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]


13 January 2016

Brick-laying robots

Increasingly we are seeing repetitive tasks carried out by workers being replaced by robotics. This can even involve skilled workers, such as bricklayers. Mark Pavic of Western Australia, an aeronautic and mechanical engineer has with a colleague devised a brick-laying machine.

The story is told in a Gizmag story, Brick-laying robot can build a full-sized house in two days. The robot, Hadrian, can lay 1000 bricks an hour. Pavic's brother Mike is CEO of Fastbrick Robotics who intend to launch a commerical version in 2017.

It was as long ago as 2007 hat the world patent application for the concept was published, WO2007/076581. Below is the main drawing.

So, how could you have found such a patent document ? The classification is based on the idea of "manipulators" which could be run together with the word brick* to get a good list of relevant material. B25J9, programme-controlled manipulators, looks particularly attractive.

Once you know of a patent document, you can check to see what happened to it in specific jurisdictions. In this case US8166727 was granted protection in 2012. The pan-European granted document, EP1977058B, was published in 2014, and the documents to do with its allowance are given in the relevant European Register entry.

Anyone wondering at the time if the patents would be allowed could have looked at the prior art as listed by patent examiners -- this is given as "cited documents" on the left hand side of the bibliographic entry for the European A document.  22 are listed for that one. It might be thought logical that all prior art cited is given there, but no, each "also published as" document needs to be clicked on and a fresh window appears. Some countries, such as the USA, do not list cited patents at the initial A stage but only at the granted, B stage.

Just as you can find the prior art by clicking on "cited documents", you can find those that later referred back to the one you know of by clicking on "citing documents". This tells us that none cited the European; but for the US A and also the B document there are 9, and for the original WO document there are 6. You would have to compare the lists to figure out which were on both lists -- they are likely to be particularly significant.

Those with specialist knowledge of the area would then have to interpret the results, so long as those who understand the published patent documentation and its associated patent procedure can explain what to look out for and implications. Both are needed. When I worked in the area, it always surprised me how many inventors thought that they could do it all themselves, or just spend 20 minutes or so looking through the patents before committing to thousands of pounds of expenditure and huge amounts of time. Rather like carrying out brain surgery on yourself, perhaps ?

11 January 2016

Unventional: Ideas too good to patent, book review

Some books about inventions are serious and are designed to enlarge knowledge. Some books about inventions inspire.

And then other books are just plain fun. Madcap, even.

Unventional: Ideas too good to patent by Tom Giesler is definitely in the last category, with madcap humour and superb drawings of Rube Goldberg-like (or, in the UK, Heath Robinson) inventions which are just a bit wacky. They are in the same style as many real patent draftsmen working for inventors to show how the inventions work. This is not a coincidence: besides being an artist, Giesler is himself a patent draftsman. And he even lives in California -- isn't that the place where the crazies come from ? (Just kidding, my wife grew up there).

When I was a patent specialist at the British Library, I had to emphasize how serious and important inventions were, and keep a straight face when someone explained a silly idea. No longer ! Freeze-cones, diaper bowls, burger sheaths -- inventions no one is likely to really need are seriously explained, thought through and illustrated here just as much as worthwhile inventions are explained in the Real Thing on numerous databases. It's the sort of book I'd have loved to have written if I had any artistic talent at all.

Below is a delightful, short trailer about the book.

The book can be bought through the Unventional website.