31 January 2012

Patent for the QR, Quick Response, Code

Many see the QR (Quick Response) Codes on advertisements and so on but few realise that the concept was patented.

Nippon Denso and Toyoda Chuo Kenkyusho KK of Japan applied for patents in 1994 for an "Optically readable two-dimensional code and method and apparatus using the same", with the US patent published in 1998. It was originally thought of as a method of easily tracking vehicles in a car factory. Its use nowadays is typically someone using an advanced mobile or cell phone's camera to "read" the code which then links to a website. Below is the main drawing.

QR Quick Response Code patent image
The blocks at three corners are for positioning so that the right area is read. Three squares presumably are more stable than placing squares at opposite corners, while four would take up too much space (I am guessing here). The rest of the area is taken up in practice with a mosaic of tiny pixels forming a unique image.

At present an app has to be loaded to use it, but as the concept has become so popular in recent years that it is likely that new phones will incorporate the software as standard.

That American patent at present has 144 citations, where US patent examiners cited the patent as relevant to later granted patents.

There is a useful Wikipedia article on QR codes.

24 January 2012

Everyday objects in the Hidden Heroes exhibition

I finally got around to seeing the Hidden Heroes exhibition at the Science Museum, London. It closes on the 5 June.

The exhibition tells the stories behind 44 common objects which are taken for granted. All, or nearly all, were patented. It uses a combination of patent drawings, variations on the objects, video and so on to do this.

I found myself peering intently at patent drawings to see if I could read the patent numbers, as this would be a great way for designers and inventors to follow up the stories. We are told about things such as telescopic umbrellas, teabags, bubble wrap, ring pulls and shipping containers. Certainly, everything has to be designed and then made, no matter how apparently simple or throwaway it is. There is a certain Germanic emphasis which reflects its origins in the Vitra Design Museum -- a useful corrective to Anglo-American boosting, perhaps.

I suspect that the exhibition would appeal more to designers and others involved in the innovation process than to the ordinary person as they may find it hard going. I certainly found it stimulating and left with a sheet covered with scribbled notes.

The inventions are listed on the Vitra Design Museum's (rather awkward to use) "My Hidden Heroes" website.

05 January 2012

Arthur Paul Pedrick, an eccentric British inventor

Arthur Paul Pedrick (1918-1976) was an eccentric British inventor with numerous patents. Niels Stevnsborg has just had an entertaining, and well-researched, article about him published.

It appears in World patent information, December 2011, vol. 33, no. 4, pages 371-382. Pedrick -- "AP" -- was from a family of Royal Navy engineers, and he himself served as a temporary Engineer Lieutenant in World War II. From 1947 to 1961 he was a patent examiner at the UK Patent Office, and was supposedly dismissed for inefficiency.

For the rest of his life he filed patent applications on a wide variety of subjects. As far as I am aware he is the only patent examiner to have branched out into patenting in modern times (there were a few in victorian times). Although often (always ?) regarded as unworkable, and not though ever to have been put into practice, they are often on environmental themes, and ahead of their time. He regarded himself as a one-man laboratory, although sometimes assisted by his cat Ginger, with whom he has discussions in some of the patents.

The patents include GB1426698, which is both a peace-keeping nuclear device and a cat flap which admits ginger-coloured cats only, and the illustrated Process for producing hydrogen and electricity from sea river or lake water.

Pedrick patent for producing hydrogen and electricity from water

Some of AP's patents are sorted by theme by Tim Jackson. I have identified 84 British patents by Arthur Paul Pedrick and 75 British patents by A P Pedrick which makes 159 in all.

The article is a fitting tribute to a man who is famous in patent circles.

04 January 2012

The first English patent, on the radio

Melvyn Bragg, the author and broadcaster, is giving a series of talks on Radio 4 called In our time: the written world. Among others here at the British Library, I recorded a session with him about the first English patent, in 1618.

English patent no. 1 is not really for an invention but rather a monopoly, as it is for the right to engrave maps of London and other cities (no. 2 was a monopoly on representing the image of the King). It is only no. 1 because it was the first item in a the first "docket book" selected for printing when, in the 1850s, the newly set up Patent Office decided to number and print the old English patents.

I found radio to be an interesting medium for discussing the appearance of an old printed item. It is a blue pamphlet, with the wordy printed pages inside faithfully reproducing the spelling and flourishes used by the clerk whose copy is kept in the National Archives (the material handed in by patent applicants was all routinely destroyed).

The broadcast that includes my piece is going out at 9 to 9.30 am on Friday the 6 January, with a repeat at 9.30 pm. The British Library has a page on the British Library items