14 July 2010

Disposing of chewing gum on pavements

Most people hate the way dropped chewing gum forms yucky stains on pavements. Now a British company has come up with a way to stop it.

Traditionally, innovation has concentrated on cleaning methods, such as blasting the gum with steam. A short list of inventions along those lines can be seen here

Revolymer, a company based in Holywell, north-east Wales, has a different solution. They modify chewing gum itself by adding an amphiphilic graft copolymer. "Amphiphilic" means  molecules involving a polar, water-soluble group attached to a nonpolar, water-insoluble hydrocarbon chain. It means that water disperses the gum from pavements, and washing up liquid removes it from carpets or clothes.

The new polymer is called Rev7®. Gum is hydrophobic (water hating) and the addition makes it hydrophilic, water loving. More details can be seen on the company website as well as in their initial patent application, Polymeric materials having reduced tack. I like the mention of "tack", and apparently gum stains are called "cud" in the industry. The chemical structure for the polymer is given below.

Revolymer polymer
The company is a spin-off from the University of Bristol. They estimate that councils spend £150 million in Britain alone to remove the unsightly mess. £10 million was spent in four years of development, with backing from venture capital and private equity money.

The American authorities have approved its use, and approval is going through its final stages in Europe. The company's options are to licence the product to a major manufacturer, or to sell their own brand. Revolymer hopes to be selling the product in 2011 in Europe.

13 July 2010

3D television and patents

3D television is creating a lot of interest. There is an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph about a British family trying it out, raising a number of issues. 

The basic idea, of course, is to create a 3D or stereoscopic effect by using special glasses. Obviously the glasses are not enough. The technology is beyond me, but for those interested there is a detailed breakdown in the ECLA patent classification. You use it by selecting the area of interest by clicking the little white box next to the class, and then clicking Copy above the details of the classes. It is then transferred to a search page.

ECLA is limited to the PCT (the "World Patent"), the USA, and European countries, but most inventions in the field are likely to be published in one of those systems, despite largely coming from Korea or Japan. More significant is the fact that there is often a delay in the patents being classified by ECLA, which can be a year on some occasions.

An example of a patent specification in the field is Samsung's Method and apparatus for displaying stereoscopic image, whose main drawing is shown below.

Stereoscopic television
This is a list of the 313 patent specifications published in H04N13, stereoscopic television, since January 2009 in the PCT system.  

12 July 2010

Inventing the 21st Century exhibition

The British Library will be hosting a free exhibition on British inventions of the last decade.

Inventing the 21st Century will be on display in the Folio Society Gallery at St Pancras from the 6 September to the end of November. There are more details on another page

I've been curating the exhibition and we hope that the stories behind the fifteen inventions will be inspiring to everyone, not just designers or inventors. It's been a lot of hard work, but also enjoyable choosing the inventions and making preparations, including an extensive programme of events about commercialising inventions. It's all part of the British Library's commitment to its Business & IP Centre, which fosters innovation and business.

There is also a book, also called Inventing the 21st Century, which the British Library will be publishing at the same time, with 50 stories on modern inventions. Coverage will be international in the book, and covers issues of interest and concern in everyday lives.

06 July 2010

Inventions for clothes for women cyclists

I particularly enjoy the little touches of social history that can come out of the patents.

The invention of the pneumatic tyre led to a huge growth in patents to do with bicycles. Quite a few of these were for inventions to prevent damage to women's clothing, or offering new outfits for special use while cycling. The long skirts fashionable at the time could get caught up in the mechanism, and oil could stain clothes.

The Espacenet database can be searched for British patents back to 1893. Using words from the title, I made a list of 65 British patents up until 1914 where the word lady or ladies was mentioned in relation to cycling.

At the time, only about 1% of all patents were by women, but in this sample over a third were by women. Occupations are frequently given -- gentlewoman, spinster and dressmaker predominate for the women, tailor and the occasional engineer for the men.

Example of these patents are A lady's rational or divided skirt for cycling, by Oretta Bywater of Briton Ferry, Glamorgan, wardrobe dealer, in 1903. The main drawing is shown here.

Divided skirt for lady cyclists

An overskirt hides the appearance of the bloomers while keeping it "perfectly safe" for cycling. She says "It is quite novel and new nothing like it in the market" -- how many times have inventors told me that before a search is carried out.

Mary Cooke of London, spinster, trading as Christie & Co., was responsible for An improvement in cycling skirts for ladies' use, in 1899.

Cycling costume for women 

Only one patent from the era used the word "women": Ethel Levien of Melbourne, Australia, gentlewoman, was forthright in her Improved women's cycling knickers, which dates back to 1900.