29 November 2012

Catchup on the proposed European Union patent

This is a followup to my post back in April on the subject.  Sorry for the delay in reporting back !

In June 2012, 25 EU member states agreed on provisions for the European Union Patent. Only Spain and Italy did not participate, annoyed that the only languages permitted in the scheme were English, German and French.

Some people assume that the European Patent Convention (EPC) already offers patents with EU-wide effect. It's certainly not the same thing. A granted EPC patent, which can be in English, German or French, is really a bundle of national patents, where after an initial opposition period the patent can lapse from protection in individual countries due to a failure to pay national renewal fees, or because of national revocation proceedings. Similarly it could be amended nationally.

There is no requirement to list all EU member states when applying for patent protection through the EPC. So e.g. Belgium might be omitted.

Switzerland is in the EPC but not in the EU, so membership is not limited to EU states. New EU member states are required to join the EPC, and all currently do.

The European Union Patent would involve having patents granted through the existing European Patent Office in Munich, which already deals with the EPC patents. All EU states must be included in such grants. The patents stand or fall as a result of centralised patent litigation, and lapse as a whole as well.

The main stumbling blocks in a struggle which has been going on since 1973 has been the language used in the patents and in the law courts, plus where the law courts would be.

The following provisions have been agreed on:

The patent specification can be in English, German, or French.

There will be a single renewal fee for the entire EU.

The Unified Patent Court will deal with infringement and revocation proceedings. It will have a court of first instance and a court of appeal. The court would have its seat, registry and central division in Paris. Litigation is in the same language as the patent.

The central division would have thematic branches in London (chemistry cases, including pharmaceuticals) and Munich (mechanical engineering cases), each expected to take about 30% of the case load. 

The choice of Paris is distinctly odd, as far more patents are published through the EPC in English or German, and London has much more IP law talent than Paris. Local courts can also be set up by individual countries.

There will be a transitional period of seven years during which either national or the Unified Patent Court can be chosen for litigation (if the latter, that choice cannot be changed).

Originally the court was to be mainly in Paris and partly in Munich, but David Cameron, the UK's PM,  protested.

Patent costs will be greatly reduced as a result of the deal. The European Union estimates that costs will fall from 32000 Euros to 6500 Euros, a saving mainly from translation costs. This does mean that some patents with force in the UK will as a result be in German or French, which will cause problems for researchers, librarians, industry and lawyers. Machine translations only go so far.

The position of Spain and Italy as to possible involvement is still unclear, as are various technical issues. Also unclear is how the new courts will be funded.

It is uncertain when all this will take effect. There is a detailed Wikipedia article on the subject.

[The European Parlaiment passed the legislation, see my later post. Ed.]

28 November 2012

Dragons’ Den: an insole for high heels

In the 25 November episode Mark Shepherd asked for £50,000 in return for 15% equity. 

A former disc jockey, he was aware of the discomfort suffered by dancers, particularly those in high heels. Hence his website suggests "Turn your killer heels into comfort heels”.

The invention is a new type of insole, which he calls Itsoles®. Hook and eye fasteners secure two overlapping pads (one especially for the heel, and enabling use in different shoe sizes) to the upper. The patent application’s first page says that 70% of the high heels wearer’s weight is borne by the balls of the feet, which is a lot of pressure. The application has the title Footwear cushioning apparatus. Here is the main drawing.

Itsoles foot cushioning patent drawing
No offers were made, as it was thought that existing products were satisfactory and that major competitors might compete. I have found in my one to one meetings with clients that any suggestion that a well-placed company might launch a rival product to the client's is often met with incredulity on the grounds that "they wouldn't, I'd have a patent". 

Maybe, but besides designing round the patent, some companies are willing compete and then be challenged, so that they can then challenge the patent's validity. Which is one reason why there are a lot of lawyers.

27 November 2012

Dragons’ Den: the MyBunjee® mobile phone accessory

In the 25 November episode, Mark Ferguson and Emma Jones explained their MyBunjee® product. It prevents mobile phones suffering loss, theft or accidental falls to the floor by using a coiled “bunjee cord” clip.

In the pitch they said that they were “14 months into a patent and the searches are being done at the moment”. Searches by patent office examiners are vital as these are used to grant, reject or modify applications (although others can comment). In this case, a search dated June 2012 at the end of the patent application listed numerous examples of prior art, which shows how long it takes the TV show to air.

The UK patent application is entitled A holder for a portable item comprising an attachment device and a holding device linked by a resilient member and there is also an American patent application. Here is the main drawing.

MyBunjee patent drawing

These earlier, similar patent documents can be found by, when looking at the PDF of the patent application, clicking on Cited documents on the left hand side.

Not listed there is the website for Cell Bungee, which had also been listed as relevant.

Peter Jones, who apparently already had a similar if inferior product, offered to use his extensive contacts to get big orders quickly. Therefore his offer of the requested £70,000 in return for 35% of the equity was accepted, although offers of the same for less equity had been made.

26 November 2012

Cadbury's "Willy Wonka" chocolate that doesn't melt

The Daily Mail made a big fuss about Cadbury's "Willy Wonka" chocolate that doesn't melt even if in 40C heat for three hours in an article on the 24 November.

Much of the pleasure in eating chocolate is enjoying the slow melting in the mouth. This readiness to melt has caused many problems in shipping, storing and displaying the product in hot climates. Cadbury claims to have found a method of breaking down sugar particles into smaller pieces and reducing how much fat covers them. This makes it more difficult to melt. 

This would, however, also affect the product as an eating experience. The article quotes Mr Bilsborough, from Kraft Foods, the owner of Cadbury's, admitting that the new bars would not have the same melt-in-the-mouth quality as normal chocolate. He is quoted as saying "The melting point is what makes the bar so attractive, as that is what releases the flavour. If it melts at a higher temperature, it will take longer for it to melt in the mouth."

The recipe will only be available in countries such as India and Brazil -- to the annoyance of those quoted in the article, who want it available in the UK, a country not noted for its heat waves.

The article mentioned a patent, but in fact there are two World patent applications (not granted patents) describing the technology, both published 1 November. Both are named Temperature tolerant chocolate, and they are numbered WO2012/146920 and WO2012/146921.

At present they are awaiting approval by individual patent systems round the world. Information on prior art -- what has been done before, and which could invalidate the applications -- is contained in the search reports at the end of the patent specifications. Broadly speaking, an X in the report means that a cited patent or other document means that it is highly relevant in relation to the patent claims in the Cadbury applications. In this case the reports contain quite a few X citations.

These "citing documents" can be seen by clicking on that tab on the left hand side when viewing the patent applications.

Cadbury has earlier tried a different approach by trying to change the packaging to improve resistance, a perhaps more hopeful approach.

In an August 2010 story, again in the Daily Mail, it was explained that submissions were invited from inventors for packaging that could be used for chocolate that repeatedly heats and cools. According to the story, the company suggested "'novel' insulating materials or films which are perhaps triggered by temperature or light and can store and release energy to heat or cool the chocolate accordingly".

This is an example of "open innovation", using expertise from outside the organisation on the grounds that there are plenty of experts who don't work for you. The British Library has been actively involved in efforts to encourage this kind of exchange of expertise in both industrial and office environments.

21 November 2012

Dragons’ Den: a versatile decorating tool invention

The Dragons’ Den episode on the 18 November featured a new versatile decorating tool where brushes and other devices could be exchanged with the handle, to increase versatility.

Matthew Page and Louise Craven of Synagi Intelligence Limited, based in Nottinghamshire, were asking for £95,000 for 25% of the company. They said on the programme that it was patent pending but it has since been granted UK rights in GB2482945B. There is no foreign patent protection. Here is the main drawing.

Versatile decorating tool patent drawing

The idea is that you can switch sizes or types of tools while using the same handle. It took I estimate about 15 seconds the tools to be switched over, and I wondered if a simpler method such as button push types to release the tools wouldn’t be a better idea. Louise admitted that it was a “prototype” and the transfer would be faster in the later models. It was pointed out that this was a weakness – razor blades are not constantly being switched over, and people are fundamentally lazy -- and that although the ecological principle was laudable there would be problems in sales.

One advantage, though, would be that if people bought the handles they would be useless without the compatible “heads” that would be sold by the same company. The voice over by Evan Davis said that the UK DIY market was worth £7 billion but obviously only some of that is relevant, and above all – what inventors often forget – is that it is rare for a new, disruptive product to take more than a small portion of a market. Despite what people say to me: “everyone will love my product” (yes, I often get told that).

There is no website for the company, whose name is unusual for a tool company. Nor as far as I could tell did the product have a name.

None of the dragons decided to invest.

20 November 2012

Dragons' Den: the bionic glove invention

The Dragons’ Den episode on the 18 November featured a bionic glove to improve hand grips when playing golf or gardening, where £100,000 was sought in return for 40% of the company.

Mark Richardson had a 5 year licensing deal with an American company to sell the glove across Europe. The patent was Batting glove by Hillerich & Bradsby, a baseball equipment manufacturer. Here is the main drawing.

Glove from Dragons' Den invention drawing

It was apparently designed by an orthopaedic hand surgeon, and dates back to a patent application in 2000. As the UK is not noted for its interest in baseball it makes sense that alternatives uses such as golf and gardening were emphasised.

What puzzled me was what exactly Richardson’s Bionic Glove Technology Europe company had bought, as there are only US and Canadian patents. Maybe it was the exclusive rights to be the company’s supplier.

Maybe, though, it was also the right to use the trade mark Bionic. Hillerich & Bradsby applied for that mark in several classes including Class 28, for sporting gloves, in 2004 in the European Union system as E3645521.

If so, I would advise that the Bionic Glove Technology Europe website be amended to show Bionic as an ® and not the TM used at present, as that means it is not registered, and therefore has weaker rights.

The outcome was that it was admitted by a dragon that the valuation at £250,000 was realistic as there was only a 5 year deal (which would continue after that only if Hillerich & Bradsby agreed), and two dragons put up the full amount for the 40% offered.

19 November 2012

Free workshop in open innovation and public services

At the core of open innovation is the understanding that an organisation won't have all the answers. A free workshop at the British Library, London on the 30 November is about increasing open innovation in public services such as health services.

Registration for Open Innovation in Public Services: new models for better value is open to all. There will be contributions from the NESTA Centre for Challenge Prizes, NHS Hack Days, GenIUS York, the Camden Council Innovation & Development Fund and the Design Council's Leadership Programme. There will be a panel discussion led by Alison Coward from Bracket.

18 November 2012

Statistics on patents and innovation within regions of countries

This posting is about finding statistics on innovation and especially patenting for regions within countries, and lists the main online sources of which I am aware.

The European Regional Innovation Scoreboard published earlier this month has lots of information and maps.  Maps have to be looked at with caution, as a huge area may have few people in it, e.g. Finland, Sweden, while tiny areas such as cities will have far more people. It helps to know your geography, as I could detect numerous small, very active areas which I knew were specific cities.

The EU's Eurostat site has a Science and Technology Statistics at Regional Level page with 5 maps, including one showing the number of patent applications to the European Patent Office.  

The UK's Intellectual Property Office has tables of data, Facts and Figures, showing the numbers of patents, designs and trade marks applied for or registered by UK region with the latest being the 2010/11 data. Figures going back to 2002 are also available. The filing data is useful but the grant/ registration data must be treated with caution. This is because the filing figures are much higher than the number of grants is that many companies use the European route having filed first in Britain, transferring to Europe 12 months (6 months for designs or trade marks) after filing as is permitted. This particularly affects patents.

For US patents, see USPTO data by state or metropolitan area but this seems to be only data, not maps (which helps to make clusters jump out). There are numerous studies of specific sectors.

OECD data for themes such as specific energy areas giving their share of the nation's patents are available but I found this very tricky to use. 

16 November 2012

The new Cooperative Patent Classification scheme for inventions

On the 1st January 2013 a new patent classification scheme will be introduced, the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC).

At present there is the International Patent Classification (IPC) which is printed on virtually all newly published patent specifications; the US classification, which is printed on American patents; and ECLA, which is a more precise breakdown of the IPC to allow for more detailed classes, and which is sponsored and used by the European Patent Office.

ECLA classes are added to the European Patent Office's Espacenet database for, broadly speaking, US patents, many European countries, the European patent scheme and the "World" PCT scheme, and is not printed on patent specifications. Its usage as applied to old printed material goes back to 1920 and sometimes earlier, depending on the country. It often takes many months to apply the ECLA to newly published patent specifications.

IPC looks like B62B7/14, rotatable children's carriages. ECLA classes can be the same but are often  more precise. In this case for example /14 is divided into three possible subclasses by adding a letter, such as B62B7/14R, which contains the idea of such carriages which transform from seating to lying positions.

In 2010 the US Patent Office and the European Patent Office agreed to merge the best aspects of the US and ECLA classifications to form the CPC with (estimates vary) 200,000-250,000 classes. ECLA had 140,000 classes. At present only the European Patent Office applies ECLA, but the US will also classify by CPC.

CPC will resemble ECLA but will use longer numbers to replace the old ECLA letters at the end of classes. The US scheme is strong in "business methods", for example, software to carry out a commercial function, and numerous extra classes will go in G06Q10. The cross-reference art collections and digests, which cover interesting concepts which are not themselves patentable, will be added to the Y area already in ECLA  which at present mainly covers climate change and green technologies. An example of such a new class is Y10S101/40, means of printing on golf balls.    

The new scheme means savings for the offices, and hopefully better access by searchers to detailed classes for inventions, but is likely to mean a lot of work for those organisations which offer patent databases, as the old ECLA material will all have to be reclassified. Searchers will also have to adapt their work and strategies (especially current awareness).

In December 2012, rather than January 2013, Espacenet will switch to CPC. This means that only CPC and not ECLA will be usable on that database (but IPC as before can be used in a separate search box). Presumably as now you will be able to search by keyword as well as class on the database's classification search site. The CPC site will have a variety of help material such as tutorials and concordances to assist in the transition.

An example of what we will have is the class for steering land vehicles, B62D1. At present it contains 22 IPC subclasses and an additional 12 ECLA subdivisions for a total of 34 possible classes.

This is the current ECLA class for B62D1.

And this is the CPC class for B62D1. The complete CPC scheme can be found as separate PDFs on the official site (but you have to know which classes are of interest, as there is no index).

Switzerland has announced that it will use CPC on its printed patent specifications but it is probable that most countries will use the IPC as before, and the CPC will be used only for more detailed searching on certain databases. I get the impression that the USA at least will use the CPC on its patent specifications.

It will mean a big change for those used to US classification as this will be phased out in a few years. Details of this are on page 5 of the October issue of CPC News . Examiners will apparently be able for a while to choose either US or CPC on newly published grant documents, which sounds confusing.

A bonus, though, is that old American patents will eventually all be classified by CPC. It used to be that coverage only went back to 1920 but I've noticed pre 1900 material that can be found using ECLA on Espacenet.

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.