Innovation and enterprise blog

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Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

18 July 2022

IP Corner: Breaking the News with groundbreaking technology

News and technology have always needed each other. A history of breaking the news is also a history of the groundbreaking innovations used to deliver it.

Behind the incredible stories and newspapers that published them, in the British Library’s Breaking the News exhibition, is also the story of the complex inter-relationship between publishers, audiences and the society that delivered the innovations behind it.

For the last couple of centuries publishers having been finding new audiences and utilising new technologies to accomplish just one thing; to get news and information in front of people’s eyes in a way that’s commercially sustainable.

Here is a small selection of the technological innovations protected at the time by patents to enable them to do it.

Pre-industrial to industrial printing

China and later Europe lead the way in pre-industrial printing and publishing. But methods of creating and printing text were still comparatively labour intensive. The Gutenberg Press helped to mechanise the process but still relied on hand presses. Nonetheless it helped to satisfy the demands of a growing literate class hungry for new ideas and knowledge.

But it wasn’t until a few centuries later that we had the beginnings of the industrial age and the first machine powered printers. The limitations of hand presses precluded any possible daily newspaper from circulating widely. But between 1810 and 1814 came a breakthrough with German inventor Frederick Koenig’s ‘Printing Machine’ (patent GB 1810 3321) along with a number of other related patents.

The use of the word ‘machine’ itself is noteworthy, as it was a steam powered cylinder press. Some British investors interested in new printing technology who backed Koenig were rewarded with a machine that doubled print volume to 800 impressions per hour on previous technology. The door was now open for subsequent print machinery to develop.

Image from 1810 3321 Printing Machines. Koenig’s Specifications
Image from 1810 3321 Printing Machines. Koenig’s Specifications

A ready reading audience

By the middle of the 19th Century the first industrial society was emerging in Great Britain with similar changes in the US and Europe. Massive social changes were underway, among them the urbanisation of populations servicing the technologies of the industrial revolution.

Large populations within a comparatively small space meant distribution of information was able to be quicker and more efficient. Furthermore, other technologies and services such as the railway, canal network and the postal service meant a greater interconnecting of people, cities, towns and regions. News could be spread faster and the mass production of newspapers to a mass audience became a reality.

The technology enabled it and publishers, sensing a business opportunity, financed the capital to achieve it. Among the many emerging printing technologies of the time was British inventor, Augustus Applegath, and US inventor, Richard M Hoe.

Applegath can claim credit for inventing the machine that The Times of London was printed on. His invention replaced the previous flatbed printer and the new model was able to print on both sides simultaneously using a rotary technique. This enabled The Times to produce 4,200 prints per hour. A marked improvement in copies and also cost efficiency enabling the paper to expand its reach and influence.

Image from patent GB1846 11505 Printing Machines – Applegath’s Specification
Image from patent GB1846 11505 Printing Machines – Applegath’s Specification

Following close behind Applegath was Roe’s, Improvement in Rotary Printing Presses, (US patent 5199, 1847). Publisher’s put it to good use and bought the technology. Roe’s invention was affectionately known as the ‘lightning press’, generating 8,000 papers per hour. Subsequent improvements meant newspapers could be printed on both sides as well as cut and folded. By the 1870s, technology meant the modern newspaper industry as we knew it for the 20th Century, was born.

Richard M Hoe’s Improvement in Rotary Printing Presses, US 5199, 1847
Richard M Hoe’s Improvement in Rotary Printing Presses, US 5199, 1847

The golden age of newspaper printing

The early 20th Century was the golden age of newspaper publishing. The market had matured as huge audiences could be reached. Information could be passed around the world quicker with established communication technologies such as the telegraph and the hunger for daily news was now insatiable. Publishers, now an emerging breed of media barons, could consolidate their ownership over various titles as circulation figures kept rising.

The business model was focused on advertising revenue, keeping the cost of a single paper as low as possible for the consumer. This meant papers could be sold cheaply, or in the eventual case of local papers, delivered freely. All audiences in society had a paper to read, whether it be a broadsheet, red top or somewhere in between.

In the meantime, marginal improvements in technology ensured continuous profitability for the industry. A 1967 US patent (3,314,626) part submitted by the Hearst Publishing Company, essentially improves on the efficiency of paper use in large rolls. The print industry was certainly as efficient as it could be, however, other emerging media technologies began to have their impact.

Mass media and the internet

With radio and TV increasingly dominating the dissemination and delivery of news, advertisers could see their spend more effectively used through these mass media channels.

Scoops, splashes and investigative pieces still kept print media in the public attention and the value of local print news held steady over much of the second half of the 20th Century. However by the year 2000, advertising revenue for newspapers hit their peak and within ten years had sunk to below 1950 levels.

By the turn of the 21st Century, a now established technology called the internet, meant words on a page could now become words on a screen. News could be instantly delivered by newer and smarter ‘reading devices’, or what we now call smartphones and tablets.

The challenge of physical distribution of written content was now history; digital meant instant, anytime, anywhere. The 20th Century newspaper industry now had to become 21st. Some publications have managed the transition to newer forms and different business models. Many haven’t.

News Corp UK & Ireland [GB] patent application EP2747031A1, a method of publishing digital content, 2012, is a fascinating example of an established print media company innovating in the face of rapid technological changes, in this case with tablet formats. The patent attempts to recreate the newspaper column, as a reading experience, to the tablet.

Illustration from patent application EP2747031A1 A method of publishing digital content. News Corp UK & Ireland Ltd [GB], 2012
Illustration from patent application EP2747031A1 A method of publishing digital content. News Corp UK & Ireland Ltd [GB], 2012

From one challenge to another

At the outset, all of this innovation was focused on solving one challenge; to get as many eyes as possible reading news and information at a price affordable to them and the publisher. The appetite was there and without doubt, technology over the 19th and 20th Century delivered to the audience’s needs.

The challenge of the 21st century is now not distributing content but holding attention. With printed news, posts, tweets and images bombarding us daily through our devices, could there be new innovations enabling us to see what we really want to see? This is the new and emerging business model of the tech companies who now have the lion’s share of advertising revenue.

How will print respond? And are there new innovations around the corner, and new audiences to engage with? Surely, there must be. The news isn’t broken yet.

Jeremy O'Hare, Business & IP Centre IP expert

14 July 2022

A week in the life of Laura Sheeter, co-founder of Chalk & Blade

To celebrate the British Library's Breaking the News exhibition we wanted to get behind the scenes of news-breaking podcast producers Chalk & Blade, with a rare 'Week in the Life of' blog!

Founder and Creative Director, Laura Sheeter spent more than 10 years working as a news reporter in the UK, USA and former USSR - reporting on everything from the fate of abandoned Soviet military bunkers to the villages with only grandparents and grandchildren left behind in the exodus of Eastern European workers to the rest of the EU, the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the rebuilding of New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina.

After a brief career shift, working as a Russian to English translator, Laura and her business partner, Ruth Barnes, set up Chalk & Blade - one of the first podcast-only production companies in the UK - in 2016, before podcasting appeared to be a business at all. Soon the time came to grow their business, so they joined our scale-up programme, Innovating for Growth. 

"The British Library’s Business and IP Centre was the first place, Ruth and I went to learn about how to set up a new business. It’s since become a bit of a North Star with us returning to its resources whenever we encounter new opportunities and challenges.

The sessions with the marketing and brand teams have helped immeasurably with the visibility of the business, particularly embarking on a new redesign of the website and relocation of the offices. The Chalk & Blade team is equipped with SEO-super charged ideas and branding tactics to position ourselves as the premium destination for podcast making."

The company makes premium branded content for brands and organisations including Net a Porter, Adidas and the UN, the hugely popular TV companion series Obsessed With for the BBC (now also a show on BBC3), and award-winning, critically acclaimed narratives including In Search of Black History with Bonnie Greer (audible), The Messenger (audible), Hunting Ghislaine (Global) and Taking on Putin - an independent production with John Sweeney.

So what goes into creating all this ear candy? Read on to find out.

Monday

It’s a new work and the first in our shiny new Chalk & Blade offices. While the rest of the world came to a standstill over the last few years, the podcast industry has seen a huge boom. IAB saw an ad spend of $1.4 billion in the space last year alone. With such demand across originals and branded content, we’ve been busy growing and developing the team and the relocation was all part of this investment in the next phase of the business.

Previously in a shared co-working spot on Old Street, we’re now settling into a Shoreditch warehouse space with our own front door and freshly brewed organic coffee on tap (high on the list of requirements during the multiple recces!). A new week gives me a chance to check in with a lot of the team’s projects and look ahead to line up meetings with potential creative partners, commissioners and journalists all bursting with great ideas that could lead to a project.

the Chalk and Blade team in their office

Tuesday

The team is in full swing juggling a multitude of shows this summer. In any one week, we’ve got a BBC show recording for TV and our first foray into visual podcast production (a fascinating experience and, yes, branded cushions are a must!), drafting and refining a very personal show which requires careful briefing, a narrative podcast in pre-production (our office walls are currently decked out with story arc ideas) and talent meetings to unearth some welcome fresh voices into the mix.

Behind the scenes of a Peaky Blinders podcast shoot

Wednesday

The news tells me that we’re gearing up for a heatwave here in London so this afternoon after school pick up I take the boys to get ice-creams (they both choose waffle cones like the sensible sorts, they are). When my co-founder Ruth and I set up the company, we were both parents and so we’ve always been very open about having to juggle the demands of a busy production schedule alongside homework/baking a sponge for the school summer fete or taking the dog for a spin around the park. This is something we’re also incredibly aware of for our team too and want to offer all of them the same flexibility, whether it’s heading to a spin class on their lunch break or needing to take a duvet day when they’ve had a tough week.

Thursday

I get a text from my colleague, and Chalk & Blade’s Development Lead, Jason who is at the Children’s Media Conference meeting with other production companies and commissioners this morning. Behind the scenes, we’ve been scoping out opportunities for audio ideas for kids. We’re really excited about inspiring young imaginations through podcasts, both as audio experts and as parents who know the value of great content for our kids.

Behind the scenes of podcast shoot with Riyadh Khalifa

Friday

The final episode of our podcast series with investigative journalist John Sweeney, Taking On Putin, is out in the world and I couldn’t be prouder of the team! I first worked with John as his Executive Producer on our hit podcast Hunting Ghislaine so when he suggested we follow Hunting Ghislaine with a series about Vladimir Putin, I was all in. We actually started work on Taking on Putin nearly a year ago. At the time I had to keep checking with my business partner, Ruth Barnes, that it wasn’t too niche or geeky. Russia wasn’t fashionable, and those warning about the threat Putin posed were seen as paranoid, crackpots or warmongers. We never expected it to be headline news.

Taking on Putin has shown the true value of telling serious stories deeply, with character and humanity, because when the world takes alarming turns we need to understand not only the what, but have a trusted guide explaining the why of what’s happening too.

And that’s precisely the kind of stories we want to hear and tell through our podcast productions at Chalk & Blade.

BTS Killing Eve

29 April 2022

Spotlight On... our IP experts!

To mark World IP Day this week, we're shining a spotlight on the intellectual property experts of the Business & IP Centre in London to learn about their favourite inventors, weird and wonderful IP queries they've helped to solve, and more.

Neil Infield, Business and IP Centre Manager

Portrait photo of Neil, wearing a suit on yellow background

If you come into the Business & IP Centre at the British Library you'll see Neil's friendly face! He's there to guide you through the complex material we have. Since joining the British Library 17 years ago, Neil has become an expert on trade marks and has supported thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs develop their IP. Let's hear more from Neil now.

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"I met with someone who wanted us to arrange a meeting with the head of Transport for London. His invention would remove air from underground tunnels, which would remove air friction from the tube trains. This would massively reduce energy consumption on the underground system. We didn’t resolve the issue of how passengers would breathe on the trains."

What form of IP should every business have?

"I’m a bit biased as I deliver the workshop on Trade Marks. But on the basis that if you are successful, you will definitely have competitors, you need to be able to differentiate yourself from them. And owning a distinctive registered trade mark is the way to do it."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"I guess the biggest name to go into the public domain will be Micky Mouse next year (2023). But it will be only the original version of Micky (think Steam Boat Willy) will be coming out of copyright. You can find out who came out this year on Wikipedia 

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"I think I will go for inventors I have actually met, but I can’t get below three people!

  1. Mark Sheahan, our Inventor in Residence at the Business & IP Centre for over 15 years. He has helped hundreds of inventors through his free, one to one advice clinics.
  2. Ian Harrison, who I met at my first British Invention Show in 2006. His Milli Grip adjustable spanner is sheer genius. And I am the happy owner of both the original and updated versions. You can see Ian demonstrate the spanner here.
    Like many great inventions it hasn’t had the success it deserves. It is currently available through Monument Tools.
  3. An equally brilliant invention is the Kikka Digga developed by Nick Skaliotis. I first met Nick demonstrating his tool at a local agricultural show at Plumpton College. In conversation while buying an early version of the Kikka Digga, I discovered he had already been helped by the Business & IP Centre. Again this product is still waiting to mainstream, but if you read this review on Amazon you (like me) will wonder why every keen gardener doesn’t yet own one."

Seema Rampersad, Senior Research and Service Manager

Photo of Seema in a public setting

Seema has been with the Business & IP Centre for 9 years and has built a reputation as one of our top notch presenters and speed-mentors. She has worked as an information professional for over 25 years, most of this time has been as a business librarian in the corporate sector. 

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"We frequently get asked for patents from the 19th century which are not available to find easily or free on the internet. We usually must research some aspects of the query using our specialist resources and even patent indices to find the patent number, year and actual patent with drawings. Some of the 19th century inventions are baffling but also interesting such as one on a physiognotrace for drawing portraits. There was one international government department from another country who were extremely pleased when I provided them with a culturally significant patent which they had previously spent about 10 years trying to trace. I found it in about 10 minutes using our patent resources!"

What form of IP should every business have?

"Trade marks and copyright are forms of IP that most companies have for trading and doing business. As a member of staff who uses a lot of digital content as well as a consumer of content in everyday life, I am reminded of copyright very often. Copyright for creative works is an automatic right but I still would recommend that you are explicit that the right belongs to you and your business to ensure that your copyright is protected and not infringed. I also recommend that you do your due diligence and research copyright owned but others in the onset of your startup to avoid infringing the rights of others."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"The book Winnie the Pooh came out of copyright in 2022 and there are various artist pieces of works in music, sound and films that are out of copyright which I am less familiar with. However, music like Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' and songs like 'Long Road to Tipperary', 'Til we meet again' and 'Pack up your troubles in an old kit bag' are still being sung freely nowadays with Eliza Doolitte doing a remake of the latter in 2010. 

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"I am an avid Apple Inc fan from my iMac, iPhone, Apple Music and I still aspire to get an Applewatch one day. These items have truly revolutionised the way I work, socialise, relax and consume content. I particularly like that Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer (CDO) at Apple, is from my neck of the woods in London. His journey to greatness is truly remarkable as an industrial designer. I also thank Apple for making me more connected in my personal and professional life with these innovations. Not to mention our amazing successful customers who inspire us with their motivations and business ideas in the Business & IP Centre."

Jeremy O'Hare, Information Expert

Photo of Jeremy on white background

Next up we have Jeremy, who has worked at the British Library in a number of roles since 2006. His background is in business information and was previously a Relationship Manager for our scale-up programme, Innovating for Growth Scale-ups. If you've attended some of our webinars, you may recognise him from his intellectual property workshops and one to one clinics.

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"Without revealing too much as a lot of people I see require confidentiality, I have worked with performing artists such as dancers and musicians who compose, choreograph and create pieces that become a live art installation. So the IP creation with multiple creators and collaborators (as well as producers) can become very complex but absolutely fascinating. It also demonstrates how IP is in so many different endeavours and is not just about inventions and brands."

What form of IP should every business have?

"I think every business should have at least one trade secret. And I’m saying that in a broad way, such as what is the process to do things that’s better or cheaper than anyone else? Do you have a special network that provides an advantage or have you innovated something so new and unique with value that you can build a business off it? Whatever it is that you wouldn’t want to lose that helps your business should be named and valued."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"Most of George Orwell’s work is out of copyright from last year, so expect a whole range of work coming out based on his work. There’s already an Animal Farm game. Watch out for adaptations of his established works on stage, film and literature. It’s interesting to note that some of his recently discovered work, may be still subject to copyright restrictions which is why copyright can be a little confusing at times."

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"I love looking at the history of patents and how certain inventions have come to create the world we live in. I do think the invention of the first jet engine invented by Frank Whittle, paved the way for the world we know today (GB347206 Improvements relating to the propulsion of aircraft and other vehicles). We can travel to destinations once the preserve of only a few, form closer business relationships, bring long separated families back together and to form new relationships! The world is so much smaller because distance is not an obstacle. It’s just now the price of an air fare!"

Steven Campion, Subject Librarian (Business and IP)

Photo of Steven on a natural background

Steven works alongside Business & IP Centre colleagues as the curator of the IP collection. He has worked at the library for 9 years and can often be found in the reading room helping researchers access our world-leading collection of historical IP documentation.

What's a weird and wonderful IP related query you’ve had?

"I quite enjoy a ‘what is this thing’ enquiry. It’s amazing how often a mystery object will have a patent number somewhere on it."

What form of IP should every business have?

"Always protect a strong business name or logo with a trade mark. Plenty of information on our web pages on how to do this – or pop into your local BIPC for advice."

What piece of classic/pop culture will have a big impact when it comes out of copyright?

"Micky Mouse – but only the version as depicted in Steamboat Willie, as the short film will enter the public domain in January 2024. Later iterations of the character will still be in copyright, and Disney have many trade marks on the character (and many, many, lawyers), but I’m interested to see what happens."

Who is your favourite inventor or invention?

"My favourite inventor is Melitta Bentz who invented the coffee filter (and with it the coffee connoisseur’s favourite – pour over coffee) in 1908.

Before Bentz, coffee was usually brewed by pouring ground coffee into hot water and then waiting for the grounds to settle to the bottom. Sieves and cloth bags were available but they either let too many coffee grounds through, or would be so narrow that the coffee would be cold by the time it was filtered. Bentz’s solution was simple yet brilliant – a perforated brass cup lined with a piece of blotting paper from her son's exercise book.

Bentz became one of the first female German patentees and would go on to found the still hugely successful Melitta company. We have a Melitta brand pour over coffee set in our house and every time I see it I am reminded that we all have the potential to have an idea that can not only make our own lives better, but perhaps also change the world a little for the better as well.

…My favourite invention however is Lego. My bank balance is testament to this."

 

Got an IP query of your own? Head to our website to learn more about how we can support you and get in touch with our IP experts now!