28 February 2013

Dog leash inventions by Lucy Mitchell

Tara Roskell’s Ideas Uploaded blog has an interesting interview with inventor Lucy Mitchell about her magnetic snap lock for dog leashes or leads.

Now based in Wiltshire, Mitchell lived for 20 years in Florida where she was a pilot. She has always been interested in how things work and in improving products – she is quoted as saying “I remember as a child being annoyed at things that didn’t work properly.” She has not had a formal engineering training.

She thought of her new lock when at a pet trade show in Germany in 2010. She already had had a World patent application published, the Retractable pet leash with self powered electric light, illustrated here.

Retractable dog leash with light patent image

While talking to a vendor, Mitchell was playing with a leash. The lock suddenly snapped and tore her fingernail. It was the small knob on the snap bolt which had done it. Mitchell realised that standard locks became progressively more difficult to open, but are easy to snap shut. She thought it ought to be the other way round. Magnets, she thought, were the answer.

She filed for another World patent application, Hook with magnetic closure, illustrated below.

 Magnetic closure for dog lead patent image

The interview says that 80% of the buyers of dog leashes are female. This may explain why her US trade mark, called MagneClip in the interview, is actually MagneClip No More Broken Nails®. Mitchell comments that [many ?] men “have an opinion that women must be dumb and don’t know what they are talking about”, and she had to intervene in the mistaken designs of her Taiwanese manufacturer.

She has tried raising funds on crowdfunding site Indiegogo as MagneClip magnetic snaphook, where extra details are given. Between them, the two sites give a lot of detail about the development of her invention.

27 February 2013

Late at the Library: Fashion Flashback, this Friday

This Friday the British Library is hosting Late at the Library: Fashion Flashback and it sounds great fun.

I'll be there to see the latest fashions, such perhaps as this one:

EU trade mark 002499390
That is a European trade mark, no. 002499390. It looks very futuristic but was in fact filed in 2001 -- by the BBC. Presumably it refers to some TV series -- can anyone shed light on it ?

Maybe some fashions on the night will look like this one, which is another European trade mark, no. 001311570, which is owned by Running Bare Australia.

Wahine trade mark

The event is part of our creative industries activities, as shown by our Inspired by... creative industries blog. About a quarter of my work is with fashion.

This includes helping students and start-ups in the reading room with identifying market research and companies. We have industry guides listing useful sources held by us for fashion (clothes), footwear and jewellery.

It also includes free one hour meetings to explain what intellectual property rights might be relevant to a creative's ideas as part of our business & information clinics offer.

Clearly, they are confidential -- but I can certainly say that I have frequently seen clothing decanted onto the table in front of me, some of which would have made a Victorian spinster blush.

22 February 2013

The WIPO Global Brand database

WIPO has added seven million American trade marks to their Global Brand database.

The idea behind the database is to make brands – registered trade marks, though branding as a concept is somewhat broader -- more accessible to anyone interested in using them for information by bringing together data from different sites.

An earlier related attempt is TMView, run by OHIM, which administers an EU-wide trade mark system. Its own data is searched plus that of numerous EU countries to provide a single list of results.

 The Global Data database has broader ambitions – it really aims to be global – but besides that it has some very interesting search features. This makes it the obvious site to use when checking for international coverage. Presumably more offices will later join the database.

With the new US data, it now contains over 10 million trade marks. The other main offices in it are the Madrid Agreement data, which provides coverage in many countries with one registration, and Canada and Australia. 10 offices in all are so far included, plus Lisbon appellations of origin and 6ter emblems, which are wording or images which cannot be registered as trade marks (such as national flags, official heraldry etc.). Clearly, the more countries join the better.

The database is easy and intuitive to use. As you type in a word or holder name it suggests possible wording. Fuzzy logic or phonetic searches to find closely related marks are possible by clicking on symbols to the left of the search box (but not it seems more detailed search variants such as in the UK trade mark database). The results appear very rapidly in order of the most recent registrations in a seamless list, with numerous details displayed including the logo.

Below is an image of what the search page looks like with a couple of the results showing at the bottom.

WIPO Global Brands database results example

The logo search area is very intriguing. Suppose you are looking for images of mountains as a trade mark. Click on “lookup” and then type mountain in the new search box. Eight possibilities are offered, which are either VC (Vienna Classification, which is internationally used) or the US variant of VC. Click on the one you want, say 06.01.02, mountain landscapes, and the search is transferred to the main search box. This makes what can often be very laborious much simpler.

 There is also a filter function to the right of the search boxes so that groups of data can be selected. A display automatically appears for any result list broken down by the numbers found in each office. There is also status – the numbers “active”, pending or deleted. “Expiration” tells you how many will expire within set time periods, which is potentially useful for formalities officers needing to check for future renewals.

Other details are explained in the Help function at top right of the screen. All in all I found the database easy and helpful to use (it does help that I am an experienced searcher). I would encourage everyone doing similar work to try it out and add it to their search tools.

15 February 2013

Blue screen film pioneer and inventor Petro Vlahos

The inventor of the “blue screen” film technique as it is used today, Petro Vlahos, has died at the age of 96. This posting is based on the interesting BBC tribute to him. I am glad to say the article links to Google versions of two of his patents (this is unusual).

A blue screen is used in filming where actors are combined in film editing with action or other backgrounds to give a seamless effect. A not very good version was available when Vlahos was asked to see if he could improve the process. Some objects would appear to glow, and that was clearly annoying and hardly realistic. Vlahos later said that he spent six months thinking about it, much of it looking out at Hollywood Boulevard.

He came up with a technique that involved a matte which is transparent whenever the blue screen is used but is opaque in other sequences in the film. The blue, green and red parts are separated and then combined in a certain order. It seems that rather than the actors being superimposed on a background, which I'd assumed, it’s the other way round, which sounds mysterious to me (I do love the magic of the “movies” after all).

His Composite color photography patent was applied for in 1959 and the technique was first used in Ben Hur.

A more complicated variation was also patented as Composite photography utilizing sodium vapor illumination.

Both patents were assigned to the Motion Picture Research Council but the article states that this second technique was developed for Disney. Actors were filmed against a white background with sodium lamps which made a yellow glow bounce off the background.

The camera filmed two separate images (or “film stock”) simultaneously. A prism on the camera would cause one film stock to split the yellow light from other colours and send it to a black and white film stock to create a matte.

The other film stock would record in normal colour without any yellow glow. This produced a very clean effect, and was typically used when actors were apparently interacting with cartoon characters as in Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Vlahos later formed a company, Ultimatte, to develop more techniques.

This is a list of Vlahos’ patents

13 February 2013

Inspiring Science events at the British Library: science meets comedy, art...

The British Library is hosting a series of events called "Inspiring science: experiment with ideas", with the strapline "What happens when science, art, philosophy and comedy collide !"

It does exactly what it says on the tin. Which, as my modest contribution to the comedy theme, is in fact a registered trade mark for certain activities such as paints and cleaning preparations, see for example UK trade mark 2195193, for the Ronseal® brand (though in fact owned by US company Sherwin Williams).

The events are listed at the British Library's Inspiring Science webpage. They include a free exhibition of science inspired artworks between the 25 February and the 24 March, so it's worth coming in just for that.

I will  be attending the Ideas in the Bath: Serendipity, Chance and Science event on the 11 March, partly because the way inventions and discoveries (often in chemistry) come about by accident interests me, and will be one of the speed mentors at the Go Go Gadget event on the 19 March, which are always fun, explaining the basics of checking for IP rights over and over to fresh groups of people as they move from one table to another.

One event I'd love to go to but can't is Full Frontal Nerdity on the 22 March. This sounds like The Big Bang Theory meets standup, and should be an absolute hoot (I love affectionate sendups). I met Steve Mould, one of the threesome, to discuss possible material from the world of patents that he could use, and I must say it was one of the most amusing consultations I've ever had.  

Enjoy.

01 February 2013

The Smart Search format in the Espacenet patent database

For some time the free Espacenet patent database has automatically opened at the Smart Search page, which I find slightly irritating as I normally want the Advanced search format.

I have used the Smart Search for entering patent numbers – this can be in the form 700000 or 70000 for example, or 190520000, and any relevant records will be retrieved. Filing numbers can also be requested. Using country codes such as US or GB is not required but is of course useful if many records are expected (such as lowish numbers). This ability to use numbers without codes used to be available in the Number Search format but this has been incorporated into Smart Search.

Another ability in Smart Search is the ability to use logical operators. This is the name for the ability to say things like “x must be present within 5 words of y”, so that there is a high chance that the words are closely related. Keyword searches would be in the title or the abstract (summary) area.

For example, suppose you are interested in the concept of an umbrella hat. One example is the rather striking drawing given below, by Friedrich Wielandt of Switzerland whose British patent 747154 was published in 1956.

 Rain protective head gear rain hat patent image

If you ask for “umbrella hat” you get 31 hits. If you ask for the words to be no more than 5 words apart you get 284. These would, admittedly, include some “false drops” such as the unwanted phrase “umbrella fabric is arranged between the hat body” which is from a Chinese specification

You can try reducing the 5 word rule to 3 (I personally would never make it less) which in this case would cut the number found to 262, a small loss. Simply using the words in the title or abstract field in the Advanced search, linked by “and”, gives 369 hits.

Results would presumably vary from one subject area to another, and would also depend on the ways words could relate to each other – “light” for example means illumination but also an absence of weight, and there would be odd results in many cases if that word was used. 

Greater precision nearly always means a loss of relevant material, and tools are never a substitute for using your judgment, which in turn depends on what you or a client wants and expects.

Smart Search uses codes to express these operators. The formula used above is:

umbrella prox/distance<5 hat

There is also this looser, but in a way more specific as it ties the words to use within the same sentence, code:

umbrella prox/unit=sentence hat

You could also add a country code such as “and pn=us” if you wanted the search limited to US publications. It is a pity that these codes are hardly intuitive and must be remembered or written down.

It is also a good idea to add truncation symbols: # means one extra character must be present, ? no character or one character (used for most plurals), while * indicates that any number of characters can follow (used, generally, for verbs).

My impression is that most if not all of the other possibilities in Smart Search are already catered for by using Boolean operators such as OR, AND, NOT, or by string searching with words included within quotes to show that they must be found in the same order.