31 March 2011

Toastabags® inventor Guy Unwin on Dragons' Den

Last night I saw a new Dragons' Den episode for me, with Guy Unwin offering equity in his household products inventions in return for funding. It dates from 2008.

I recognized the Toastabags® invention that he showed -- I think that I may even have used it years ago -- which is shown here.

Toastabag patent drawing 
A cheese sandwich, say, is inserted in the packet and then into the toaster. The granted British patent (it has American protection as well) is called the Container to hold food as it is heated. Also displayed in the show was his Mesh basket for cooking food, illustrated below.

Mesh basket for cooking food patent drawing 
A rotary clothes line cover, and a water tank for use in a wheelbarrow, are also among his inventions.

Below is an amusing video showing how someone realises that Toastabags® will solve his mealtime problem.  


Here is a list of patent publications by the versatile Mr Unwin, who is from Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. He and his partner Caroline Kavanagh (who also appeared on the show) founded Planit Products, based in Malvern, in 2006 to market his inventions.

The outcome from their appearance on the show ? James Caan offered £200,000 in return for 40% of the company. This was accepted but, according to an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph, it was never completed and they secured funding from a bank instead.

30 March 2011

Plumen gets award for energy saving lightbulb design

Plumen, a company based in London, has won the overall award of the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year 2011 competition. It's a "designer" energy-saving lightbulb: the Plumen 001.

Lightbulbs traditionally are dull things, but energy saving bulbs offer the potential to create new shapes. In May 2010 Plumen filed at OHIM for Community Design 001216634. One of the drawings for the registration is shown below.

Plumen light bulb design 
As you move around the room the bulb appears to change its shape.

Samuel Wilkinson was the designer, and the company who designed it is actually Hulger, a product design company. The design registration is in the name of Plumen itself. A design registration, and not a patent, was relevant because the innovation was in the looks rather than the function.

I liked the comment on the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year site that unlike standard lights it is "a beautiful light bulb designed to be seen." It also uses 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

21 March 2011

North Wales patents library

A patents library, the first for Wales, has opened at Llandudno Junction as the North Wales centre in the Patlib UK network. My colleague Maria Lampert, Chair of Patlib UK, attended the opening ceremony and provided training.

This is a photo of the search room. It is part of a very "green" building constructed for the Welsh Assembly government. Free Internet access, an exhibition area and a cafeteria are part of the centre.

Photo of Llandudno Junction Patlib library 
The centre is open to anyone, including schools and local community groups. The centre is managed by Nia Roberts, a European patent attorney. Besides explanations of how to search databases, "one to one" meetings are available for inventors with the staff.

The next photo shows the staff. Nia is second from the right.

Photo of staff at Llandudno Junction Patlib library 
Business Link has a press release about the new centre. It is open during normal office hours, and can be contacted on 0300 062 5408 or nia.roberts@wales.gsi.gov.uk .

Heath Robinson Machines and Inventions exhibition

West House in Pinner, Middlesex is hosting a free exhibition called Heath Robinson Machines and Inventions until the 17 April. It is in Pinner Memorial Park.

I came across it entirely by accident on a walk, and found it delightful. There are numerous original drawings showing "contraptions" such as devices to help you get up from a chair, or how to clear away the breakfast dishes. They are lovingly detailed and packed with humour.

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) is the British equivalent of America's Rube Goldberg, and lived at West House for a decade. The Chris Beetles Gallery is hosting the exhibition, and the drawings are for sale (those sold have a red sticker). The Gallery has a webpage with links to many of the exhibited drawings.

I happily spent an hour looking around and talking to the Gallery staff before I reluctantly tore myself away. The Chris Beetles Gallery will be adding the show to a "major and comprehensive" exhibition of work by Robinson during the 25 May to 22 June at their 8 & 10 Ryder Street site, SW1.

18 March 2011

The Yoke® shopper invention

I’ve just been given an item that’s meant to help carry shopping: the Yoke® shopper. It’s the size of a small apple and weights 60 grams. The only wording on it is Yoke®, with no numbers.

I set out to identify the IP for it. The ® symbol tells me that they are asserting that it is a registered trade mark. I checked the UK official trade mark database and found on it five entries which included the word “yoke”. The results list showed that one of these used raised arms and a circle within them for the Y, as on the product.

It was Community Trade Mark E6018352, which the database includes as they provide UK protection as well as UK national trade marks. This is what it looks like on the database.

 Yoke shopper trade mark

This gave me the name of the applicant, Yoke Enterprises of St Asaph, Wales. This company has a page describing the product, where Matt Davies says he had the idea in 2005.

It’s a “sophisticated yet inexpensive design” that would make it easy to carry shopping. It took four years of research to perfect it. The device conveniently locks together shopping bags, and a strap that reels out from it can be used over the shoulder. It retails for £11.99. At the bottom of the page there was this statement:

The Yoke Shopper is fully protected by UK Patent No 0715629.2 and International Patent No PCT/Gb2008/002691. Registered Community Design 1597501

I would have got there anyway with the company name, but this assertion was interesting and gave me useful information. In 2007 Matthew (not Matt) Davies had filed for what became British patent 2451696B, which is indeed granted. Below is the main drawing.

Yoke shopper patent drawing 

(12) shows the slightly flexible piece of plastic which is used to trap the handles of the bags, while (14) is the strap beginning to emerge as deployed or retracted by pressing on button (52). The patent grant can be looked at to see what claims it covers. Others do have the right to challenge it and say it’s been done before, of course.

The PCT system also referred to is for a single publication that provides the basis for numerous offices to decide if they will allow a patent grant in their country or region. The search report at the end helps them decide that. The quoted filing number was published as WO2009/022105, with the title “Apparatus to assist a person carrying one or more bags”. In itself it conveys no protection against infringement, as applicants must respond to the offices that are part of the scheme asking if they will pay fees and, if relevant, provide translations of the patent specification. The offices individually decide if they will grant a patent.

In this case the European Patent Office stated in their official register entry that the application to them for protection in the EU member states and a few other countries was “deemed withdrawn” in April 2010 and hence void. The search report has one X and 2 Y patent documents cited against it (broadly speaking, X means done before and Y obvious improvements) as evidence of "prior art". The three documents are listed here.

The British A document's search report did not list any X or Y objections. The last component mentioned was Community Design 1597501, an EU-wide right, where 7 views of the product are included to show the appearance. This protects against someone using the same look.

What is probably the most valuable element of their portfolio, the trade mark, is not given an ® on the website (which talks of the “Yoke Shopper”, by the way). It is good policy to consistently use the symbol everywhere, and to ensure that valid claims are made about the IP held for a product. 

16 March 2011

Google and search engine patents

Numerous patent specifications have been published in the name of Google covering search engines. An early important one was of course their Node ranking in a linked database, filed in 1997 and by Lawrence Page. This is the basis of their PageRank® algorithm (note the pun on his name) for identifying and sorting the results of searches.

Wikpedia has an interesting article on that algorithm, which states that Stanford University, the applicant on the patent, exclusively licenses it to Google. Their payment was 1.8 million shares in the company, it says, which were sold in 2005 for $336 million.

Many of their patents are in the field of filtering and personalisation of search engine results. This is a list of 46 patent documents published by Google through the "World" system on that topic, as G06F17/30W1F is the ECLA class for that concept.

They include Identifying inadequate search content, the main drawing of which is given below.

Google Identifying inadequate search content patent drawing 
The patent application (since granted in the USA) talks of a statistics search engine, which takes queries made by users; statistics analysis, which divides the queries into topics and provides statistics; the comparator, which identifies topics based on a comparison of the topic statistics and the query statistics; and topic distribution, which notifies users of identified topics.

The idea, apparently, is that if demand for a topic through a search engine exceeds what is actually available on the Web, web publishers are notified and can think about providing that content.

14 March 2011

Under Armour's biometric shirts for Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur, the London football club, has announced a five-year kit deal with American sports clothing manufacturer Under Armour from the 2012/13 season.

The club's press release does not mention any details of the "performance apparel" but last Saturday's issue of the Telegraph has an article explaining that the shirts will be able to send signals about the players' biometrics (heart rate and temperature, for example).

Apparently the company would like to share the data with the broadcasters. Imagine if you could be told that one team's players were exhausted, while there was no information about the other team. I can't imagine that the manager and owners of the team would be too pleased.

Under Armour has a patent application published for the concept, their System and method for monitoring athletic performance. Here is the main drawing.


Under Armour biometric shirt patent drawing 
This is a list of the 17 American patent applications published under the company name.

11 March 2011

New look for the Espacenet patent database

The Espacenet patent database has a new look format, Version 5, which will take over from the current format in a few months' time.

The database, hosted by the European Patent Office (EPO), is meant to be for novices, providing a vast amount of patent data such as summaries and classifications as well as the actual patent specifications for many countries.

The new look conforms with the new appearance of the European Patent Register, which gives the status of applications going through the system -- has it been examined yet for novelty, is it granted, and so on. That is meant for experts.

I will miss the cosy feel and colours of the old format. I find the new format rather cold and clinical, partly because of the typeface that was chosen. I wonder if novices would be put off by its official look (and the numerous options). I would suggest that links to it should be to the Advanced Search format rather than to the SmartSearch format which is the link offered by the EPO, as an empty box tends to cause doubt over what to enter.

The Advanced Search offers different fields such as applicant name, title and so on, with suggestions of what to enter. Quick Help, on the left hand side of the page, should be used by anyone unfamiliar with the database to get the best out of it. It alters according to the format that you are in.

Exporting capabilities have been enhanced. CSV or XLS format can be used. A new option is very useful. You can tick the little boxes against each document in the Result List and then on Download Covers (at top). This produces a PDF of the front pages. This option is also available in the My Patents List folder.

If the default "worldwide" database option at the top is changed to read "EP" then the ability to search the complete text is added as an option for EPO documents. This can be valuable for rare wordings, but for common words can produce massive numbers of hits.

I would like to see in future some changes (besides bringing colours back).

 -- The ability to ask for a pie graph of say the top five patent classifications for the results of a search. That would help determine which are the most popular classes found when entering keywords.

-- At present it looks as if you either click on a box when results are in Result List format, or on a star when in bibliographic data format, to select the document for a folder, "my patents list", for later study. Two apparent methods to do the same thing causes confusion. In fact only the star selects the patents ! The star is also used next to the inventor's name in Result List format, and also selects, but it is not obvious what it is there for.

-- There should be the ability to have different, named folders instead of just the one as you may be working on different subjects.

-- Formerly a revised search would show patents already in your folder as ticked so that you do not need to look at them again. This should be restored.

-- You should also be able to mark patents that are not of interest. They too would not have to be looked at again. To prevent their being permanently ticked there would have to be some mechanism so that this can be turned off, perhaps by indicating you wish to remove all negative ticks, and/ or automatically removing them when next in the database.  

-- The ability to create sets of data which can be manipulated using Boolean logic by experts (who do use the database a lot).  

There are other concerns such as the apparent lack of an algorithm so that the most important document rather than the first is credited as the lead document in the results list. It looks odd if for example a Hong Kong document is credited when there is a PCT document in the "patent family".

There is no doubt that the database is extremely useful when properly searched, and when the implications of what is found or not found are understood. Patent searching is not simple, and it is misleading to give the impression that it is. It is easy to do a poor search and think that there is nothing relevant. Hence my advice to take advice from public libraries that deal with patents, or search rooms at patent offices. Europe has a list, as does the USA.

07 March 2011

The YikeBike® bicycle invention

There have been many attempts to redesign the bicycle, and I have just come across the YikeBike®, an invention from New Zealand.

Projectgarlic Limited, based in Christchurch, applied for the Cycle World patent application which was published in January 2010. Here is the main drawing.

YikeBike bicycle patent drawing 
Grant Ryan, one of the inventors, is stated to be the founder on the YikeBike website, which includes video footage of cyclists using it, with the handlebars placed behind the rider and steering involving using the handlebars as they curve round on each side. It does not look comfortable to me but maybe you have to get used to it.

The patent specification is 167 pages long and includes no fewer than 82 claims to what is thought to be new about it. The patent examiner who compiled the search report at the back of the specification listed what he thought to be "prior art", with 29 citations to earlier patent documents, also an unusually high number.

The first of these citations is US 669201, applied for in 1899, which shows much the same principle but without a motor.

US 669201 
I look forward to seeing one on the road.

04 March 2011

New British standard for providers of intellectual property commercialization

The British Standards Institution has published a new standard, BS 8538, Specification for the provision of services relating to the commercialization of intellectual property rights. A copy can be purchased online.

Their press release mentions that when it comes to service providers, "some take advantage of inventors either inadvertently or intentionally". Service providers include commercial companies, and inventors' clubs. The standard is 24 pages long. 

The standard covers the topics of integrity and competence; transparency regarding fees, costs and finances; confidentiality and the disclosure of information; declaration of interests and conflicts; and a procedure for complaints handling.

What I didn't see was a mention of unfairly high fees or of unfair contracts. I have seen contracts by invention promoters where what the inventor had to do was carefully specified, while what the promoter had to do was left vague, where high fees were expected both up-front and as a royalty, and where the contract could only be terminated if both parties agreed. The moral is to "shop around" and to see what free help is available, such as from us and from the Patlib libraries).