Innovation and enterprise blog

86 posts categorized "Intellectual property / IP"

26 September 2022

Sewing machines - who really invented them?

In the spirit of London Fashion Week, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to looking at the early history of the sewing machine – the tool that made the mass production of clothing possible. It is also a good example of a machine which no one can quite agree on who the inventor was.

If I describe something first, have I invented it? How detailed does my description need to be? Do I need a working model to prove my invention works? Are my ideas similar to a future proven solution? Do I need a patent?

How you answer questions such as these will likely determine who you think the true inventor of the sewing machine is. So rather than tell you who I think it is, I have instead highlighted some influential early patents from within our historical IP collection so you can decide for yourself.

Focusing on patents (should) allow us to check something is new, or at least involves an inventive step. Like any invention, it is very possible that others created sewing machines similar to those described below first, but for whatever reason did not apply for a patent. Something we will briefly explore later.

 

GB 701 of 1755

In 1755, Charles Fredrick Wiesenthal, a German born physician based in London, received a patent for a ‘needle for ornamenting fabrics’. The needle had a point at either end, meaning it could pass through fabric without needing to be turned. Some commentators have said the movement of the needle was via mechanical means, but the description goes into little detail.

 

Saint patent

GB 1,764 of 1790

In 1790, an English cabinet maker by the name of Thomas Saint was granted a patent for five types of varnishes and their uses, a machine for ‘spinning, twisting, and doubling the thread’, a machine for ‘stitching, quilting, or sewing’, and a machine for ‘platting or weaving’.

It is of course the machine for ‘stitching, quilting, or sewing’ that is of interest to this blog post, however it was somewhat lost in the busyness of the patent. So much so that when the Patent Office republished older patents and arranged them into new classes, it was placed into ‘wearing apparel’ rather than ‘sewing and embroidering’. It is safe to say Saint’s sewing machine was all but forgotten.

That is until 1874, when a sewing machine manufacturer called William Newton Wilson found the patent while undertaking research at the Patent Office. He had the sewing machine built and, after some adjustments to the looper, was able to prove it worked.

The machine incorporated many features still to be found on modern machines (as well as in later patents), such as an overhanging arm, a vertical needle-bar, and a feed system for the fabric.

The machine Newton Wilson built can now be seen at the Science Museum.

Saint Machine at the Science Museum

 

Fr 616 of 1804

In 1804, Thomas Stone and James Henderson received a French patent for their sewing machine, which passed a hand sewing needle back and forth through the fabric using a pair of pincers at either side (imitating the action of human fingers). It unfortunately required frequent stops in order to replace the short length of thread it used.

 

Austrian Exclusive Privilege in 1814

In 1814, Josef Madersperger, an Austrian tailor, received the early Austrian equivalent of a patent for his sewing machine. It used a double pointed needle (like Wiesenthal’s) and replicated as best it could hand sewing. In 1839, Madersperger received another patent equivalent for a machine that used an eye-pointed needle.

Neither machine was ever made publically available and Madersperger would unfortunately die destitute in an Viennese almshouse in 1850. In 1933 a memorial was erected in Resselpark in Vienna, declaring Madersperger the inventor of the sewing machine.

 

Thimonnier patent

FR 7434 of 1830

In 1830, a French tailor called Barthélemy Thimonnier received a French patent for his sewing machine which used a hooked needle to replicate hand sewing. The same year Thimonnier found himself overseeing 80 of his machines in a Paris workshop making uniforms for the French Army.

Unfortunately the success was not to last, as in 1831 all 80 machines were destroyed by a mob of angry tailors, fearful his invention was a danger to their livelihoods. Although later patents followed, Thimonnier never found further success and died in poverty at the age of 63.

One of Thimonnier’s 1830 sewing machines can also be seen at the Science Museum.

Thimonnier's machine in the science museum

 

GB 10,424 of 1844

In 1844, John Fisher and James Gibbons received a patent for, among other things, a machine for ornamenting lace. While not originally intended to be a sewing machine, it nevertheless was able to function as one, and used both an eye-pointed needle and a shuttle – both still in use on machines today.

 

US 4,750 of 1846

In 1846, Elias Howe Jr. was granted a patent for his sewing machine which used a lockstitch design (the most common mechanical stitch made by a sewing machine today, which uses two threads that ‘lock’ together). Unfortunately Howe struggled to find financial backing for his machine, and so was forced to take a job in London modifying one of his sewing machines for a buyer there.

When Howe eventually returned to America he discovered sewing machines were being sold that appeared to infringe his patent. One such sewing machine was the work of an Isaac Merritt Singer – a man whose surname would soon become synonymous with the sewing machine.

Howe sued Singer for patent infringement and won. Many more legal battles would ensue between the main sewing machine inventors and manufacturers before they would decide to come together to form the first ‘patent pool’ (and the Sewing Machine Combination) in 1856.

With my earlier disclaimer in mind, it’s worth briefly looking at an inventor who never took out a patent – a man by the name of Walter Hunt. Howe’s sewing machine is often credited as being the first to sew a lockstitch, however Hunt invented a sewing machine that did so 13 years earlier in 1833. Not wanting to put seamstresses out of work, Hunt never applied for a patent, but his machine came to light during the patent trials.

Hunt can therefore be called the inventor of the lockstitch, however Howe had the patent for it. Earning him $5 for every sewing machine sold in America. Howe soon became a very rich man.

 

Conclusion

So that was a very condensed account of the early history of the sewing machine. Several less important patents were skipped in the name of brevity, and many of the inventions that were included could have filled a blog post many times longer than this one alone. If you would like to know more then please do come in to the library to read further.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of who you think invented the sewing machine, or maybe you feel it was actually the accumulative work of many.

 

Steven Campion, Business & IP Centre intellectual property expert.

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

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!

25 April 2022

Ten Things I wish I knew about Intellectual Property when I was younger

Every generation of young people wants to change the world. And they do, in some way.

Right now in someone’s studio flat, or halls of residence or on a gap year adventure is the next founder of a tech giant, a publishing phenomenon or an inventing genius. Of that, there is no doubt. But some may not get the success or recognition they deserve for their originality, creativity or inventiveness. The one thing that can often make or break an entrepreneur or business venture is getting their intellectual property right, first time.

This year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day is IP and youth: innovating for a better future.

Here is a list of the most common mistakes that I’ve come across in helping thousands of entrepreneurs, creatives and inventors. I’m a little older now having helped so many but I hope what you read here will make all of us that much wiser not matter how young we are.

  1. Knowing how important Intellectual Property actually is.

You don’t know what you don’t know and that’s the point of our first tip. For any new business (or established) not understanding how IP can protect your creations and innovations is a fundamental mistake. There are two sides to IP; one is preventing unauthorised use of what you create and the other is maximising your existing IP as an asset that can acquire value. And if you come to sell your business, a lot of its value potentially resides in your IP. Understanding this and building it into your business strategy will maximise your IP, and therefore, your business impact. But how? That’s the next point.

  1. Getting to know the IP family

Want to patent your idea? Re brand your design? Copyright your invention? Mixing metaphors is one thing but not understanding the different forms of IP and what they do is like being stuck in a maze without an exit. What’s more, knowing a thing you create in your business or a creative pursuit can often be protected by more than one form of Intellectual Property is a great help. I like to call them the IP family. Knowing the difference between them and the job they do will provide clarity, and help you formulate your IP strategy clearly. So, for the record, you patent your invention, register your design and copyright your artistic expression. You trade mark your brand, keep quiet your trade secret and everything else is know-how known only to you. And as we’ll see, timing for all of this is key.

  1. Don’t be late to register or protect your Intellectual Property.

I’ve been an agony Uncle to many downhearted, once enthusiastic, start-ups. What has been the most common problem? ‘I started trading with this amazing brand only to find someone else was using it’. It’s a fundamental mistake. What you think is an amazing name for a product or business is probably so amazing that someone else has got there first. So do your research online but also for the register of existing trade marks in the UK here. Our team in the Business & IP Centre’s around the country can assist you with how to do a basic search. This of course as relevant to all the other forms of IP, so it’s always good to register or protect as soon as you can establish originality.

  1. Don’t overshare and the importance of confidentiality

We’ve all done it. It’s irresistible. We’re so excited and captured by our new business proposition or new gizmo that will change the world that we ‘overshare’. Pub environments are particularly risky. If you do have something of real potential, why tell the world, or just anyone else you know? The other thing I hear often is that ‘so and so stole my idea’. Unfortunately, the idea shouldn’t have been shared in the first place. Knowing what a non-disclosure agreement is and when to use them, is a good first step to securing your idea if you need to share it with interested parties. In fact, when it comes to inventions, anything already known in the world invalidates your application. So, as a rule of thumb, share nothing with no one, unless necessary, and with the right protection in place.

  1. Assuming a good idea is a commercial idea is the easiest mistake.

This is a big one but I have to say it. Lots of people have amazing ideas for inventions or services and create incredible things, but not all of these will be commercially successful. Why? Because there’s no market value to them. The thing you create doesn’t satisfy a big enough demand where people are prepared to pay for it. So a good exercise early on is to ask yourself three questions; what problem am I trying to solve? How big a problem is it really? And does my invention or business provide a good enough solution? Inventors very often fall into this trap. They discover a solution to something without considering the size, and therefore commercial value of the problem. History proves this, as there are piles and piles of granted patents which never made it to market. Anybody care for spray on hair? Electric shoe polishers? But at least we can be reassured that even the biggest and boldest companies can fall into the same trap. Anyone own a Betamax?

  1. Not market testing your new product or service.

With this in mind, it’s just good practice to do prepare a robust business plan that includes some evidence of potential demand for your innovative product or service. Market research and testing are fundamental steps to get right early before properly launching. This helps to safeguard any future investment, both time and resource and IP, that you subsequently put into the business. At the British Library’s Business & IP Centre you can do market research with some of the best researchers and publishers in any given industry. That will help to demonstrate that you’re on the right track (or not).

  1. Not setting an IP budget.

There is a cost to registering some forms of IP, those that are known as registered rights. Specifically, these are patents, trademarks and design. The most costly are patents but you should do all your IP research early and work out what the most cost effective options are balanced with maximum protection (supported by a sound business case). That way you’re on track to make judicious IP decisions that pay off. It’s also very helpful to list IP as a necessary cost alongside other costs such as marketing spend, operational and staffing. Ultimately, if your IP is effective, the asset should pay for itself.

  1. Not factoring in infringement costs

First, some bad news. There are no IP police. You will need to be alert to anyone else copying your invention, using your brand or selling a different version of the same product you created. And it’s up to you then to act. Sadly, as your brand grows with your product or service, you should expect copycats. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, except when it takes out your bottom line or ruins your hard earned reputation. Early and tough action on infringement is the best way to shut down any threats and that will almost always involve some legal expertise. So set aside a war chest in your IP defence but be reassured that there is professional help out there. And that’s when IP lawyers are there to fight for your interests. IP lawyers should be members of professional bodies such as CIPA or CITMA. Also be aware of trading standards for some circumstances of infringement.

  1. Not knowing what to ask an IP attorney

Ignorance is never a good thing, especially when trying to solve a complex problem like IP infringement or a new application for protection. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, by any stretch. But at least by having a good solid grounding and understanding of how IP works for you and your business means you can maximise the time and effort of any professional advice you seek. Knowing enough about something to ask really good questions and to evaluate the reply is more power to you and encouragement that your IP budget is paying back. Time is money (especially legal time) so cut out the IP small talk and get to the crux of the IP issue and its possible resolution.

  1. Not starting with your Business & IP Centre or Patlib!

How could I not conclude by inviting anyone with an IP issue or question to get in touch with their local Business & IP Centre or Patlib (patent library) network? You’ll be able to talk with staff who have experience and are able to be a sounding board for you to make informed decisions that support your business. No matter what your age (but especially if you’re young), you deserve to be rewarded for your new and innovative creations! And intellectual property is there to ensure you do just that.  

Meet Nick Hart, founder of Storm Skin

Like many budding entrepreneurs, Nick, the London-based founder of Storm Skin has never been short of ideas, but as a first time entrepreneur, he had always hesitated when it came to launching. We are happy to say that with our help, Nick was able to gain the confidence and tools needed to take the plunge and launch his bicycle cover business. We spoke to him to find out more about his start-up journey.

Head shot of Nick Hart

“Storm Skin was born out of personal frustration. As an urban cyclist with limited space, I have no choice but to store my bike outside. A bike cover is an essential item to prevent your bike rusting and seizing up. However, the only bike covers available to buy were cheap, flimsy and prone to ripping. What’s more, they were poorly fitting and tended to spend more time on my next-door neighbour’s hedge than covering my bike. So, we built a bike cover that worked. 100% waterproof, easy to fit, durable, unrivalled protection from wind, rain and UV. Simple. 

Green Storm Skin bike cover over a bike

My first interaction with the BIPC was at Start-Up Day in 2018 and since then they have played a pivotal role in the development of Storm Skin. The Start-Up Day event inspired me to move beyond daydreaming about running my own business to taking steps to make it happen. Once I had taken the decision to proceed, I booked a one-to-one session with an expert from the BIPC. We discussed the lean start-up methodology, and I was able to learn more about the electronic resources available at the BIPC in the British Library. Over the following months, I regularly visited the library, using Mintel databases to research my consumer and market. 

They also supported me with exploring opportunities to export my product into the EU. This included providing links to resources as well as workshops run by their partner organisation (Enterprise Europe Network). The information the BIPC provided demystified the complex process of exporting, particularly the new rules and regulations post-Brexit. 

Another key area that the BIPC supported with was constructing my IP strategy. I attended a workshop with expert IP lawyers, which provided me with more information on trade mark protection, design registration and patents. Armed with this info I was able to decide the level of protection I needed, whilst remaining within my budget.

Finally, I was also helped with the sourcing of my product. Through their monthly Inventor’s Club I was able to meet Bob and Richard, two product experts and serial entrepreneurs, they explained the basics of sourcing products from target pricing to prototyping. Through Richard, I was also able to meet Katy, who helped me to approach factories with my idea.

The best business advice I was given was that innovation comes in many forms. Incremental innovation is as valid as revolutionary innovation. It is not always necessary to create something completely new. Many great business ideas are improvements on existing products. In my spare time, I like to spend time with my family. I have two children under five, who keep me busy and help give me perspective when I’m having a tough day. 

The book that most influenced me was the FT Business Start-Up guide. This book has a step-by-step checklist for setting up a new business. I found it invaluable, allowing me to break down the process into bite-size tasks. The book also ensured I didn’t miss anything (product protection liability anyone?).”

Is your business idea still a daydream instead of a reality? Visit our workshops and events page to see how we can inspire you to take the next step. 

20 April 2022

Inventors of the Month: John Waddington and Anthony Pratt

If you were to hear the names, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlet, the board game Cluedo, might immediately come to mind. And for good reason too. The game is a part of so many of our childhoods.

It’s almost eighty years since the idea for what we now know as Cluedo was first pitched to Waddington games by Anthony Pratt, musician and factory worker at the time. Yet, would you think of it as a Leeds innovation?

Illustration of Cluedo board game from trade mark GB50000000001364562
Illustration of Cluedo board game from trade mark GB50000000001364562

The story goes that he was inspired with his wife, Elva Pratt, to create a board game based on some of the live murder mystery games played in country houses that were popular at the time. The Leeds games company saw the potential of the idea right away and did a deal with Pratt.

The eponymous company was founded by John Waddington in Leeds. Its brand has been a household name in Britain for much of the 20th Century. If you could time travel back to any post war decade and take a peek into any games cupboard in any home in Britain, you’d likely find at least one Waddingtons’ game. Probably more. A household name is not an over statement.

So this was certainly a magnificent opportunity for both games inventor and manufacturer. Waddingtons was becoming a local Leeds institution and their reach would be pivotal to the success of Pratt’s invention.

But what was really the key to making Cluedo such a household name around the world? The answer is in three rather forgettable words, intellectual property rights. Here we see Cluedo’s widespread success and the collaboration between Anthony Pratt and Waddingtons as a fascinating case study in intellectual property (IP) and why these rights are so important.

We’ll see how and what lessons we can learn for a new generation of games inventors (and anyone else).

Monopoly right?

Waddingtons built their early success on another game, which also just happened to become a household name. The new American game, Monopoly. They had the exclusive licence from US maker and rights holder, Parker Brothers, to make and sell in the UK. A very savvy move as it turned out, as the favour was swapped with Parker Brothers eventually obtaining the licence for Cluedo (or Clue as it was rebranded in the US).

So the first lesson here is that being a licensor (the owner of the IP rights) and the licensee can (and should) work in both party’s interests.

It certainly worked for Waddingtons, as Monopoly’s success put them in a strong position to develop more games. Cluedo (and Anthony Pratt’s idea) came at just the right time in the company’s growth potential.

But what of the inventor; how would Pratt protect his idea?

Patently obvious answer

Interestingly, Pratt patented the idea for Cluedo back in 1944. Though if you search for any patent called Cluedo, you won’t find it (for reasons to be explained).

Pratt’s patent specification GB586817, Improvements in Board Games, is a fascinating patent. You can view the original here. A patent is a particular type of IP protection for inventions and/or processes. It is usually technical or mechanical in nature, so it’s interesting to read how a game could be considered as such.

Illustration of cards and weapons from patent GB_586817_A
Illustration of cards and weapons from patent GB_586817_A

Here’s an extract from Pratt’s original patent, outlining the process in playing Cluedo. Anyone who’s played it may well understand the selected extracts;

A board game comprises a board divided into areas representing rooms of a house connected by small squares… ten differently coloured movable pieces representing persons, nine tokens each representing a weapon, and a pack of cards having three suits, one suit containing nine cards which correspond with nine of the rooms… The object of the game is to identify a hidden combination of three cards, one from each suit, as a result of information accumulated during play.

The patent for what we know as Cluedo was granted (meaning finally approved by the Patent Office) in 1947.

This gave Pratt, ownership and rights over the game and the ability to sell or licence the process behind the game to any games maker. Owning the patent also provided him a way to oppose any unauthorised copying.

It raises the question, can you still patent a board game today?

Patents and games

The bar is much higher today to be able to patent a board game. That’s because the same criteria apply, that is the games’ process, or method have to be non-obvious and never been done before. It’s actually more difficult to come up with a really new games process that is truly an innovative step.

It’s also the more costly of the IP rights and takes the most time. There are other IP options, the same ones that Waddingtons also used.

Illustration of Cluedo board from patent GB_586817_A
Illustration of Cluedo board from patent GB_586817_A

Copyrighting a game

Copyright is an automatic and unregistered right, meaning the creator owns it as soon as it’s created. Putting a copyright sign, naming the owner and year of creation on the game is a simple and legally recognised way of asserting your IP rights.

Copyright applies to all artistic and written creations. It includes visual elements, wording and designs incorporated into the whole board game, and all can be considered copyright. If, there was ever any copying of a games look or distinctive elements, the creator can seek redress as an infringement of their copyright.

One other IP right called registered design, can sometimes be used. Especially if there is an element of the game that is three dimensional, such as player tokens.

The other very important IP right in relation to games is the trade mark. You can find more information about IP and board games by reading our Industry Guide.

Protecting the name of the game

The appeal to the game Cluedo is in the name, Cluedo. That may sound like stating the obvious but the creation and use of the name is another very important ingredient in a game’s success. The original name for Pratt’s game was Murder! But the one of Waddington’s company executives, Norman Watson, who ran with the idea promptly changed the name to Cluedo. Which was an apparent play on a Latin word ludo, meaning ‘I play’. A clever games title and eventually a brilliant, valuable trade mark.

Here is a wonderful marriage of concept and process (the patent) with the branding and name (the trade mark), topped with a visually appealing board design and unforgettable player names (the copyright). All of these forms of IP protection acts as bricks in a defensive wall of 'idea protection'.

But if you own the trade mark, in practice you pretty much own the game.

Cluedo today

Our Leeds story goes global, as Waddingtons was purchased by American games giant, Hasbro in 1994. And so, Hasbro obtained all the IP rights to Cluedo. We can see that the registered trade mark for Cluedo is still active today. As well as the trade mark for the board game.

Hasbro have taken Cluedo into new directions. Interestingly, the design of the board game, with its various rooms and names is also now a trade mark. The company is using all means of protection to extend the life of the game and retain IP rights over it. It’s a way to safeguard the investment in its purchase. Is it hardly surprising when we see what a timeless success Cluedo has become?

In recent times there have been many Cluedo spin offs, including novelty versions of the game for the Simpsons and TV comedy Big Bang Theory. Back in the 1980s there were even computer game versions and film as well as a TV show in the 1990s.

It all goes to show how a great games idea, playing on our love of old fashioned parlour games, mixed with Agatha Christie style characters can create something as novel as a board game, lifting a name like Cluedo, to the status of iconic.

So who dunnit?

It was a Leeds inventor and games maker that brought hours of fun to families, down generations, around the world.

Jeremy O'Hare, Business & IP Centre IP expert

06 May 2021

A week in the life of Zachary Pulman, founder of Zachary Pulman Design Studio

Zachary Pulman is the founder of award-winning Zachary Pulman Design Studio, fast becoming the go-to design agency for the competitive socialising sector. The team recently took part in Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups.

Also designing high-end residential homes and developments and retail projects for the likes of Nike, Adidas and Sonia Rykiel, the studio began to expand their scope and in designing Swingers City and Swingers West End crazy golf venues, found their niche – competitive socialising spaces that evoke imagination, conversation and memorable experiences. 

Now working with Swingers, Top Golf and Hoyts internationally as well as London’s new Pop-music themed crazy golf venue Pop Golf to name a few, the studio are putting into practice learnings from the British Library’s Scale Up Programme to take their designs and concepts worldwide. Competitive socialising never looked so good. 

Big Wheel Course at Swingers West End (Photo by Edit Photo)

Monday

Mondays usually start with an early morning yoga session. If I can fire of a few emails to my team – before my wife Gosia and I take Hugo, our Kerry Blue Terrier out for a walk – then we’re off to a good start! Gosia and I try to find some quiet time before the day fully kicks in. 

Recently, we’ve been trying to change up our walks and today, we’re off to Wanstead Park. Hugo currently has zero interest in other dogs but is fascinated by rats, squirrels and ducks. We feel this time is like his version of gaming or competitive socialising. He is extremely high energy!

We get back around 9am and I move to my mezzanine home office to meet the rest of the team. Like most, we’ve all been working remotely for the past year or so, so our team daily meetings are on online. Today, we review projects and plan out the week ahead. The rest of the day is a mix of client meetings on zoom, and site visits for our London clients. 

ZP Home Studio

Between 5 - 7pm I usually work on business development and after that it’s time for an episode of Brian Johnson’s Optimize. I’m finding his podcasts on leadership and productivity from his Optimal Living 101 Master Classes to be fascinating and I have been listening to the same 30 podcasts for the same 10 years. Today’s episode is all about leadership. Apparently, there’s no such thing as a bad team, only a bad leader. Johnson shares an example from the Navy Seals – a badly performing team swapped leaders with a top performing team. Before they knew it, that new leader transformed the worst performing team into the best!

Tuesday

This morning starts with vitamin day for Hugo. He automatically sits up, knowing he’s getting last night’s leftovers (disguising his supplements!). Once he’s revitalized, we head off to Hampstead Heath for a quick walk/hunt for squirrels.

Zach  Gosia and Hugo

They say you should plan your high brain power tasks for the morning, shifting admin to the afternoon or evening. So I start with some work on our projects for our clients in China. 

Recently, we’ve been batching our international meetings and on Tuesdays we have our calls with China, so I start with prepping for those. Now that we’re working much more internationally, we’re better understanding the nuances between different regions. It's been great to be working with local teams of executive architects and interior designers to keep designs sensitive to local culture. The first example given to us in China is if you were to open the same KFC as you would in America, it would be almost pointless to unlock the door. With our designs in China, it seems to be a higher-end VIP, private, luxury experience. You really feel the sheer size and quality and speed of fabrication is mind-blowing. 

Early evening, I catch up with a friend in Regents Park, since walking is the new socialising! Back home, it's time for evening exercise. I alternate legs (cycling using Zwift) with upper body (TRX - ropes). Today it’s cycling!

Wednesday

Wednesday is Hugo’s girlfriend day so we head to Camberwell to meet a blue whippet called Poppy for their rendezvous. Back in the home office and my inbox is filling up fast so I start the day catching up on client emails. We have our team call at 10. 

Team call

On Wednesdays, we also have our Marketing and PR Manager in the studio (or more recently online!), we plan out our social media and I usually have a check in with Jessica in the afternoon. Recently there’s been a lot of buzz around the opening of Pop Golf so we meet to chat through progress with that PR campaign. 

On Wednesdays, we also have our calls with clients and collaborators in the US, and today feels pretty flat out with Zoom/Skype/Teams etc! We catch up with our client Swingers Crazy Golf who are expanding into the US, reviewing designs for their upcoming Washington DC and New York venues.

Zachary Pulman - Bandstand Bar 1 (photo by Edit Photo)

Thursday

Today the focus is on our Australia and Argentina-based projects so after our team meeting at 10am, the day’s a mix of client meetings on zoom and progressing projects. Today, we review designs for Be West, a new development based on sustainable architecture and wellness in Buenos Aries. 

Never feel like it but always do it, I think I’m the laziest hard-working person I know. Today’s evening exercise is upper body and I’m working on TRX with ropes. In normal times, I’d usually be off to a competitive socialising venue in London on Thursdays with the rest of the team to see what our competitors are up to. 

Friday

I try to keep Fridays clear of meetings. I find it’s important to have some uninterrupted time for deep thinking to get fully immersed in creative projects. The idea is the phone goes off on Thursday night and doesn't go back on again until Monday morning. 

Zachary-Pulman-Image-

Today, I’m working on a new VR bar concept where gaming pods become spectacles for unforgettable nightclub experiences. I’m really enjoying working on concepts with emerging technologies and the space to explore new ideas.

Usually I would go to exhibitions and events but over the lockdown’s that’s been replaced with gardening, reading and life drawing. 

Weekend

I love to start my weekends by going for a super early morning drive, in my 1960/70s classic car or a friend’s car for variety. I get on the road by 5.30am before the cyclists are out and about, and usually do a 2.5h lap. My friends and I made a car collective where we share classic cars – a small collection of Italian, English and German 60s, 70s and 80s cars. It’s an analogue experience.

We’ve got a new arrival coming soon and it’s not the most baby friendly house in the world! We’re changing a house that's purely about flow of space and daylight. The new arrival will mean we've got to add some safety elements, pull up our socks on health and safety. The choice is either to do it in an elegant and permanent way or inexpensive and reversible.

It’s the weekend, so I take Hugo out for a longer walk today in Victoria Park. One thing Hugo loves to do is to get into the water and cross over onto an island. He’s happy to swim over to the island... but refuses to come back. Today, that results in me turning heads, by wading through the lake to rescue him. 

For me the weekends are all about family and spending time at home, I do try to have a good switch off from work.

05 May 2021

Inventor of the Month: Lucean Arthur Headen, 1879-1957

Introducing our latest blog feature: Inventor of the Month! In our first edition, our IP expert, Jeremy O'Hare explores the fascinating life of Lucean Arthur Headen.

'For someone to be both an inventor and an entrepreneur is a unique thing. To be someone who overcomes racial prejudice and become a pioneer in his field is truly exceptional.

I discovered the story of Lucean Headen while answering an enquiry for an historian and author, Dr Jill D. Snider, who has written a recent biography about this extraordinary man. Jill had used our historical collections of patents in order to track Headen’s achievements in engineering.

Lucean Headen, an African American, born in 1879 in North Carolina, was to become an important figure in manufacturing and engineering in Camberley, Surrey before and after the Second World War.

Passport Photo of Lucean Headen

How then, did Headen travel from a segregated USA to England in the early 20th Century and prosper in what was an extraordinary life journey and adventure for his time?

The answer is, invention. Quite a few of them in fact.

Headen, was born into the generation after the American Civil War where racial inequalities and prejudice were the norm. He belonged to a family of artisans, who had learned their trades while enslaved.  His father was exceptional in his own right as an entrepreneur and owner of a sawmill  and his family had acquired strong connections with other African American entrepreneurs.

The social networks his family built were what Headen needed to get ahead, and they became vital to his securing future opportunities. They included contacts through the Northern Presbyterian church, a network that would continue to be a place of social as well as spiritual support for Headen. But also a wider circle of investors, both black and white, who saw promise in Headen’s early inventions.

His first two patents, in fact related to cars as he established a car manufacturing business producing car bodies and engines. But it was the promise of overseas opportunities that saw him travel to the UK. He made his first trip toward the end of the First World War, to demonstrate to the British Admiralty an optical device referred to as the “Headen system of mirror camouflage,” used to make small patrol craft invisible to German submarines.

This of course helped to get him known in inventing circles. However, with the war soon to end he didn’t receive the opportunity to fully develop his idea, though his talent was commended.

Illustration from patent GB381588A Improvements in or relating to vaporizers for internal combustion engines
Illustration from patent GB381588A Improvements in or relating to vaporizers for internal combustion engines

After some time back in the USA, Headen returned to the UK in 1931 not with patents for the military, but for the car industry.

Again, the trip was because of an opportunity. England had a petrol problem; there wasn’t enough of it, and it was too expensive. Something that wasn’t a problem in the US at the time. So Headen had developed a converter kit that allowed petrol engines to burn heavy oils instead of petrol. This was a big advantage for England at the time because heavy oils were more plentiful and cheaper.

The invention certainly created a stir and was demonstrated at the Royal Motor Club. Off the back of its early interest, Headen formed a company in 1932, first in London, then relocated to Camberley, the place that would become his home. Having formed a partnership with another entrepreneur, George Hamilton, and later Camberley builder James Richard McLean Keil, this gave Headen the local network and connections to get his invention to market.

Headen and his company would become central in the local business community, and he emerged as a leading industrialist for his time in the region.

More patents were soon to follow, each developing his automotive innovations, but it was the onset of war that proved to be of such importance for Headen’s contribution to the war effort.

His engines were instrumental in British agriculture and logistics because tractors and lorry operators were able to switch to oil, therefore allowing scarce petrol for military use. His engine gasket also increased the efficiency of oil-burning engines and reduced the maintenance required.

It was clear that Headen had grown to love England and indeed had remarried here and adopted a son. He never gave up his US citizenship but was very much considered a local, and even served in the Home Guard. It’s true to say that he had created opportunities as an African American here in the UK that were so much more difficult for him in the US at the time.

But it would be wrong to see Lucean Headen as either American or British. He was bigger than that, a man who would never allow his race, background or lack of higher education hold him back, Headen succeeded with talent, determination and an instinct to chase an opportunity wherever it led him.

Illustration from patent CA376999A ‘Ice formation preventing apparatus for aircrafts
Illustration from patent CA376999A ‘Ice formation preventing apparatus for aircrafts

To use a cliché, the ‘sky’s the limit’, would even be a little limiting, as Headen was also a pioneer aviator, among the first African-Americans to fly. He added to his automotive achievements with aeronautical inventions. One of these, an anti-icing technique for planes, has been cited as an early patent for later developments by Curtiss Wright, GM Grumman Aerospace, Boeing and Rolls Royce right up to a recent thermal patent method to de-ice turbine blades in 2018.

His inventive and personal legacy continues to inspire to today. Lucean Headen is a man whose time for recognition has come.'

24 April 2021

A week in the life of Edward Draper, founder of Ortheia

Edward Draper is an alumna of the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and a founder of Ortheia Ltd, a start-up company in the early stages of development of new medical technologies. He leads on commercialising novel products in collaboration with UK-based Universities and other technology-based SMEs, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises. The current flagship product they are developing is a new biomaterial that, when implanted into the body, does two things: helps bones to heal, and fights infection without the need for antibiotics. This is especially important at a time when there is a world-wide increase in resistance to antibiotics.

Edward leads the small but talented team of three that make up Ortheia, which has only been trading for three years. He has a lot of experience of R&D in the MedTech sector and has worked in Universities such as Imperial College and UCL, as well as leading innovation teams in industry. He has led on the technical aspects of product launches in the UK and across the globe and has his name on many patents. The whole Ortheia team share his passion for the challenges of getting new MedTech innovations into the clinics and onto the markets across the world.

Today the team are all working from their homes in different parts of the country because of the COVID19 Lockdown. We spoke to Edward to find out more about what a typical week looks like for him. 

Monday

Welcome to my Lockdown Lair. It’s an ex-bedroom that I have converted into an office/workshop (I am an inveterate maker). Most of my work is collaborative and is about making sure all the aspects of the work are progressing, despite the restrictions imposed by COVID19. Today I had three major tasks.

First, I am working with my three fellow directors on our Business Risk Register, which may sound a little boring, but in fact it makes us can go through all aspects of the business in quite a lot of detail. This is so important right now because we know from the statistics that Companies at the stage we are in now are most likely to fail. Going through the Business Risks will not guarantee us success, but it is more likely we can spot things early before they go wrong. The meeting was done by the inevitable video call sharing documents over three hours. It was tiring but productive. We are about a quarter of the way through the Register.

Second was the final tasks needed before filing our next patent. This involves chasing up our collaborators for the necessary paperwork and finalising the Figures we need to add.

Third and final, there was some consultancy work I am doing with an exciting Oxford-based company who want to launch new 3D-printed metal implants and I am helping them get regulatory approval here the UK and in the USA. The current work was deciding how best to explain the quite complicated case to the Regulatory Authorities.

Edward holding Ortheia's biomaterial-min

Tuesday

We are leading a large project with University of Cambridge and two other SMEs on a grant funded by Innovate UK. Today was the monthly meeting so it was yet another videoconference. The product we are developing looks a bit like granulated sugar (you can see it in the image above), but it is technically quite advanced. This is our flagship product design to speed up bone healing and damping down infection. Today’s meeting was to go through where we were with the manufacture and the lab testing. This needed some preparation time before the meeting and then quite some time in the meeting picking the best option to go forward. I also did some more work on the patent.

Wednesday

I have been elbow deep in Excel. I had two quite critical tasks that I needed to progress quite urgently. The lab results from Cambridge looked as if we’d had a ‘bad cell’ day and I was looking at how the data compare with previous work. It is quite common that data need to be scrutinised in detail like this. We exchanged a lot of emails and we did come to an agreement as to what to do next (wait for the next lot of data that should arrive in a week or so). Once that was settled, I was back in Excel looking at the biomaterials formulations to make sure we have the specifications right. Last part of the day was spent trying to find slots in peoples’ diaries before the end of the week so I can help resolve any issues before they become problems.

Edward reviewing laboratory data

Thursday

We have several months left in the current Innovate UK grant. This has been fabulous and has allowed us to really test out the early formulations of the biomaterials. However, at the end of the grant we will still have a long way to go before we will be investment ready. This means we must plan the next grant in detail. Today we were mapping the technology development out to clinical launch and beyond. To attract the next round of grant funding we have to package up the next few years work in a way that will be attractive to the viewers. So it was another long video call with the three of us sharing big virtual whiteboards. It was very productive, but we still have much further to go before we have an application that is strong enough. Fortunately for us we have some time. The next suitable grant call from Innovate UK will be announced in a few months.

I also had a call with an Academic in the University of Sheffield about an academic project we are planning together to help us understand the underlying phenomena associated with some work we have done in the past on early joint disease and healing cartilage. It is good to keep it progressing. Today also saw my take 30 minutes off to dash to my GP’s surgery for the first of my COVID19 vaccinations; a miraculous technology that hopefully sees the world getting out of this ongoing craziness.

Friday

This was a day in which I was being pulled into different directions. We had a call with our Patent Attorney about the final stages of preparing the new patent; we were very nearly there. I just needed to chase up comments from our Collaborators on the patent wording and sort out some Figures. It is not unreasonable to think that we will file in the next month or so. Then a sharp pivot in attention. The consultancy work I am doing needs for me to define what is known to the Regulators as a ‘predicate device’. It needs a detailed search through the FDA’s database, which are all online, and find a product that is currently being sold that is like my client’s. I have come up with a choice of three, which I will work on next week.

I finished the day preparing for next week’s business planning. We have adopted a graphical approach to the five years, and I need to prepare to facilitate the big meeting next week, Yet another video call with a complex ‘Orbit’ on a virtual whiteboard. This afternoon’s efforts were handwritten notes on an A3 copy. I am looking forward to working through this with the team next week.

09 March 2021

Seven female patent pioneers you should know

This Women's History Month we, at the Business & IP Centre, are shining the light on female inventors. Let's hear more from the curator from our historical patent collection, Steven Campion, on just some of his favourite inventions patented by women. 

'Although women have always found solutions to the problems around them, social and historical factors mean little of this was recorded. Women inventors would have had fewer resources and faced discriminatory barriers at every step of their journey – often having their contributions downplayed or overlooked entirely.

Therefore just 62 out of the 14,359 patents granted in England between 1617 and 1852 were awarded to women. In fact before 1965, the proportion of women in the UK patent system was generally between 2% and 3%. The proportion has since risen at an accelerating pace, having reached 6.8% in 1998, and then almost doubling to reach 12.7% in 2017. As the number of women working within the STEM sector increases, we can hopefully look forward to this number rising further.

But as for those patents that have already been filed, I have collated some of the most notable and fascinating examples of problem-solving women who were at the forefront of innovation.

Before we begin, a quick caveat. Earlier patents may exist for some of the inventions given in this list but the following women are widely considered the inventor of their ‘thing’ because it worked (earlier versions didn't in some cases), or it was popular, or it is recognisable to the form as it exists today, and so on. It is also worth saying that there are many other female innovators and inventors we could have mentioned. Not all acquired patents, some weren’t given credit, many were trapped by the conditions of their time. However this is a selection of some notable examples

Mary Anderson – windscreen wiper

Window Cleaning Device patent

A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.

Mary Anderson visited New York City in the winter of 1903. This was the year before the subway opened and the streetcar was a popular way to get around town. During her trip it snowed heavily, forcing the streetcar drivers to frequently stop to clear the snow and ice from their windscreens. When this became unmanageable, they would instead drive with their head sticking out of an open window.

Delays and open windows of course meant discomfort for the passengers, especially someone like Anderson who was not used to the chill of a New York winter.

Knowing there had to be a solution, Anderson began work as soon as she returned to Alabama. Her finished prototype was a radially swinging rubber blade which would wipe the windscreen clear of obstruction. Fairly similar to the modern-day windscreen wiper, except Anderson’s invention was manually operated by a handle inside by the driver (in 1917 another female inventor, Charlotte Bridgwood, was granted a patent for the first electrically powered windscreen wiper).

On the 10th November 1903, U.S. patent no. 743,801 was granted to Anderson for her ‘window-cleaning device’. Unfortunately not many people saw the worth in her invention, saying it would be a dangerous distraction to the driver. Cars were also not particularly common and Ford’s Model T was still 5 years away. Anderson therefore made no money from her patent and it eventually lapsed.

As driving became more commonplace, the windscreen wiper was eventually adapted for automotive use, today being an important safety device that is a legal requirement in most countries.

 

Mary Walton – pollution reducing devices

Patent for Elevated Railway

A copy of U.S. patent no. 221,880 can be seen here; the historic IP collection at the library contains a paper copy of the GB version of the patent (GB 3,512 of 1879).

A copy of U.S. patent no. 237,422 can be seen here.

Elevated trains were installed throughout the larger U.S. cities in the second half of the 19th century, unfortunately bringing a large amount of air and noise pollution for those living nearby. Mary Walton, who lived beside the tracks in Brooklyn, worked to solve both problems, earning herself a place in history as a STEM female pioneer.

In 1879 she was granted U.S. patent no. 221,880 for ‘Improvement in locomotive and other chimneys’. Her invention reduced air pollution by diverting chimney smoke through water tanks. This process dissolved and trapped the pollutants in the water, which would later be flushed into the sewer system.

Next, she realised that wooden elements of the track were amplifying the noise of the trains. Using a model railway she built in her basement, she came up with a working solution – encasing specific sections of the track in weatherproof wooden boxes filled with sand. This successfully absorbed the majority of the vibrations; greatly reducing the noise levels. Before Anderson, many noted engineers and inventors tried and failed to find a solution, including Thomas Edison.

After successful trials, Walton was granted U.S. patent no. 237,422 in 1881. She sold the patent rights to New York City’s Metropolitan Railroad, and before long the system was in place throughout America.

 

Josephine Cochrane - first commercially successful dishwashing machine

Dishwashing machine patent

A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here; the historic IP collection at the library contains a paper copy of the GB version of the patent (GB 9,895 of 1887).

Josephine Cochrane, a 19th century socialite, often hosted grand dinner parties at her mansion in Illinois. She was fortunate enough to have servants to wash up afterwards, but Cochrane was unhappy to discover the occasional chip in her heirloom china. She therefore decided to wash the dishes herself, though soon became bored of the task.

So bored in fact, that Cochrane designed a machine to take over. Her machine used water pressure to clean dishes held in place by wire racks – a system recognisable to anyone with a modern dishwasher.

The first few male engineers she hired predictably insisted on changing her design. They were convinced they knew better than an untrained woman, but their changes never worked. Eventually her design was built and U.S. patent no. 335,139 was granted for her ‘Dish washing machine’ in 1886.

At the time the machine was too expensive for most homeowners and required more hot water than the typical home could generate. But after winning a top prize at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, orders poured in from hotels, restaurants, and hospitals.

In 1898 Cochrane started her own company which she managed until her death in 1913. In 1926 the company was acquired by Hobart, which went on to produce the first successful home dishwashers under the KitchenAid brand in the 1940s.

Today half of all UK households have a dishwasher thanks to the pioneering work of Josephine Cochrane – presumably the other half wishes they had room for one.

 

Margaret Knight - machine for making flat-bottomed paper bags

Patent for Bag Machine

A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.

In 1867 Margaret Knight started work at a paper bag factory. At the time, mass produced paper bags had envelope style bottoms, which were both weak and narrow. Flat-bottomed bags were stronger and made packing easier, but there was no machine that could make these. Instead a production line of 30 women were employed to cut, fold, and glue these together. Flat-bottomed bags were therefore expensive and uncommon.

Knight was an inventor at heart. At the age of just 12 she had invented a loom safety device that was used extensively by the cotton industry (but unfortunately not patented). She therefore soon developed a machine that could manufacture flat-bottomed bags from start to finish – something male inventors had been trying and failing to do for years. In 1871 Knight applied for a patent, but was rejected as a similar machine was recently patented by Charles Annan.

Before her application, Knight had visited several machine shops in order to create an iron prototype. At one of these, Annan saw the plans and decided to steal the invention. Knight filed a patent interference lawsuit, with a mass of documentation and witness testimony on her side. Annan could only really state that no woman could design such a machine. Knight of course won, and U.S. patent no. 116,842 was granted for her ‘Improvement in paper-bag machines’ in 1871.

Knight would continue to innovate, being awarded many more patents over the course of her lifetime.

 

Melitta Bentz – the coffee filter

Journal entry that includes the industrial property right for Melitta Bentz's coffee filter patent

The industrial property right was granted with registration on page 1145 of the 8th July 1908 edition of the patent gazette of the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin – see image.

Like many of us, Melitta Bentz enjoyed starting her morning with a cup of coffee. What she didn’t enjoy was the bitter tasting coffee grounds still left floating in her cup.

At the time, 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 would help, 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.

One day Bentz had a flash of inspiration. She drilled holes into the bottom of a brass pot, which she then sat on top of a cup. Next, she placed a piece of blotting paper from her son’s school exercise book into the bottom of the pot, adding freshly ground coffee on top. Bentz then poured hot water into the pot and watched as clean, filtered coffee dripped into the cup below – she had invented pour-over coffee and the coffee filter.

In 1908 Bentz was granted utility model 343,556 for her ‘Coffee filter with a domed underside, recessed bottom and inclined flow holes’ from the patent office in Berlin. The same year she founded the company ‘Melitta’ and began to sell her pot and filter paper. In the 1930s Melitta would go on to create the cone shaped filter and today, the still family owned business, produces over 50 million filters a day.

Despite the ease of modern coffee brewing methods, pour over coffee has remained popular amongst coffee lovers, who appreciate the high level of control it provides.

 

Elizabeth Magie – the landlord’s game

Patent for The Landlord's Game, precursor to Monopoly

A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.

For the longest time it was an accepted fact that Monopoly was invented by Charles Darrow in 1933. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a decade long trademark infringement lawsuit revealed the actual truth – Monopoly was heavily based on another board game patented decades earlier by a progressive woman called Elizabeth Magie.

Magie was granted U.S. patent no. 748,626 in 1904 for her board game ‘The Landlord's Game’. It was designed to illustrate the anti-monopolist theories of 19th century economist Henry George, and as such it came with two rule sets – one monopolist, the other anti-monopolist. The idea being players would see the latter was the morally correct choice.

Failing to find a publisher, Magie self-published the game in 1906. It sold poorly, but a local economics professor picked up a copy and played it with his students. At the time it was not uncommon to create handmade versions of published games, and that’s exactly what several of these students did, and it’s exactly what several friends of these students did, and so on.

As the homemade versions spread, the game would change a little here and there. New house rules would be added and the street names would be updated to reflect local towns. Ironically, people thought it was more fun to own land, charge rent, and bankrupt friends and family, and so the anti-monopolist rules were left permanently to one-side.

Fast forward to 1932, and Charles Darrow is introduced to a home-made version of the game. He immediately creates his own copy and starts to sell it under the name ‘Monopoly’. It does well and he sells the board game rights, becoming the first millionaire game designer in history. By contrast, Magie is said to have earned only $500 from her board game.

 

Hedy Lamarr – frequency-hopping

Patent for Hedy Lamarr's Secret Communincation System

A copy of the U.S. patent can be seen here.

Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood icon who was promoted as ‘the most beautiful woman in film’. She was so startlingly beautiful in fact, that her brilliant mind was largely overlooked her entire life. It wasn’t until her later years, and sadly really only after her death that the world would learn of her part in the development of the wireless technologies we take for granted today.

It was World War Two, and Lamarr had heard that German U-boats were easily jamming the signals that guided the radio-controlled Allied torpedoes. She hit on a brilliant solution – if the signal hopped from frequency to frequency rapidly, then it would be near impossible to detect and jam.

She asked a composer called George Antheil to help realise her invention, and together they created a system that used paper piano rolls, perforated with a complex and random pattern, to make a signal hop rapidly between 88 frequencies – the same number of keys on a piano.

U.S. patent no. 2,292,387 was granted for their ‘Secret communication system’ in 1942, however the Navy declined taking their idea forward. It is thought the invention was not taken seriously as it was created by an actor who was world famous for her beauty.

However during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, about three years after the patent had expired, the technology was adapted and in use. Fast forward many more years and frequency-hopping would be foundational to modern wireless technologies, such as GPS, Bluetooth, and secure Wi-Fi.'

For more on intellectual property and female founders, you can visit at the Business & IP Centre resources at bl.uk/bipc.

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