24 March 2010

Revision of the International Patent Classification

Many changes have been introduced from January in the International Patent Classification (IPC), which is printed on most patent specifications and which can be used on databases to identify the novel technical subject matter of inventions. This revision is meant to be used on any patent specifications printed from January 2010 onwards.

The revised classification can be found online together with a tab for a catchword index and a tab for Compilation, which highlights the revised wording. New sub classes, often moved from other classes, are shown there in italics. Older versions of the IPC can be seen by clicking open the "Version" box at top left on that page.

A quick glance suggests that the following are the main classes affected by adding numerous sub classes.

B62M, rider propulsion of wheeled vehicles

B65H, handling thin or filamentary material

C12N, micro-organisms or enzymes [especially stem cells in this revision]

F16H, gearing

G01Q, scanning probe techniques or apparatus [an entirely new class]

The IPC is quite complicated, including how to use it best. It originated in the 1960s when new editions would appear every five years or so. If a subject changed its class in a new edition, the former class had to be searched for as well as the new class.

Fortunately the Espacenet database was revised some years ago so that a vast number of patents were reclassified (and will continue to be reclassified when necessary). This goes back mainly to 1920 and affects most European countries plus the USA and the "World" patent system.

A more detailed version of the IPC called ECLA goes back to about 1911 for France, 1909 for Britain, 1888 for Switzerland and 1877 for Germany. This means that the database can be very useful for those searching the history of old technologies. The ECLA variant of IPC can be found as Classification Search on Espacenet. The ECLA additions can be identified as they always start with a letter.

For example, A63F7/06 is the IPC for games that simulate outdoor ball games. ECLA adds ten subdivisions, such as A63F7/06T for tennis. Clicking on the little hollow box next to that sub class and then on Copy transfers it to a search mask. Running that search gives 59 hits, going back to 1922. The drawing below is from one of these, Tennis novelty.

Miniature tennis patent

ECLA classes are, generally, only applied to patent documents from European countries, the USA and the PCT (the "World" patent system), and it can take months or longer for it to be assigned to a newly published patent document.

This limits its usefulness in current awareness, but it is a valuable tool for checking the prior art, as often very relevant material is quickly found, perhaps by using keywords as well. However, there may be other relevant material not found, published in for example the Far East.  

22 March 2010

The iTeddy®

I occasionally come across the patents of those who have appealed for finance on Dragons' Den. Here is another, Imran Hakim of Bolton, Lancashire, whose background is as an optometrist and "serial entrepreneur".

His iTeddy® came about after he was challenged by younger brother Zubair to come up with a novel birthday present for their neice Aaminah, who was seven months old at the time. A personalised, talking birthday card had limited potential and had already been done, so he thought of an interactive teddy bear. A search on the Internet suggested that it was new.

The company web site explains this and links to video clips, including of his successful appearance on the television show in February 2007. He secured £140,000 for 15% of the equity. If you saw the show, Zubair was dressed up as a giant teddy bear. Here is the main drawing of the An interactive toy patent application.

ITeddy patent image
An MP3 player is included and pictures can be shown. A microphone and voice recorder means that the child's voice can be played back.

Out of curiosity I looked for other patent specifications of the same kind. The Hakim patent specification on page 23 lists three patents as "X", not novel, for all 15 claims in his own application. These are the Affective digital children's companion; the Subliminal recording device , with its main drawing shown below; and the German-language Spielfigur. All show teddy bears.

Subliminal recording device patent

Despite the recent withdrawal of Hakim's patent application before grant from the European Patent Office, the iTeddy® has apparently been a great success, and a new model is planned for this year, with added features.

Imran tells his own story on this video.


17 March 2010

Reevu and its rear view motorcycle helmets

A small story in today's Metro caught my eye, and I've done a little research into the topic.

Reevu is a company in Washington, in Tyne and Wear, which has been marketing the RV MSX1 helmet for motorcyclists which incorporates a rear view mirror. Motorcycles are vulnerable on the roads, and turning the handlebars means that conventional mirrors do not show the road behind.

Their original patent application was made as long ago as 1995, An article of headgear. This is its main drawing. 

Rear view mirror helmet patent

This concept was improved in 1998 when the company applied for a second patent. Here is its main drawing.

Improved helmet rear view mirror patent


Clearly it is up to motorcyclists to comment on its effectiveness. An article in the Guardian from 2009 discusses it, where the author says he uses it all the time. It had been mentioned in at least one news article that the mirror could not be adjusted, but this has evidently been put right, as Reevu's most recent patent application is for a Mirror position adjuster. Graham Steele is the engineer who is named as an inventor in all three applications.

Reevu has a company website for those who want to know more. It claims that it is "the world’s first patented rear-view helmet range that gives the wearer that all round vision “at a glance”". The styling is Italian. It was featured on Tomorrow's world in 2002, and the original model first went on sale in 2005. The cost ? According to my original source £249.

15 March 2010

Consultation on trade marks

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has launched a Consultation on amendments to the Trade Mark Rules 2008.

Consultations are where changes are suggested and comments are requested. In this case, there are two changes.

Since 2007 applications for trade marks are no longer refused by the IPO's examiners on the grounds that they are identical or similar to those in the same business area. Instead, if a search reveals current UK marks in the same area which are indeed similar they are notified to give them a chance to oppose the registration. This notification is a free service. It means that in some cases the existing owners of rights do not feel that there is a problem with similarity, or that the field of business is distinct from their own, and do not try to oppose the registration.

What is being suggested is the removal of the existing ability to be notified if the owner of a Community mark. Those who have registered a trade mark rights for the entire EU with OHIM can at present pay £50 for the right to be notified for three years.

The IPO points out that no other EU country has this provision, and that little use is made of it. In 2009 a total of 1,061 marks had been so notified. The IPO suggests that if it is kept, would users be prepared to pay a higher fee.

The second proposal is about the ability to merge trade mark applications or registrations. The suggestion is that this is not necessary.

Anyone interested in commenting on these proposals has until the 1 June.

05 March 2010

Microchips in your rubbish containers

I heard on the radio this morning that many British local authorities are placing microchips in rubbish containers / bins. The story it was based on is in the Daily Mail.

The idea is to reward householders who put the least in their containers with cash, and Bristol would be the first to do so. Royal Windsor and Maidenhead is already offering other kinds of rewards. The concept could be used to penalise those with heavy loads, in which case some would no doubt be tempted to put their rubbish in their neighbours' containers. Pre sorting of recyclable materials is already carried out by householders, at least in principle, on a large scale.

Most of the technology in the area is European, much of it German. An exception is the Weighing method in particular for weighing waste materials , by PM Group plc of Shipley, Yorkshire, where the main drawing shows the concept being applied to "wheelie bins", which are commonly used in Britain.

Weighing rubbish patent

Wheelie bins themselves date back to German technology in the early 1970s, by Streuber Solo Eisenwerk, with the wheeled container being Refuse container and the mechanism on the lorry being the Tipper combination for discharging large-capacity refuse containers. That company seems to have been aware of the idea a decade ago. In 1999 they applied for a (German language) patent document where a microchip is imbedded in an injection moulded container.

This is a list of 16 patent specifications which are mostly on the subject of monitoring refuse containers. It is based on class B65F1/14J, adaptation of refuse receptacles to carry identification means, plus title words chip, microchip or weighing. As always in patent searching a few are incorrectly included, while others are not picked up by such a search.

04 March 2010

Facebook and its news feed for social networks patent

There has been a lot of (mainly unfavourable) publicity about Facebook's American patent 7669123, granted and published the 23 February.

It was actually published as an application two years earlier, so the hoo-hah about it now seems a little odd. 

The patent, whose title is Dynamically providing a news fed about a user of a social network, automatically updates changes to the sites of friends of the user/ member. Here is the main drawing graphically illustrating that.

Facebook news feed patent

The patent says that the content can be displayed in various orders (e.g. chronologically), that the news feeds can include media content, and so on. Content can also be taken from different databases within the network. Choosing to accept the news feed is stated to be optional, but clearly those providing the content cannot choose to block it.

This is a list of the US patent applications by Facebook, with mentions of community translation, privacy summary and community flyers. None have yet been granted, and those concerned about what Facebook is doing should study them.

A lot of the annoyance is due to the fact that patents in software block the method (and not just the precise code used) to others unless licensed. Other social networking sites could be limited in the range of their activities. It has been pointed out that if someone can show this method being used before Facebook thought of it then the patent can be revoked.  

02 March 2010

Patent statistics

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) oversees the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) scheme where a single patent application can be published which applies to patent offices in numerous countries or regional authorities. Each of those offices then decides whether or not to grant a patent. PCTs are what many refer to as the World patent.

A press release gives statistics on 2009 activity in the PCT. Filed applications were down 4.5% on 2008, and amounted to about 155,900. The recession has obviously had an impact, although it was pointed out that Asia did well. China's share was up a massive 29%, to 6,946, while the USA was down 11%. It was still the leading country, with 45,790 applications.

There were small increases in Japan, Korea, France and The Netherlands among the top 15 countries. Data is also provided on the top companies (Japan's Panasonic was top) and on numbers of applications in many fields of technology. The biggest increases were 10% growth over 2008 in both semiconductors and in nano-technology -- most fields, of course, showed drops in numbers.

Another interesting survey, this time not limited to the PCT, is the OECD's Compendium of patent statistics 2008. WIPO has a Patent statistics page with many links to datasets.

What used to be called the trilateral report on statistics for the three major granting patent offices (Europe, Japan, the USA) has, significantly, been extended to Korea as well for 2008 in the four offices statistical report. Data going back to 1996 is available at their site.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has a page with links to their statistics, including data on applicants and on applicants from individual states and metropolitan areas.

Lastly, WIPO has a page linking to national data or annual reports with patent statistics.

[WIPO also has links to statistics on the numbers of patents, trade marks and designs for each country, going back to 1995, with some analysis, at this site. Ed., 13 October 2011]