In through the outfield blog

22 posts from November 2007

30 November 2007

"Fast track" patenting in the UK

A few days ago I attended an evening meeting at Ideas21 in London. It was part of consulting about a "fast track" patenting proposal.

Two members of the UK Intellectual Property Office explained the proposals set out in a consultation paper published in September. The Gowers Review on Intellectual Property had, among other things, recommended a faster way of obtaining patents, and the consultation was the result.

At present the normal route to a British patent is the publication of an application 18 months from the priority date (the initial filing for the invention anywhere in the world) followed by the granted patent. At present the average time taken to grant is 28 months (in the European Patent Office it is 46). Many applicants want a faster route, usually because of fear of infringers.

There is already a fast route. The normal fees are £30 to apply, £100 for a search into the prior art, and £70 for a substantive examination to decide if a patent should be granted (the actual costs are about £1700, apparently, and renewal fees to keep the patent in force is what finances it all). This £200 fee can be paid at the start, instead of in stages, in a "combined search and examination" (CSE) procedure. The application is published at 18 months as normal, but the grant comes out only 3 months later. 25% of applicants already use this procedure. The idea is that there is a period during which "observations" can be made by interested parties, though few apparently do so.

In addition, if reasons are given then the search or the examination can be accelerated. Only about 1% of applicants ask for this. 

The proposal was to offer a new procedure which would cost £600. It would take a minimum of 9 months from filing in the UK (which may be up to 12 months after the original priority filing elsewhere) to proceed to a granted patent. The following time periods are from the date of UK filing: a CSE would be carried out and sent to the applicant after 3 months; the application would be published at 5 months; any observations would be received by the end of 8 months; and if there were no problems it would be granted at 9 months.

There was much discussion from the twenty or so around a large table, mainly inventors or representatives of (smallish ?) companies, with a few patent attorneys. Many wanted late disclosure of the invention combined with early grant, and 5 months seemed too early for many. Inventors would have to be alert, as a premature filing would mean an inability to revise the technical content and refile, as it would have been published. Someone from the London Technology Fund delivered a long analysis, which in a nutshell was that he would prefer that they took longer and gave more certainty. He and others were worried that there would be no extra resources to provide this speedy route without slowing things up for everyone else. Apparently no extra money would in fact be allocated other than the £600 fee.

Matt Dixon argued that it would be easier to simply go to the European Patent Office and ask for a quick search and examination. No reasons have to be given, yet apparently few use this procedure. My only comment was saying that Germany has for many years had a CSE procedure whereby a single granted document, without any earlier application, can be published at 18 months from priority. This provided late disclosure yet also early grant. It would mean no chance for others to make comments before grant, and hence it was possible to oppose it later. I rather like this procedure, but no one offered support. 

There was also talk of "submarine" patent applications. As applications do not normally appear until 18 months from priority, neither the applicant nor, in theory, the patent offices will know about them for a long time. The officials assured the audience that "top-up" searches are always done at the examination stage to catch relevant material published since the search had been done.

No conclusion was made, as so many differing opinions were offered. The officials said that they found it useful, and I certainly had a good time listening to the often very stubbornly argued points made by those present. If anyone wishes to make comments about the proposals, they are required by the 14 December.

29 November 2007

Nintendo's Wii game console

Christmas is fast approaching and one thing that is certain is that there will be a shortage of Nintendo's Wii™ game console.

Demand is frantic, apparently, with claims of over 100,000 phone calls daily to helplines. Stocks typically sell out within minutes of delivery. Woolworths recently said that they were getting a "slow trickle" of stock weekly, and that on arrival they were "flying off the shelves".

I admit that I have never seen one in use. For the benefit of similarly ignorant readers, the basic idea is that instead of simply using a games console to manipulate what happens on the screen, you are part of the action. Suppose a game involves boxing, tennis, running and so on. Players wave the remote consoles around, which make their characters move likewise within the screen. It's great fun, it seems, though for the time being I'll have to take others' word for it. Originally designed for remote handsets, the excitement means that they sometimes get broken in use, so special gloves are now also available.

As always I wondered about the patent specifications for it. Electronic products, and particularly games, often involve several inventions plus software, and can be hard to track down. They are also very often impossible for those without doctorates in computing to figure out. I didn't find any fan sites suggesting patent numbers, but I did notice that Nintendo have had allegations of patent infringement by Anascape (no fewer than 12 patents), Lonestar and Interlink Electronics.

Interlink's patent is for a Trigger operated electronic device. The main drawing is shown here.

First page clipping image

A little-used feature in Espacenet is that you can ask to "View list of citing documents" since it was published in February 2005. This is to do with patent office examiners citing it as similar to newly published patent documents. There was only one: Nintendo's Game operating device, with its main drawing shown below, which came out two years later.

First page clipping image

The console illustrated there looks very like the remote used in the Wii™ and it talks about sensing movement and using infrared rays to send data from LED modules for processing. I strongly suspect that this is the key patent document, although another document, a Motion determining apparatus and storage medium having motion determining program stored thereon, is probably also relevant. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has more definite information, or can understand them better than I.

26 November 2007

British A and B patent documents on the Web

The UK Intellectual Property Office has a new Patents Publication Enquiry page for both A and B documents. The coverage is for publications from January 2007. [You can now see B documents from June 2002 on another database, see my later post -- September 2010].

Previously, British B (granted) patents were not available on the Web other than an awkward trick. When the PDF of a British A appeared on the Espacenet page, you could add a B onto the end of the number where it first appeared within the URL (it is there twice). Then click to enter the URL, and, sometimes, the B document magically appeared.

The British B documents used to be received by the British Library as paper, but then changed to CD-ROMs. This supply will cease with the end of November, and this new site will be the source for the documents.

You can either insert a British patent number, or select a publication date (always a Wednesday). If the latter, you can also opt for all documents or for A only or for B only. Clicking on the patent number takes you to the status register and to choices of the PDF or to Espacenet-format entries for the A and B documents. Alternatively, you can simply opt at the search results page directly for the PDF, zip file or the Espacenet format. Or the gazette, if you wish.

In theory, any modified documents will be available as well as the normal publications. This means that this site should be the one to choose when A documents, too, within the date range are chosen, as more than one document may be offered. The site is updated with new material no earlier than 13.00 UK time every Wednesday.

20 November 2007

French granted patents

Many experienced patent searchers routinely use the Esp@cenet® database to get hold of patent specifications. Some might also use the DEPATISnet database, which is good for German documents and sometimes supplements Espacenet (American design patents, for example).

Such users normally use the European interface or their own national version, with the search mask available in a number of languages. It might have been thought that the different versions simply reflected languages, but there can be differences in the content.

Robin Le Goff, a French ingénieur brevets ("patent engineer"), has alerted me to the fact that the French national version of Esp@cenet® contains PDF documents of some 235,000 French granted patents. These are the second stage, B documents as opposed to the initial A documents. Anyone using another version of the database would simply get the corresponding A documents (with the same specification number).

These granted patents seem to go back to the early 1990s. Judging from the patent office web site, they went up in October. It would be helpful if this new (and welcome) content was available on all the versions of the database.

19 November 2007

The UK's official trade mark database

As of today, there is a new look to, and new features in, the (free) official British database of registered trade marks. It contains both national marks and those international marks (Community, and Madrid Agreement Protocol) which apply to the UK.

Besides incorporating the former beta search option, it includes some other useful features. I will describe them in order as you move down the search page (much the best thing to do, to avoid error messages). Helpful advice is given in the right hand margin.

Searches will be assumed to be for words alone (and not images such as an owl or mountain) unless this is altered in the box at the top of the search page. Images, or images and words, can be selected.

Next you select any words wanted. The search will default to the maximum found, "contains string", unless altered. Hence a search for "teruni" will find Manchester United. This was the beta feature.

Next you select the images, a new feature. This is based on the Vienna Classification. You click open three successive boxes to drill down to a specific class. Hence mountains would be found by asking category 06, Landscapes, and then 01, to make 06.01. A further image class can be requested.

Next the Nice Class can be requested. This is the area of activity in goods or services. The Classification link in the left hand margin offers an excellent, in-house tool for identifying possible classes.

Finally you can limit the search by filing date or by status (registered, applied for and so on). Only registered, applied for and recently lapsed applications will be present.

The hit lists are presented in an attractive manner, with any images present appearing even if a word search was requested. A search for Paramount as a word together with Vienna class 06.01 gave me 19 results, some looking rather unusual. A useful feature is that you can add specific marks to a "picking list" for later study. I would encourage running different searches (by spelling, or by criteria requested) to build up a list, rather than a too hasty one-off search.

All this makes quite a useful package. It is important, though, that users are aware of what is lacking. The Companies House database should also be searched to look for similar marks among registered company names. A search for proprietors (owners of marks) will give, as explained, only those in the UK system. And inevitably, there will be bugs in the system.

Lots of information on trade marks is given by the UK Intellectual Property Office.

16 November 2007

Wobbly tables

I noticed in last night's free paper London Lite an item about a solution to wobbly table legs. Julian Bradbrook, a Yorkshire inventor, has come up with the Wobbleg™, a plastic disc of varying thickness. To correct a wobbling table leg, you turn the disc until the wobble stops. Ingenious.

I checked for a patent application and there isn't one, at least yet. This would make an interesting exercise in creative thinking. What is wanted is something that is cheap, effective, yet robust. It seems to me that to avoid loss or displacement, the disc should be made integral with the leg in manufacture, or at least capable of being fixed on. Perhaps it could be normally above the bottom of the leg and could be forced down when needed, twisted as in Bradbrook's invention, and then locked into place in some way.

[The following is from my reviewing this post in January 2011. His Furniture stabilising device was published in March 2009, and here is the main drawing:]

Julian Bradbrook patent drawing image 
I had a look on Esp@cenet® to see if I could find anything similar. There's a classification, A47B91/16, for self-leveling legs, which is interesting but not quite the same. Some inventions on the subject are in that class, while others are in A47B91/12, the vague-sounding "leg supports". I noticed a Table leveling wedge and a Wedge for use with table legs. There may well be others: it is one of those subjects where you need to use lots of synonyms. Here is its main drawing.

First page clipping image

A useful trick on the database can be to click on My Patents List so that relevant patents get added to a list of up to 20 documents which can be consulted at any time. If they are found again in later searches, a box is ticked to show that you already have it in your list. That way you can build up a list of relevant material for later study.

Also useful can be the View List of Citing Documents, which lists later patent documents where a patent office examiner referred to the one you are looking at as relevant.

This subject may sound trivial, but it is a constant source of irritation, so let's hope that a solution to all the associated problems emerges some day, one that we will come to take for granted. My mother was once at a dinner party where she asked the man on her right what he did for a living. He said he was an inventor. Assuming it was something trivial or silly, she smilingly asked him what he had invented. The multi-millionaire replied, "Velcro".

15 November 2007

Innovating for Africa

Last night I attended the British Library's Teenpreneurs event, which will be webcast in a week or two to join those for our previous functions.

There was a panel of four people who, as teenagers, had started businesses or, in one case, been an inventor.

There was Fraser Doherty, who at the age of 14 began making jams containing grape juice (which as a sweetener is better for you than sugar) and healthy fruits like cranberries and blueberries. His SuperJam™ is already available in Waitrose and will soon be in Tesco. Now still only 18, he sorted out the contracts, such as with companies owing factories, himself. And all based on granny's recipes.

Ben Way formed his first company when he was 15, and has been a serial innovator in various computer applications. Wiped out by the dotcom crash, he is back with his Rainmakers company. I found the fact that he is severely dyslexic all the more inspiring that he has achieved so much.

Then there was Wilson Chowdhry, who founded a security firm when he heard that there was a desperate shortage of security staff at construction site in London's Docklands renovation work. He simply used his fellow university students as staff and began to build up business, which grew even faster when he discovered that there were NVQ qualifications for security staff, and got them all trained. Training is in fact now an important element of AA Security's work.

These were all very interesting stories, but the one that I personally found most profound was Emily Cummin's message. She is 20, and explained about her love of technology, which stemmed from "helping" in Grandad's toolshed as a toddler. Highly determined and focussed, she is a "serial ethical inventor" who is very interested in ecological solutions for Africa's problems.

She designed a water carrier -- basically a wheeled structure holding buckets -- to save the time spent fetching water. That was one school project. Another was a refrigerator with double walls within which was wet wool, with the evaporation causing cooling. Having tried out her ideas while living in a township in Namibia, which she found a profound experience, she is now working on solar powered refrigerators to store medicines. Having already won prizes, at present Emily is a 2nd year student at Leeds University.

Africa is close to my heart too, if only after seeing for myself on an overland from Nairobi to Victoria Falls the lack of amenities we take for granted in the West. Take electrical supplies. Many villages have none, and most activities have to be done in daylight. An alternative, at least in one Malawi village I stayed in, is to use hurricane lanterns, but they consume expensive fuel, and do not power appliances such as ovens. Firewood is often scarce and chopping down trees degrades the environment.

I'd like to see the cheap, flexible sheets of solar panels which are apparently on their way being made available to such villages so that they could collect sunlight on, say, roofs, and power appliances. Some sort of battery would presumably be needed to store the power for use at night. Apparently a problem with such sheets is that they are "bendy" because the cells are thin, making them only one third as efficient as normal cells. WO 2007123927 is an example of an flexible panel. An advantage of making them bendy, it strikes me, is that they can be rolled up and stored overnight to protect from theft, or easily carried around.

That doesn't mean, of course, that wind-up radios and the like aren't useful in a region where batteries are expensive. Come to that, why don't fitness clubs here generate power from all those treadmills and send it to the national grid ? Probably not worth it, but it's a thought.

14 November 2007

The Future Face of Enterprise

I greatly enjoyed attending the The Future Face of Enterprise - Policy Summit 2007, part of the launch of Enterprise Week which this year was hosted by The British Library.

There was a good range of speakers including three representatives of government:

Rt Hon John Hutton MP, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
Jonathan Guthrie, Enterprise Editor, Financial Times
Ben Verwaayen, Chief Executive, BT
Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Executive Director, Tesco Plc
Joanna Shields, President, Bebo
Phil Hope MP, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office
Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Minister of State for Competitiveness, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
Farzana Baduel (Founder, TaxClaim),
Julie Meyer (Founder and Chief Exec, Ariadne Capital),
Maive Rute (Enterprise and Industry Directorate General, European Commission)

Ben Verwaayen gave an impressive unscripted talk emphasising the global nature of business and how this gave opportunities for both developing economies such as India as well as mature economies such as ours. Technology meant that geography was no longer a barrier to employment opportunities. Several of the speakers mentioned that London is now the leading city for international business and finance. The positives that immigrants bring to our society (they are far more likely to set up in business) were also contrasted to the negative press they have been receiving recently.

Joanna Shields (originally from the U.S.) told the audience that she was shortly to take up British citizenship. This led to muffled laughter from the audience which I felt gave a fascinating insight into the British psyche. The same comment in the U.S. would have led to loud applause and cheering.

Perhaps most impressive of all (and I find that young entrepreneurs often are) was Farzana Baduel the Founder of TaxClaim. She was amazingly confident and poised. Her main message was just go for it, and don’t listen to those who would counsel caution.

Matthew Gwyther editor of Management Today led a very lively discussion on a range of issues but focussing on challenges for women entrepreneurs.

Enterprise Week launch

From left to right:
Farzana Baduel (Founder, TaxClaim),
Julie Meyer (Founder and Chief Exec, Ariadne Capital),
Maive Rute (Enterprise and Industry Directorate General, European Commission),
Stephen Timms (Minister of State with responsibility for Enterprise, BERR),
Phil Hope (Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for Social Enterprise, Cabinet Office), Joanna Shields (President International, Bebo)
Lucy Neville-Rolfe (Corporate and Legal Affairs Director, Tesco).