Innovation and enterprise blog

30 posts categorized "Patents"

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.  

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

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.'

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.

16 June 2020

A week in the life of… Rachel Jones, founder of SnapDragon Monitoring

Rachel Jones is founder and Head Dragon at SnapDragon Monitoring in Edinburgh. SnapDragon delivers online brand protection, seller insights and market intelligence to brands around the world. Rachel founded SnapDragon based on her experiences of defending her first creation the Totseat – a washable squashable highchair for babies who lunch – from counterfeits. The British Library's Business & IP Centre played a significant role in the market research undertaken for both businesses. Most recently Rachel was the first Entrepreneur in Residence at BIPC Glasgow, based at the Mitchell Library. SnapDragon is the recent recipient of a Queen’s Award for Innovation 2020.

SnapDragon team

Groundhog Week

It’s the first week of May. My favourite month. Usually. Awoken by insistent birdsong at 4am after yet another sporadic night of what could only be defined as a snoozing. Might as well get up. Husband is dressing, in preparation for 5am call to Singapore. Dog peed, fed enough to tide her over till 6am, a mug of welcome tea and a couple of hours work before breakfast and a rigorous walk. My makeshift ‘office’ is a corner of our sitting room, sandwiched between well-thumbed texts and an ancient sofa of memories. My desk, an extended (vertically) dressing table inherited from my late mother, which previously housed small geological specimens, now with ergonomic investment to help 100+ hour weeks.

We’re in lockdown. The middle? Still the beginning? Either way, the hell persists. One day we were in the office, the next was a work from the home trial. Not one technical hiccup. So we didn’t go back. We’re incredibly lucky. We are healthy, there’s food in the fridge and there is work to do.

But I’m a lousy mother currently and this bothers me. Greatly.

Edinburgh's blossom

A recent catch up call with a close friend, thankfully not on Zoom, has wrenched my jealous heart. Furloughed happily on a lovely salary, painting the house, gardening furiously, enjoying having University-aged offspring at home and imagining retirement. Other friends struggle valiantly on: juggling working and childcare, home schooling and life as single parents, life in a flat, responsibilities for the vulnerable, loathing their living companion/s, not enough money or patience to go round. And those in the middle, silently weeping with responsibility weighing heavily on hearts and mind. At the front line of caring, mending, selling, delivering, collecting, working to keep the economy going. Mouths to feed, and not just their own.

Livelihoods of many many families lying firmly in their laps.

I’m one of the latter. Not brave enough to be a front-line carer, but working day and night to keep a business afloat (and ignoring my family, I’m sorry to say, while I do so). I am horrible to live with. My team of 26, of whom I am inordinately proud, need their salaries, motivation, and sanity and our clients’ businesses need us to keep them profitable. I will not let the virus get the better of me.

SnapDragon Monitoring fights fakes online. We identify and remove infringing products from online marketplaces, social media sites, and websites. We use intellectual property (IP) to remove the fakes and fakers. Copyright – words and images – trade marks, design rights and patents. It’s cheap and efficient. Four minutes to remove a link from, say, Amazon, with the correct IP to prove originality. Why bother? At best, fake products cause disappointment. Less brilliantly, serious harm. Take brakes or beauty products and you can be scarred for life. Meanwhile those profiting from the sale, fund drugs rings, prostitution, drug trafficking and worse. And the brands being ripped off? All too often suffer in silence. As can their customers.

Fakes are no longer the domain of luxury goods. And with COVID-19, according to Europol, sales of online fakes are already up 400%. The uninitiated, forced into remote shopping, are being too easily scammed and need help. Week two of lockdown saw 50% of our much-loved client base, most of which are SMEs, pause their subscriptions. We couldn’t blame them. Supply chains were stuck in China. Shops were closed. Staff furloughed. Income non-existent. But sales of fakes proliferate, so there’s the moral dilemma of knowing our technology is much needed versus the financial dilemma that we all need to eat. It turns out, there’s really no choice. Half the team is furloughed to stretch the budget. Those part-time, juggling childcare and home schooling, the first to appreciate the option of being so. I vow (silently) to ensure a working from home allowance rewards the committed for future adventures (and paying the bills of course).

Rachel's dog at the bottom of Arthur's Seat

This morning, pre 6am, I meet yet another iteration of the weekly cash flow forecast. I hate Excel but thankfully our FC is amazing and he makes the spreadsheets sing. Today’s priorities are projections, our weekly leadership team meeting, one of the thrice weekly whole team updates (key points from which are circulated by email to everyone); understanding the new funding options being launched today and applying for whatever is appropriate, following up an enquiry about supplier validation for PPE (which has become a core competence suddenly); ensuring bright, sparking new inventors aiming for crowdfunding have considered what intellectual property they should register and recommending the British Library, the Intellectual Property Office and the European Intellectual Property Office as excellent resources.

An office visit is mandatory: to collect the mail and to run the taps (to avoid legionella and ensure compliance with our landlord’s edict). It’ll be nice to have an additional excuse to get out, other than the dog. Will check in with various mentees, not least those gathered as part of my Entrepreneur in Residence-ship at BIPC Glasgow last year. Life for some is not at all easy and it’s really important that entrepreneurs who live alone are not feeling even more isolated than usual. Then there are our Board papers to circulate, although I suspect the Board is rather tired of my updates, and others’ Board papers to digest for the voluntary boards of which I am part, for later in the week. Groundhog Day should still be only a film.

The highlight will be planning, at some point, deliveries to each and every one of the team to celebrate next week’s announcement that SnapDragon is to receive a Queen’s Award for Innovation. We plan a Zoom party with miniature bottles of fizz delivered to all. Tech businesses are very rarely awarded this accolade. The thought of being able to make this award public spurs me on.

The team celebrate a delighted email from an Australian client as to the efficient identification and removal of a frightening number of fakes professing to be his product. Someone has a birthday and is enjoying the cake I had dispatched from the local baker, who has pivoted from corporate to home deliveries. We discuss topics for the weekly Lunch and Learn, and issue covert instructions for an online gathering at 6pm the following week, eluding the rationale.

Somewhere there needs to be time to wave at the long-suffering family, eat, ignore eight feet of clean washing (I measure it vertically), drink tea, brush my teeth and send virtual hug texts to family and friends. I miss the hugs. Mustn’t forget the food run for isolating next door neighbour. Sanity, such that it is, is necessitated by the dog’s need for a vigorous stride up Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh’s extinct volcano) after breakfast, or round the local golf course, thankfully currently free of calls of ‘fore’. The blossom, birdsong and oddly-coconut-smelling gorse provide all to brief opportunities for the odd deep breath. There isn’t an empty minute. At midnight, I stick a ‘thank you’ note on the dustbin for the refuse team, as no one felt up to drawing a rainbow. 

View from Arthur’s Seat

Postscript Second week of June
SnapDragon Monitoring, the proud recipient of the Queen’s Award for Innovation, is on track. Most of the Dragons are back from furlough working, at least from their kitchens, and planning holidays – which lightens my heart. 

The ergonomic investments in the sitting room have proved their weight in gold. The family has nearly forgiven me (the pile of washing has not).

The business is, almost, overwhelmed with work and positivity: those who paused their services came back much quicker than anticipated, so the counterfeiters are no longer winning; there is a stream of new clients to onboard; the team is happy and healthy; we are planning a socially distanced, super-safe and supportive working environment in the office; the tech sprint is ahead of target.

And my spreadsheet is singing. Onwards.

26 April 2020

Will Intellectual Property provide ‘the cure’ for Covid-19?

The world is waiting for a breakthrough. Global attention is on the discovery and manufacture of an effective vaccine against Covid-19. Today is also World Intellectual Property day, so right now, all intellectual property (IP) related to treatments and vaccines is of intense interest.

And this is where it gets interesting and complicated.

There are some big questions about what existing and emerging IP can be deployed to create a vaccine to help solve the Covid-19 crisis and how that is done within the existing laws protecting IP.

Though one thing about finding a solution is clear, there is no single government or company that has all the know-how or answers. Some form of working collaboration between government, research institutions and private industry will be required. And this may even need to be international.

So agreements around IP rights will be key to how a vaccine is developed.

Out of all the five forms of Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, design right, copyright, trade secrets) recognised around the world, developments in patents and trade secrets are taking centre stage.

So why patents?

Patents

A patent is granted by a government authority (we’ll see why this is important) to an inventor giving them the right for a limited time (usually 20 years) to prevent others from making, using or selling the invention. Patents must meet two important criteria; it must be an innovative step on what has gone before and not disclosed.

Many vaccines are made up of multiple patents because a vaccine itself is a biological preparation containing differing ingredients. How those different ingredients are composed is the innovation and therefore where the patents sit.

Pink liquid in a Petri dish being held by a person wearing gloves

 

As a form of intellectual property, patents can be sold or licensed to others to the benefit of the owner. Patent rights can also be waived if the inventor so chooses.

Could these rights then be waived in the interests of speedily creating a vaccine? And would companies do this voluntarily? The big issue for them is the cost incurred in developing those patents licenced for use in a vaccine and this may prove to be too great a disincentive.

Governments may also look at their options.

Governments and IP

One extreme scenario are compulsory licences. Because patents are a state granted right, governments under exceptional circumstances can, if they choose, assert rights over ownership and manufacture to third parties.

In fact a number of countries are actively pursuing this route. Among them Germany, Canada, Chile and Israel. Other provisions are covered under UK law for the use of patented inventions for services to the Crown. The question is whether this provision will need to be called upon.

And what company would even want to be named as having their IP requisitioned?

It would also be assumed that such exceptional intervention would involve some compensation to patent holders.

So might companies and research institutions voluntarily share information?

Trade Secrets

This is where another form of IP is crucial in the hunt for a vaccine against Covid-19; trade secrets. This IP is as simple as it sounds. Companies in the course of their activities may acquire know-how that gives them a competitive advantage. This know-how is so important that knowledge of it is protected and bound by confidentiality to those working with it.

Companies and research institutions working in drug and vaccine discovery work with multiple forms of trade secrets.

Patents alone won’t resolve the challenge of creating a vaccine, there need to be trade secrets such as gene sequencing, manufacturing methodology and a whole host of other forms of data required in vaccine development that may even include business modeling and pricing.

Row of Syringes ontop of a desk

Therefore companies and institutions will have knowledge that will need to be voluntarily revealed in any form of collaboration and I'd expect under specific conditions of agreement.

And some are moving in this direction.

Collaboration is Key

Recent discussion of creating a patent pool of shared patents to help in the fight against Covid-19 has gained some traction. The Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada has initiated the call for a medicines patent pool available for free or licensed on reasonable terms, as well as the sharing of other data. This has been endorsed by the WHO.

So much is happening in the fight against Covid-19 that a complete list of current collaborations across the world has been produced and can be found on the Milken Institute who are compiling all the current treatments and vaccines in the pipeline.

Another organisation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) is an ‘innovative global partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil society organisations’. This overseeing body is co-ordinating funding and deploying it. CEPI has helped fund the recent Oxford University vaccine.

They are also collaborating with GlaxoSmithKline who own the patent to an important adjuvant to enhance the effectiveness of any vaccine.

CEPI is an example of how public, individual, research institutions and the private sector are coalescing and co-ordinating their responses to Covid-19. The fruits of this provide some cause for optimism for finding a workable vaccination that benefits all contributors.It’s an indication of where we may be heading in terms of how IP is shared in such unusual times.

‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’ couldn’t be truer in our urgent need to find a vaccine against Covid-19. And the way will require a significant collaboration of IP, public and private interest. Something the world will hope for more of this World IP Day. 

To find out more about how intellectual property can work for you or your business view our series of free webinars.

Jeremy O’Hare is an Information Expert in Intellectual Property at the British Library.

02 March 2020

Getting to grips with IP: Back to basics

We asked Briffa, a boutique IP law firm based at the Business Design Centre in Islington, who are specialist IP lawyers and Business & IP Centre delivery partners, to unravel the confusion and complexities around IP…

Éamon Chawke
Éamon Chawke, Partner at Briffa

IP is like spaghetti. A big tangled mess. We frequently hear people say things like “I want to trade mark my idea!” (you can’t) or “how do I patent my business model?” (you can’t) or “I paid you to design something, so surely I own the copyright!?” (not necessarily). It’s only when we untangle the spaghetti and get to grips with the individual rights that sit underneath that umbrella term that we can hope to discover how intellectual property can be used to protect the fruits of our creative labour. So here are a few basics to get started:

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual Property, or IP, is an umbrella term we use to describe a collection of rights which, broadly speaking, allow people to control the use of their creations. The common thread that runs through all IP rights is that their value derives, in part at least, from the ability of the IP owner to exercise monopoly control over what they have created. Or, to put it another way, to stop someone else from using their stuff.

What are the main IP rights?

The four main statutory IP rights are:

  • Copyright - which allows the creators of literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other creative works to prevent third parties from copying or otherwise using their works without authorisation
  • Trade marks - which allow the owners of brand assets such as names, logos, slogans and jingles to prevent competitors from using those brand assets without authorisation
  • Design rights - which allow product designers to prevent others from using their designs without authorisation
  • Patents - which allow inventors to prevent others from using their inventions without authorisation.

How do I get these IP rights?

There are two main categories of IP rights, registrable and unregistrable. As the name suggests, registrable IP rights are rights that require registration in order to secure protection. Conversely, registration is neither necessary nor possible in the case of unregistrable rights. Instead, those rights simply arise automatically.

What are the registrable rights?

The main registrable rights are:

  • Patents
  • Trade marks
  • Registered designs.

In the case of these three rights, protection normally starts from the date the application is filed (not the date the registration process is completed, which in the case of trade marks might be a number of months after the application is filed and in the case of patents might be a number of years after the application is filed). Patent protection normally lasts for 20 years and renewal payments must normally be made annually to maintain the patent.

Trade mark protection lasts forever provided that renewal payments are made every 10 years.

Registered design rights last for a maximum of 25 years and renewal payments must be made every five years.

What are the unregistrable rights?

The main two unregistrable rights are copyright and design rights. In the case of UK unregistered rights (copyright and UK unregistered design rights) protection arises automatically from the moment of creation, usually in favour of the creator. Copyright usually lasts until 70 years after the death of the creator of the work (though the term of protection is shorter for some categories of work). UK unregistered design rights last for 15 years from the date the design is created or 10 years from the date the design is first made public, whichever occurs first. EU unregistered designs rights last for 3 years from the date the design is first made public in the EU.

Copyright protection ‘usually’ arises in favour of the creator? Huh?

Yes, the default position under English copyright law is that the creator of a work is the first and automatic owner of the copyright in that work. However, there is a major statutory exception to that rule. If the creator of that work is acting in the course of their employment, then copyright rests automatically with the employer and not the employee. In many cases, an employment contract will contain an IP clause confirming that the employer and not the employee will own any IP created or developed by the employee in the course of their employment.

But surely if I pay someone to design my logo I own the copyright, no?

Not necessarily. As above, the default position is that the creator of a work owns the copyright in that work unless they are an employee acting in the course of their employment. So if you pay a freelance artist to design a logo, no, you will not necessarily own the copyright in the logo (even if you have paid them). Depending on the circumstances, you may have an implied right (licence) to use the copyright but an implied licence is not the same as full ownership and if you want to secure full ownership of the copyright in your logo you must have a written copyright assignment signed by the artist.

What about ideas generally? How are those protected?

IP rights generally do not protect ideas. They protect the expression of ideas. For example:

  • Copyright protects artistic works (i.e. the physical expression or manifestation of an idea such as a photograph of a bridge taken at sunset), but it does not protect the idea or concept behind the artistic work (i.e. the idea of taking a photograph of a bridge at sunset)
  • Design rights protect the appearance of products (i.e. the shape and surface decoration on a piece of furniture), but they do not protect the idea or concept behind the appearance of the product (e.g. a rustic style or a modern style of furniture)
  • Patents protect inventive products and processes (i.e. a new technical invention for automatically locking a car using a sensor), but they do not protect the idea or concept behind the invention (e.g. the idea of having cars lock automatically upon a sensor going out of range of a vehicle)
  • Trade marks protect specific brand identifiers (i.e. a particular word, logo, strapline, colour or shape that customers use to identify the brand), but they do not protect the idea or concept behind the brand identifier (a particular style adopted by a range of brand identifiers).

So there is no way to protect an idea or concept?

The best way to protect an idea or a concept is to keep it confidential and control its disclosure by ensuring that anyone you share the idea or concept with signs a non-disclosure agreement (or NDA) which contractually precludes them from sharing the information publicly or taking the information and using it for their own purpose. A famous example of information which has retained its value by virtue of its confidentiality is the recipe for Coca-Cola. Its value does not derive from the fact that that the recipe is patented, or from any other registration. Its value derives from the fact that it is a very closely guarded trade secret.

What about ‘taking inspiration’ from someone else’s work? Does that infringe their IP?

Big question, short answer. It depends. All IP rights have different legal test for what constitutes infringement and these different legal tests therefore determine the scope of protection afforded to the IP owner. So let’s take a look at two examples: infringement of copyright and infringement of registered design rights.

Infringement of copyright

The test for infringement under English law is whether or not the alleged infringer has copied the ‘whole or a substantial part’ of the original copyright work. If the whole or a substantial part of the actual original work has been copied (e.g. the specific artistic pattern) then there is a likely a case to be made for copyright infringement. If the whole or a substantial part of the original work has not been taken (e.g. the specific pattern has not been copied but only the concept/idea/style of the pattern has been taken) then it is less likely that there is a case to be made for copyright infringement.

Infringement of registered design rights

The test for infringement under English law is whether or not the alleged infringer has created a product which creates ‘the same overall impression’ as the earlier registered design. If it does (e.g. the two pieces of furniture create the same overall impression from the perspective of an informed user e.g. a furniture enthusiast) then there is likely a case to be made for design infringement. If it does not (e.g. the two pieces of furniture are somewhat similar but they do not create the same overall impression such that an informed user e.g. a furniture enthusiast would very easily tell them apart) then it is less likely that there is a case to be made for design infringement.

So I might get into trouble by simply taking inspiration from the world around me? Madness!

Well, the first point to bear in mind is that in these situations the specific facts of the case are crucially important. 

With copyright, a court would look at the most creative/important bits of the earlier design. If those bits have been copied, the court might find that the infringement claim is made out (even if those most creative/important bits only make up a minority of the overall earlier design i.e. the test for copyright infringement is more qualitative than quantitative).

Similarly, with design infringement, the court would look at the things like any existing designs, which might be very similar to the earlier design. If there are lots of similar designs out there, the scope of protection of the earlier design will be narrower (i.e. limited to the differences between all the other similar designs); whereas if there are not, and therefore the earlier design is quite unusual/novel, the scope of protection will be broader.

In the final analysis, it is better to be inspired by concepts, themes and/or ideas if possible, and to develop a new creative work based on those concepts, themes and/or ideas. If you start by copying an existing creative work and modifying it here and there in an attempt to put distance between the old work and the new work, you run the risk of incorporating into the new design elements from the old design which will quite obviously be the result of copying rather than coincidence.

My head hurts, what now?

IP is not just like spaghetti, it’s a veritable spaghetti monster with issues too complex for Oprah. My advice: take advice. The British Library’s Business & IP Centre offers a wealth of advice and resources to businesses and individuals who are trying to wrap their head around their IP. Take a look at the website to find out more.

Similarly, Briffa is always happy to take your call/meeting and give you a steer on any IP issue. Contact 020 7288 6003 or email to book a free consultation.

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