; satellites and commercial applications of space; robotics and autonomous systems; life-sciences, genomics and synthetic biology; regenerative medicine; agri-science; advanced materials and nano-technology; energy and its storage; quantum technologies; and the Internet of things (IoT). That last topic is intriguing: it is about Bluetooth technologies,where objects talk to other objects, but also the ability of objects to automatically identify themselves to other objects.

The reports discuss the world patent scene in each technology, such as the major players (by entities and by country) and growth by year, followed by a look at the UK scene. For example, in IoT, the top UK player is Neul, a company based in Cambridge which I had not heard of. This is a list of World patent applications by Neul.

A command paper, Innovation and research strategy for growth, by Vince Cable MP (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills), published as Cm 8239 in 2011, is of interest as it discusses in detail the subject. The measures it advocates include the annual publication of an innovation report on the UK, the latest being Innovation Report 2014, published in March. It also talked of helping the Technology Strategy Board, now called Innovate UK. All this sounds excellent so long as well-trained scientists and technicians can be funded (whether by public money or by industry) to create useful products to benefit the UK economy. For too long there has been lip-service rather than real action.

Eight great technologies is also the title of a discussion paper by David Willetts MP (until July 2014 the Minister for Universities and Science), published in 2013 by the Policy Exchange think tank.

Graphene in patents

John Colapinto has written an interesting article, "Material question", about the nature of graphene and research on its uses, in the current New Yorker (22 and 29 December 2014, 50-63).

Graphene is a an atom-thick layer of graphite which has special properties. These include the ability to transmit electrical charges 250 times more rapidly than silicon. It may be the successor material to silicon for use in electrical devices, a silicon is reaching its apparent limits as miniaturization continues. Graphene is also 150 times stronger than the equivalent amount of steel, and is the only material which is totally impermeable to gases.

It was discovered by two scientists at the University of Manchester, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. Adhesive tape was used to isolate the first ever two-dimensional material. Their paper describing it was apparently twice rejected by Nature, as being "impossible" and not a "sufficient scientific advance", according to the journal's reviewers. It was published instead in Science in October 2004 as "Electric field effect in atomically thin carbon films" [it can be read at this link] and caused much excitement among scientists. They were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.

A report, Graphene: the worldwide patent landscape in 2013, was published by the UK Intellectual Property Office in 2013, Over 8,000 patents on the subject are covered in it, which shows that the UK is far behind in the race to develop the material -- the leading entity, the University of Manchester, has 6 patent families, which puts it at joint 163rd place, with Samsung first with 210 patent families.

Colapinto discusses in detail the work of James Tour and his colleagues at Rice University in Texas. The World patent applications by Tour for Rice in the field of carbon are listed here.

All in all, a very interesting article written for non-specialists in a fascinating field.