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]


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 on the surfboard is 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. The electricity might be generated by fossil fuel but could be that generated uselessly at night, and it might be renewable energy.

Let's look at Tesla's patent specifications. Figures stated are as of today, 14 June 2014: there are lots more now.

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 (that 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.