18 June 2012

My talk on patents at Newcastle Library

I’ll be visiting Newcastle upon Tyne on the 4 July in a free event at its Business & IP Centre, In Conversation with the patent and IP expert, from 4 to 6 pm.

It’s going to be very informal, my talking but also answering questions and joining in discussion about the role of, and importance of, patents and IP. I’ve been in the business since 1987 but as a librarian rather than a patent attorney, which is a slightly unusual approach to the subject. For a number of years we have been emphasising how IP protection has to be backed up by commercialisation by using business information, and we've had lots and lots of visitors and enquiries.

It’s an approach that Newcastle has also developed, particularly since the launch last September of its Business & IP Centre.

Like the British Library, they are working with partners to provide a range of services and activities to help innovators and business people. Since the launch, their librarians have delivered nearly 130 hours of advice on IP to clients, while partners have delivered 123 sessions on topics such as marketing, branding and tax relief. Nearly 1450 people have attended 53 events. It now means that there is a single venue for information and help in IP, as well as business, for the Northeast.

It all sounds terrific, and I’m actually going to see it for myself. I haven't been to Newcastle for many years. I’m looking forward to the evening, and hope that many sign up for this free event.

04 April 2012

The London Olympics and intellectual property

The subject of the London Olympics and intellectual property is a complicated one and this posting merely mentions some interesting materials. Legal advice should always be used when thinking of using the Olympic name and symbols: if you don't have explicit permission, don't use the names or symbols.

The UK has the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act (2006) which sets out harsh penalties for anyone falsely implying a connection with the Olympics.

I like the 39 Olympic logos from 1924 to 2012 page on the Web Designer Depot site, which shows the evolution of design.

Many of these were registered as trade marks or designs. An interesting piece of retro is the 1948 London Olympics poster, which has recently been applied for as a European Trade Mark by the International Olympic Committee as E10575041. It is shown below.

1948 London Olympics logo

32 trade mark registrations have been made by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games through the UK system, such as no. 2551176, where a vast number of goods and services are spelt out, as registrations are for specific goods and services within any of 45 Nice Classification classes. Below is Mandeville, who with Weblock is the official mascot of the Games, as given in the registration -- "this is front" and "this is front/side" are obviously not meant to be part of the trade mark but in theory that is what they are.

UK TM 2551176
There are also registered designs, and the OHIM database for EU-wide protection lists 88 designs by the London Organising Committee.

These include typefaces, to my surprise; the appearance of web pages; and numerous variations such as by colour of the main logo of the Games, such as this one below.

EU design 00894522-0010

There is an official page called Using the brand about correct usage etc.

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.

05 October 2011

The Patent Blog, Live: a fun event !

Last night we had The Patent Blog, Live, a new kind of event where readers of this blog could meet me and ask questions. This was the posting advertising it.

Unfortunately Nigel Hanley of the UK IPO was unable to make it, so it was left to me to field questions on a variety of topics, which was followed by networking over wine. There were many questions and comments on marketing and developing your product, the role of patent attorneys, the different kinds of intellectual property, and confidentiality agreements.

Questions included, was it worthwhile worthwhile patenting a product ? Not necessarily, I suggested -- it may not be worth the cost and effort of getting a patent. First-mover advantage and/ or trade secrets may be best, especially for a novel product where you plan to get out in say six months.

I also suggested that trade marks are often the most valuable possession of an entrepreneur. Someone asked if you could register an image as a trade mark. Yes, I replied, but in my opinion it is best to use words as well or instead, as words and not images are easily searched for on Google (or asked for on the phone). Sometimes a domain name is best, especially if the brand you want describes the product or service, and you want to drive customers to your website (trade marks cannot purely describe the product or service). Think of the companies you see on TV whose sole intent is that you remember their website.

Obviously I couldn't give detailed answers in many cases. Just the same it was clear that those attending found it a fun and stimulating event. I certainly did, as I was kept busy all evening.

Something that was appreciated in the networking  was our offer of free "one to one" meetings where anyone can meet with one of our staff to discuss their ideas. The relevant intellectual property is explained, and suggestions made for their business plan (I always emphasis the value of business plans, including financial projections). This is meant for early-stage businesses only. Requests can be made through our information clinics page.

13 September 2011

The Patent Blog, live

The British Library is hosting a free evening event on the 4 October called "The Patent Blog - Live".

I relish the opportunity to meet any of my readers who would like to come along, and questions and debate will be welcomed both for me and for the UK Intellectual Property Office's Nigel Hanley. There will be a certain emphasis on patents in software and computing and how they are protected. For example, Nigel will explain about the "Peer to Patent" initiative, which helps the Office determine if an invention in software and related areas is really new.

Patents and the media has also been suggested as an area for debate -- do the media often get things wrong, such as the (fictitious) "world patent" I often hear about. 

The event runs from 18.00 to 20.00 at our Business & IP Centre, and while it is free, it is essential to book. More information is given at this page

20 June 2011

Innoventique, magazine for innovation

Innoventique is the name of a free, quarterly magazine, with its aim being "how to make money from innovation".

It is the successor to Inventique, and is available on the Innoventique: from innovation to marketplace website. It focuses on the UK scene, and I found it an interesting read, with a mixture of factual items and features. Back issues are available as well.

The website belongs to Innoventique Communications, a not-for-profit-company, with Frank Landamore of the Wessex Round Table of Inventors as its editor. The Round Table is based in Southampton, Hampshire, and is one of the many regional or local groups that encourage, inform and generally help inventors or small companies.

Also helpful is nearby Portsmouth Public Library, who run one of the UK's Patlib centres assisting those interested in researching and protecting their innovations.

03 June 2011

Bali Carty's photosensitive wristband, Sunband

Today's Metro had a short item on Bali Carty, a nursery owner from Birmingham, England, and her photosensitive wristband, Sunband. The darker colour warns youngsters to apply sun cream.

It's a nice idea, and I was interested in the statement "Bali Carty has gained a patent for Sunbands". I couldn't find any published patent documents on the free Espacenet database.

Then I looked at the Daily Mail's article on the invention. It quotes her as saying "It is the first product of its kind in the world". It also says that she developed it four months ago.

Patents take at best nearly two years to be granted protection, and must be new when applied for. There is no sign of an applied for patent in the Searchable Patents Journal, which occurs in the UK several weeks after application.

One visitor to the Daily Mail article site states that a similar device was on sale in Australia years ago, while another person wrote that she had received a free wristband with suncream where you applied cream on the wristband, and when it changed colour it showed that more suncream was needed. An advance on the concept ? This seems to be the product that my colleague Maria Lampert pointed out to me, UVSunSense™.

A quick look showed a different, more complicated device, meant to be attached to a wristband like a watch, American patent application UV detection devices and methods, illustrated below.

Portable UV protection apparatus patent drawing 
It is always advisable to carry out a patent search at an early stage even if, as I am often confidently told, it hasn't been seen in the shops. The Birmingham Patlib library, for example, would have been happy to help. Looking on the Web is a good idea as well.

Even if an invention is new, it is vital that the invention is kept confidential by not publicising it until after the patent application has been filed.  

01 June 2011

Patents for computer software, Peer to Patent

Today the UK IPO has launched its trial database of Peer to Patent, where anyone can comment on applications for software patents.

Traditionally patent office examiners research the old patents to see if a patent application is genuinely new. Software is a problem here for two reasons: they are often not patentable under existing legislation in Europe, and much "prior art" is not in the patents.

Peer to Patent means that anyone can point out that an idea has been done before. It's the "crowd sourcing" idea that the mass of people will know more than a single individual, as they will have specialist skills and interests.

There are similar projects elsewhere, such as the USA and Australia. The British content differs as it includes the search report by the patent examiner, where X (broadly speaking, done before) and Y (obvious improvements) citations of earlier patents refer to the affected claims within the patent application. This shows what is already known by the IPO.

Anyone interested can comment within 90 days, including commenting on the significance of suggested prior art, after which a report is prepared by the IPO to decide whether or not to grant a patent.

20 applications, which were originally sent in in December 2008, are already on the database and it is anticipated that 10 more will join them every week.

More information, including a blog, is available on the Peer to Patent home page. It sounds like a very interesting project, and I hope that it is considered worthwhile and is continued.

26 April 2011

World Intellectual Property Day

Today, the 26 April, is World Intellectual Property Day. This year's theme is "Designing the future".

To mark the occasion the UK Intellectual Property Office has created a page that includes several contributions from people involved with IP. This includes an article by myself talking about what tends to take up my day.

IP is a complex and still poorly understood subject for many. Yes, it is complex, and sadly there aren't really any shortcuts in learning how it works, how it can be used to assist companies and inventors, and how it can be searched.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), who sponsor the Day, have a press release about the day.

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).