16 January 2013

The Compare the Meerkat campaign as a trade mark

For four years British TV has had an advertising campaign for comparethemarket.com where there are constant jokes about a comparethemeerkat.com website that is confusing the public (and for which a fake website has been set up, and which has a clear link to the real site).

The cute little animals, who talk in the adverts, have certainly helped the financial website, which helps customers compare costs in insurance and other products, build up its market share.

I had a look for trade marks, where Class 36 includes insurance. In December 2008 there was a British trade mark application for comparethemeerkat.com and also for Aleksandr the Meerkat and they have also registered Orlov, Simples, and several along these lines:

Meerkat trade mark logo

Believe it or not, that is UK trade mark 2560681A, for Class 28 (games etc.) It is Alexsandr Orlov in his usual dressing gown, who keeps on saying “simples”. Compare the Meerkat was only applied for 8 months later but for many other classes. The campaign had begun in early 2009 so the first trade marks predated it.

These are all in the name of BGL Group, who own the comparison website. The FAME database, which the British Library subscribes to, tells me that it is a private limited company which in 2012 had a turnover of £418 million and a profit before tax of £85 million, a useful 20% margin. There were 3,703 employees. There was only one shareholder, Budget Holdings Limited, a Guernsey company.

You are not supposed to have a trade mark that describes what the business is – you can’t register “Lettuce” if you grow lettuce, or “Hotels in London” if you are about London hotels – and “compare the market” is surely within this category. That is why descriptive domain names can be more valuable than trade marks if your advertising is intended to drive people to the website. BGL apparently, tried to get around that problem by registering in 2007, before the meerkat campaign, a series of marks such as this one:

 Compare the Market trade mark logo
Three other closely related ones include the strapline “for cheaper insurance, nothing else compares”.

Possible objections along these lines form part of what is called absolute grounds, with other exclusions including using generic phrases used in the business, praising the product (surely nothing else compares qualifies ?) and blasphemy.

This is distinct from relative grounds, where a trade mark application might be rejected because it is confusingly similar to a registered mark.

Recently there have been new advertisements where a well-known comic explains to his perplexed assistant that there is no possibility of confusion between the wording compare the market and compare the meerkat. They could have been on difficult ground if someone applied for compare the meerkat, but they had already, shrewdly, registered that phrase.

According to an amusing (and informative) article in the American journal Advertising Age (28 September 2009), How did a meerkat bowl over Brits ? It’s simples, the campaign, by advertising agency Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, was devised to avoid the high cost-per-click of the word ‘market’ as people come to the site via priced advertising on Google. It cost $8 per click for the word “market”, but only 8 cents for the word “meerkat”. Their twelve month target was reached in just nine weeks, and their market share went up 76%, so that Go Compare felt forced to respond with a campaign about an opera singer annoying people. Fascinating stuff !

Jason Lonsdale of Saatchi and Saatchi was quoted as saying “They’ve done something unexpected and a bit bonkers, and it's paid off. A campaign based on talking animals and a pun sounds like a terrible idea, but it works.” There has also been extensive use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

How did I find the article ? By carrying out a search on Business Source Complete, another database we subscribe to. Not everying is available for free on the Web.

The adverts keep coming, with more than 30 so far. Most can be seen on Youtube.

04 January 2013

London “Meet up” groups on product design and business

Meet Up is one of many social media websites, which enables people with shared interests in the same area to meet up in events. You indicate how many miles you want to be from a location and what interests you to find “Groups”.

London has a huge advantage in having a big, skilled population engaged in numerous service activities. Two London-based groups seemed to me particularly relevant in product design. These are ProductTank (with 1358 members) and the overlapping Converge+UK (with only 182 members) which claims to merge design, business and technology. Both were new to me.

It’s hard to keep track of all the activities going on. Even harder if you don’t use the Web.

15 November 2012

Real Business and the Wonga Future 50 companies

The British Library last night hosted Real Business magazine's Wonga Future 50, where they were unveiled in an event chaired by Matthew Rock, the magazine's editor. The aim was to "discover the bold, disruptive new generation of entrepreneurial businesses that are triggering change in their market; or creating a new one."

It was preceded by a graceful tribute to Mark Sheahan, who we are delighted to have as the British Library's Inventor in Residence, who has carried out over 500 one-to-one meetings with inventors, and who was one of the judges selecting the fifty. Mark did admit that some of the people he met were "off the planet" and also talked about  sharks who "ripped off" inventors. He was also said it was considered bad to be called an inventor -- I always advise people to call themselves designers, as that term is regarded as more acceptable. I am sure Mark knows how grateful all the inventors he helped are.

The fifty companies were indeed often in disruptive innovation, and green themes, energy and digital media were strongly represented. We heard short presentations from seven companies. These were:

WhipCar , Car sharing where instead of maintaining a fleet of its own vehicles, actual owners rent out their cars for brief periods.

Pavegen. The only one, to be frank, I'd heard of before from this list of seven. Energy is generated by people walking on pavements. I've posted on them before. Here's the drawing from their Energy harvesting patent application.

Pavegen energy harvesting patent drawing

Pod Point, a networked electric vehicle recharging system.

Endomagnetics, a University College, London spin-out who have pioneered using magnetism rather than radioactivity in identifying where lymph nodes are in cancer treatment. Here is a drawing from their Magnetic probe apparatus patent application.

Endomagnetics patent drawing

Playmob, a combination of social gaming and charitable giving, where players pay for virtual objects and the money goes to charity.

Parkatmyhouse, an example of "collaborative consumption", they said, where house owners rent out their parking spaces on an occasional basis. Apparently many owners of expensive cars are more interested in protecting the cars from damage than in making savings on parking fees.

Shutl. My favourite, where numerous tiny "point to point" delivery companies, which deliver direct to one customer, as opposed to a lorry moving around all day, are aggregated in a service provided for stores that sign up and customers have very specific delivery times.

It is interesting that four of these seven have systems that rely on communicating through the Internet.

The Future 50 companies are listed on the Real Business website and a special issue of the magazine in January will feature them and will announce the "people's champion", the favourite as voted for on the website.

It was a fun event and in the reception following I spoke among others to a former client about his (confidential !) ideas and to Stijn Paumen of Snappli (a company which compresses data used on mobile phones to save users money) where we talked about my Dutch origins (he is from Arnhem, my ancestor was from Rotterdam).

I know that these stories can also be found on the Web, but for me there's no substitute for hearing the stories and meeting the people.

08 November 2012

Global Entrepreneurship Week at the British Library

Next week is going to very busy for us as we have lots of activities to mark Global Enterpreneurship Week. They will be at our London site (but include webinars).

On Monday and Tuesday there is the London Business Village in our Conference Centre, where we and our partners will have stands. Anyone attending this free event will be able to learn more about what this is out there in help for business people and innovators. There will also be some special events. It's open 10 to 5 pm.

Monday night, there is Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time for Entrepreneurs. This priced event should be great fun -- I will be there (I try to go to as many as I can) as it's so inspiring, besides learning what are in effect case studies as well as pointers to improving a business.

Wednesday night, I'll be there again for Innovating for Growth: the Future 50. This is about identifying fifty prospects for the future, and again should be very interesting. There should be a real buzz that evening.

We're also running six free webinars over the Wednesday to the Friday on topics such as brands, beginner's guide to intellectual property and marketing. These are listed at our list of all events, where you register for them.

So there's plenty happening next week. Hope you can make it.

02 July 2012

Innovating for Growth programme for London companies

The British Library is asking for applications for support by London-based companies in its Innovating for Growth programme, launched today.

Successful companies must have been trading for at least one year, with proven sales, and there must be at least two employees working in the company. The aim is to help the company develop new products, services, processes or markets.

The Progamme does this not by giving out cash, but rather by putting together for each company a package of face to face meetings and mentoring with partner organisations. A minimum of 12 hours over 3 months is involved, equivalent to £10,000 per company. For example, a product designer could look at products and make suggestions for reducing costs and increasing their saleability.

Getting someone to take a fresh look at what you're doing can be remarkably useful. It's all too easy to get stuck in a groove and not see what could be changed to enable the business to grow. In a pilot stage of the programme, we've helped companies as diverse as SquidLondon, whose umbrellas change colour when they get wet; Blueberry Hill, a cake maker; Yoomi, a sophisticated baby feed bottle maker; and PleaseCycle, who encourage people to cycle to work. Their testimonials are on the site.

The Programme is supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

10 May 2012

Patent landscape reports: analysing business sectors

WIPO has a very useful list on its site of patent landscape reports

These are analyses of trends and patterns by country, company and so on of particular sectors. They are arranged in the broad categories Public Health/ Life Sciences, Climate Change/ Energy, and Food and Agriculture.

Many are available to see as free PDF links, but a few at least only lead to a free abstract and the report must be purchased. I would encourage anyone who has published such a report, or at least knows of one, to mention it to WIPO, as I am sure that there are a lot more than the 50 or so listed. I am not sure if comparable academic papers qualify as well -- personally I don't see why not. And surely there are other sectors such as engineering to cover ?

I myself suggested to them a 2011 report compiled for the UK IPO on medical devices and telehealth by CambridgeIP. I found it in a little-known but very useful (and free) Zanran database, which looks for data such as pie graphs and bar charts in Web documents. It is best used when there are a couple of well-defined terms as opposed to an area where there are lots of synonyms.

In this case, Zanran provided 92 hits for a search for patents + nanotechnology limited to the last 24 months. There were 17 hits for "patent landscape", again the last 24 months only.

The site is a great favourite of mine for trying to reduce the number of hits otherwise found on Google to a managable (and largely relevant) amount, and it's easy to scan the results by letting the cursor move down the images of the documents.

28 February 2012

Create, innovate, protect at the British Library

Last night the British Library hosted a free event, "Create, innovate, protect" where the UK IPO hosted an explanation of the importance of intellectual property rights to business.

There were four talks in the auditorium followed by networking at the stands outside. The first was by  Dave Hopkins, of the UK IPO, who explained the different types of protection. Particularly memorable was his story about the much advertised George Foreman® Grill. Apparently it wasn't selling very well and the company asked George Foreman, the boxer, if he would give his name to the product. He agreed, and began receiving millions of dollars in royalties as sales took off.

The invention itself is apparently based on George Boehm's Electrical cooker patent. Here is the main drawing.

George Foreman grill patent image
The point of the Foreman story is adding value by using brands. It's hard to compete on price with the big boys -- so why not add value such as a popular brand (and the man himself advertising "his" grill on TV, as well) ? In this case instead of building up brand recognition they began with the name of a well known person.

Dave was followed by Jan Vleck of patent attorneys Reddie & Grose, explaining the role of attorneys in not just writing the patent document but giving advice and support in working out an IP strategy.

Then there was our very own Neil Infield, Manager of our Business & IP Centre, who has his own blog, In through the outfield, talking about what the British Library has to offer.

Stefan Knox of Bang Creations, a product designer company, rounded off the session. He used his experiences in improving and modifying designs to tell fascinating (well, very interesting!) anecdotes about what really happened in cables to secure laptops, sun loungers, a seating invention of his own design...

Afterwards the crowds went out into the foyer and were able to ask questions at the stands. I'm glad to say that we were all besieged. I talked to lots of people, giving what advice I could and suggesting our free one to one meetings about business ideas. The problem as always is giving useful information to people without being too broad and sweeping, as problems often can't be solved (let alone explained, or analysed) quickly.

24 February 2012

Make it in Great Britain

The British Government has launched a Make it in Great Britain website. It is a "campaign aiming to transform outdated opinions of modern manufacturing and dispel the myth that Britain ‘doesn’t make anything anymore’."

It is a competition looking for entries in six categories. It is a requirement that the product is to be manufactured in the UK. The deadline for submitting entries is the 5 April, and shortlisted entries will be showcased in a rolling exhibition at the Science Museum during July to September.

Visitors each week will vote on their favourites, and the winners will be announced in September.

The categories are:

 Make it…Stronger
 Make it…Smarter;
 Make it…Sustainable;
 Make it…Life changing; and
 Make it…Breakthrough (for 16-21 year old entrants only)

There is no actual prize as such other than a lot of publicity for successful entrants.

This sounds like an exciting and ambitious competition and should attract a lot of interest.

30 November 2011

New research into patenting and innovation

WIPO has just published its 2011 World Intellectual Property Report: the changing face of innovation.

Its 184 pages packs in a huge number of tables giving data about research and development, technology transfer, patent pools, innovation by universities and the like. It looks like a very useful reference for anyone interested in such topics.

The report's arguments as summarised in the Executive Summary are that the geography of innovation is changing, although "high-income countries" still dominate R & D; it is more international; it is more collaborative and open; IP ownership has become more central to business thinking; knowledge markets based on IP products are becoming more important; patent portfolio races complicate cumulative innovation processes; patents facilitate specialization and learning; and so on. It also says that market forces do not always lead to "desirable levels" of collaboration, and that academia is doing more now in patenting and commercialising their research.

Also recently published are two UK-focused reports.

The first report is Patenting in the UK by Dr Victor Zhiromirsky of PatAnalyse Limited and Mick McLean and Jeremy Klein of Technologia Limited.

They suggest that each patent is equivalent to about £2 million in R & D expenditure. Their analysis also suggests that about 44% of UK-origin patents are by companies filing 5 patents or more annually; 40% from those that file fewer than 5; 8% from universities, and 8% by private inventors. Some inventors form a company and then file, of course, and some universities sell or license their inventions to others who then appear as the applicants in the patents.

Tables in the report are also used to show "clustering" within technical sectors by companies.

The second report is UK patent attorneys by the same Dr Zhiromirsky.

Based on the same format, it has some fascinating statistics about individual patent attorney firms and their activities in the UK and abroad. The report suggests that 58% of UK-origin patents are handled by patent attorney firms; 25% by non-attorneys (mostly by the inventors themselves ?); and 17% by in-house patent attorneys working for industrial companies.

The report also discusses the loss of business at the European Patent Office to Munich-based attorneys.

29 November 2011

Jottify, a website for writers

Jottify is a website where writers can "share, read and sell". I was told about it by its founder a few days ago, when he was explaining it at one of our free meetings where new entrepreneurs can discuss their business ventures.

He mentioned that BBC's Click was going to mention him on their TV broadcast at the weekend. It did indeed, about 20 minutes and 30 seconds into it -- with comments like "nice" and "homely feel". Here is the episode (UK users only). It is easy to navigate, and its interactivity encourages comment and voting on favourite pieces of writing. I can see if becoming a popular site for those who love writing.

We normally see those wanting to set up a business at an earlier stage -- the site has been live for months -- so we discussed ideas for the future.

So who is the founder ? He is a pleasant and enthusiastic man, who has extensive experience of building websites to encourage writers. He's a bit shy on the site, but you can find his picture if you click on "About" on the bottom left of the home page -- the "founder, developer and designer": Jack Lenox.