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.

04 June 2012

The craft of making tea

The art and craft of tea making is a very British obsession and tea is very big business.

According to Euromonitor’s GMID database (available in the BL Business and IP Centre) we drank our way through no less than 112 million tonnes of tea in 2011. The importance of the industry is also reflected in the intellectual property it generates.

Exploring the British Library’s intellectual property collection reveals the enormous range of IP assets which have been built up over the years by demand for our national drink. Goblin devised the Teasmade® (a registered trade mark for “Time controlled electric apparatus for making tea”) back in the 1930s. You can see a detailed description of the machine in the patent Apparatus for making hot beverages. This charming illustration is among the drawings.

Teasmade patent drawing

It also refers back to an earlier version of the Teasmade® by the same inventor, William Thornton.

The Teasmade brand is of course now famous and, after disappearing for a while, the device is back on the shelves again. Apparently the first name put forward by the chairman of the Goblin board was “Cheerywake”. Fortunately he was outvoted!

As trade marks are not supposed to describe the product or service “Tea’s made” might have had a problem – but by now long familiarity with the name would make any challenge difficult to mount. Goblin Teasmade was registered in 1938 (now just Teasmade®).

Trade marks and registered designs have been used to protect the “concept” behind some familiar marketing campaigns for tea . The “tea folk” depicted below, much used as cartoon characters in TV advertising, were registered by Tetley in 1991. Each has a specific role – Morris is the (all important!) inventor.

Tetley tea folk trade mark

More recently, Unilever has been promoting its PG Tips brand with a series of TV advertisements featuring comedian Johnny Vegas and a monkey (voiced by Ben Miller). “Monkey” is the subject of a British registered design (shown below) which is owned, surprisingly, by Comic Relief .

Comic Relief image of monkey

Unilever also introduced the triangular, “Pyramid” teabag for its PG tips brand back in 1996. Their publicity describes it as “revolutionary”, and states that “with more space inside it acts like a miniature teapot, giving the leaves more room to move.”

Molins, a Midlands company that specialises in machinery for preparing food or tobacco, devised technology for filling the triangular sachets described in their European patent application Apparatus and methods for producing packets.The drawing below is one of eight illustrating the process of putting the “filling material” (tea leaves, presumably) into the packaging.

Molins tea packing patent drawing

It is interesting that tea experts claim triangular bags do not mean a better cup of tea, just a quicker one.

Even the box in which the same tea bags are sold is an IP assest protected in this case by British design 2035706, as shown below. Clearly, when it comes to tea, intellectual property has it covered from every angle. Pyramid tea bags package

09 November 2011

James Dyson Award: world winner 2011, Airdrop

The world winner of the James Dyson Award has been announced. It's Edward Linacre and his Airdrop irrigation concept.

In response to drought conditions in much of Australia, Edward has devised a system that uses water as effectively as possible. Moisture in the air is harvested and is then taken underground by pipes where it cools and condenses to water the roots of the plants. More details are given on the site.

Edward is a student at Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology. He explains in a video on the site linked to above that he made a simple, small version and put it in his mother's garden and it produced a litre of water in a day. Even in very dry climates, he says, there is some moisture in the air.

There were over 500 contestants. Edward will receive £10,000 and the same amount goes to his university. All the projects can be viewed on the site.

 

07 November 2011

Intrapace's "gastric pacemaker" device

Intrapace, a Californian company, has been working for years on a "gastric pacemaker", Abiliti®, to help obese people to eat smaller meals.

An implant in the stomach sends messages to the vagus nerve which controls feelings of hunger. When eating occurs the stomach distends and produces hormones and enzymes. The vagus nerve sends a message to the brain to say that these things have occurred. A signal back makes the stomach feel full and the person stops eating. In many obese people this message doesn't get through, and eating continues. 

The device uses a sensor to detect when food enters the stomach. This fact is relayed to a stimulator embedded in the stomach wall close to the vagus nerve. The nerve is excited and feelings of fullness are created.

The clever bit is that there is a timer so that the stimulator is switched off at set mealtimes. There is 20 minutes for breakfast, for example. It does mean a disciplined approach to mealtimes.

Following formal approval for use in Europe, a woman is set to be the first patient to undergo the operation this Wednesday, at Spire Southampton Hospital, a private hospital. Trials in Spain and Germany with 200 people resulted in an average loss of 30% of weight in a year. It is not available at present in the USA. There is more information on the Intrapace company website.

Below is a drawing from the company's Detection of food and drink comsumption in order to control therapy or provide diagnostics World patent application.

Intrapace gastric pacemaker patent drawing
And here is a list of World patent applications by the company in the subject.

Usefully, the implant includes the ability to send information about the patient's diet and exercise habits to a smartphone or a PC for patients or medical staff to use. Perhaps this treatment will replace gastric bands in the future.

20 July 2011

Aeroponic farming in towers on the roof

The 16 July issue of The Daily Telegraph had an interesting article about a New York restaurant, Bell Book & Candle, which grows many of its vegetables on the roof.

Plastic towers are scattered across the flat roof with cups on their side which hold the plants. 20 gallon water tanks anchor them at the base, and also provide a nutrient-rich solution for the plants. Every 12 minutes warmed water is pumped up the tower and then trickles down for three minutes past the roots, which are held in rockwool balls. As the water is recycled, only 10% of the water needed for lettuces, for example, is needed. The pump motor is very economical as well. The towers can be 9 feet high (but are lower in this case as the building facade is listed and they must not be viewed from the street).

The plants also grow much faster than normal. All the restaurant's needs are met for four months of the year, and about a third is provided in all except the two coldest months. However, the food cannot be certified organic because US regulations say that the majority of fertilisers have to come from plants and animals, while the system uses mineral sources. Still, food miles are definitely minimised.

The article states that Tim Blank, the CEO and founder of Future Growing, came up with this Tower Garden system in 2004. It is an interesting variant on the vertical gardens movement, and the general idea is called aeroponics as a variant on the established hydroponics idea.

I couldn't find any published patent specifications under the company name or that of Blank, but have come across a rather similar invention by Robert Simmons of Florida, applied for in 2009 as Apparatus for aeroponically growing and developing plants. The main drawing is given below.

Aeroponics apparatus patent drawing 

 

20 May 2011

Toast Ease®: toasting sandwiches from the freezer

Toast Ease®, an invention for toasting sandwiches which have been in the freezer without having to wait for them to defrost, is another of the inventions I saw at the recent opening of the Round Table of Inventors' Invention Centre in south London, which I recently posted about.

They take about five minutes to cook and the toast not get soggy as would normally happen. The toasting can be in a variety of media -- sandwich toaster, a George Foreman grill, and so on.

Jeff Parker, the inventor, explained its benefits to me as I ate the delicious results. He filed for a European patent in 1994, which is still in force in the UK, the Sandwich-like frozen food product. I'm not clear what is different about the way it is prepared, to be honest.

Mr Parker sells a variety of sandwiches made by his method. There is no website for the product, but anyone interested in contacting this Basingstoke inventor can use the e-mail given on the fact sheet I took away -- parker-j2@xxsky.com [that link won't work, remove the xx to make it a usable e-mail address].

13 January 2011

The KeepCup™

The British Library's caterers, Peyton & Byrne, have recently introduced a "KeepCup" to prevent wastage with disposable cups that are taken away by staff wanting hot drinks.

The idea is that you buy one for £6 and get ten free hot drinks. You simply take the cup in when you want a drink, instead of using disposable cups. It's all part of corporate social responsibility: it is up to the user to clean a cup, rather than using fresh cups. The illustration shows one of the models (you can choose colour combinations, to personalise so that others don't pick up your cup). The brown top seals in the hot drink, the red tab can be swivelled to enable a small drinking hole to appear, while the red band round the actual cup is supposed to insulate the hands when holding it. The claim is that the drink stays hot for 30 to 40 minutes longer than disposable cups.

Keepcup 

The cup itself is always the same colour and is made of polypropylene, as indicated by a recycling code at the bottom.

My colleague Maria Lampert bought one and noticed data at the bottom and, as she too works in intellectual property, wanted to know about any protection for it. The information is:

Keepcup™

keepcup.com.au

Des. Reg #

324241

A low design number usually suggests an American design, and the use of # instead of no. is typically American, but the USA has "design patents" and not "registered designs", and the Australian web site was a strong hint of its real origins. Maria quickly identified what seems to be its only design protection, Australian design 324241, registered in February 2009 by KeepCup Pty Ltd.

Below are the drawings shown for AU 324241 S from the official website.

Australian design 324241 
Despite the use of the TM symbol, which means not registered, it is in fact registered as a trade mark for "cups and mugs" in many countries (including the UK) through the Madrid Agreement Protocol as no. 1015268. Unlike the TM it would have force in civil law countries such as on the European continent, so the correct ® symbol should be used by the company.

11 January 2011

The BottleLox™ security device for bottles

I was in my local Sainsbury's when I noticed bottles of expensive drinks which had a grey plastic device over their necks, clearly meant to prevent theft.

The wording on them said that it was called BottleLox™, that it was manufactured by Catalyst under licence granted by Plescon, and that it was

Patent NO 6 822 567

and others worldwide

I investigated and found an American patent with that number, the Security device for a bottle. The inventor was Paul Francis Durbin of Hertford, England, and the applicant was Plescon Limited, which is in Suffolk, also in England. It has traditionally specialised in security solutions for libraries. It is odd that an American patent should be featured on a device for use in Europe. Here is the main drawing.

Plescon security device for bottle 
The patent explains the mechanism, which involves magnetism and can involve a RFID. The device must of course be cheap, reliable and easy to remove by authorised personnel. The patent was classified under the ECLA system as being for the prevention of theft of spectacles, instead of the more general and relevant class for anti-theft devices for articles to be removed at the check-out of shops. Many are for clothes, of course. The 151 currently indexed in that class that have been published in the so-called World (PCT) system are listed here.

US Design Patent 540650 shows what the device actually looks like when secured to the bottle.

A well-known security tag that formerly, at least, was often found attached to clothes is Identitech's Article surveillance system having target removal sensor. It is a white, flattish device. If someone departs with one still attached to the garment, a ferromagnetic effect sounds an alarm as the person walks through a special gate next to the door. The drawing shows the tag partially opened.

Article surveillance marker 

06 January 2011

Starbucks and its logos

Starbucks is going to change its famous logo to reflect its moving beyond its core product.

The logo shown below is very well-known and is protected in numerous countries as a trade mark.

Starbucks CTM 000596163 
If you removed the wording, most people would automatically associate it with coffee, and probably Starbucks itself.

Now, according to a BBC news story, the company wants to change it so that the logo only consists of the siren figure in green. The story shows the new image. [Also shown in a video clip by Howard Schultz, the CEO, helpfully located for me by Erwin Cortagerena, who comments below - Ed., 7 Jan.]

I am guessing this is because the company wants to move away from just selling coffee. This doesn't sound like a good idea to me. I agree with the sentiment expressed by James Gregory of Core Brand, who is quoted in the BBC story as saying "I think it's nuts".

When you have spent a lot of time in publicising the company name you don't throw all that work away. I do agree with the idea of dropping the word "coffee", and I like the logo which they registered some years ago:

Starbucks CTM 000175513 
This would assist any movement into new product areas. It looks odd having the word "coffee" if you are using the logo to publicise e.g. bakery products.

These trade marks can be found on the official Community Trade Marks database, which gives protection for the entire EU, by asking for trade mark numbers 596163 and 175513 (for the logo without "coffee"). These fuller details indicate the range of product areas for which protection was requested, as a trade mark registration is for specified products or services, not for everything -- although attempts to use a well-known trade mark in another area will usually be opposed on the grounds that the public are being confused or deceived about the origins of the product or service.

The company website has an explanation of the evolution of the trade mark and why they want to change it though, oddly, it is not illustrated with the new logo. There are also many hostile comments by members of the public, often saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" -- my sentiments exactly.

14 July 2010

Disposing of chewing gum on pavements

Most people hate the way dropped chewing gum forms yucky stains on pavements. Now a British company has come up with a way to stop it.

Traditionally, innovation has concentrated on cleaning methods, such as blasting the gum with steam. A short list of inventions along those lines can be seen here

Revolymer, a company based in Holywell, north-east Wales, has a different solution. They modify chewing gum itself by adding an amphiphilic graft copolymer. "Amphiphilic" means  molecules involving a polar, water-soluble group attached to a nonpolar, water-insoluble hydrocarbon chain. It means that water disperses the gum from pavements, and washing up liquid removes it from carpets or clothes.

The new polymer is called Rev7®. Gum is hydrophobic (water hating) and the addition makes it hydrophilic, water loving. More details can be seen on the company website as well as in their initial patent application, Polymeric materials having reduced tack. I like the mention of "tack", and apparently gum stains are called "cud" in the industry. The chemical structure for the polymer is given below.

Revolymer polymer
The company is a spin-off from the University of Bristol. They estimate that councils spend £150 million in Britain alone to remove the unsightly mess. £10 million was spent in four years of development, with backing from venture capital and private equity money.

The American authorities have approved its use, and approval is going through its final stages in Europe. The company's options are to licence the product to a major manufacturer, or to sell their own brand. Revolymer hopes to be selling the product in 2011 in Europe.