In through the outfield blog

14 posts from June 2009

30 June 2009

The Jarkey® bottle opener

Many companies specialise in the field of little tools to help with minor domestic tasks, such as opening jars. Arthritic hands can make this a nightmare.

I came across such a tool the other day. It said on it





The trade mark was registered in 1995 in the USA by Brix-Hansen of Denmark. Mysteriously, they have not taken the elementary precaution of registering Jarkey® in Europe through the international Madrid or Community systems let alone in the British system, even though it is so valuable as a marketing tool. 

The invention is called a Tool for breaking a vacuum in a preserving jar closed with a screw cap. Here is is main drawing.

Jarkey patent 

It sounds very simple to me -- pressing down on the lever exerts pressure on the sealed cap of a jar and breaks the pressure seal, making it easier to then twist it open with your hands. Nevertheless it has been patented in Britain among other countries such as China, Canada and Poland.

There is also a British registered design for it, 2028129 . If it had been my invention I would have registered the trade mark in major countries and regions and not gone to the trouble and expense of patenting it and registering its appearance. People can use a (verbal) trade mark to ask for it on the telephone or on the Web, which is far harder with a patent number. It is also easier to prove use than when arguing over slightly different functions of competing products in a patent court case.

24 June 2009

25,000 inventors a year scammed

One of my colleagues has pointed out an article in today’s edition of the Daily Mirror. In the regular Rogue Traders column, Andrew Penman reviews the sad fate of Terry Ferguson who lost $10,000 to American inventions agency Davison Design.

The online version of this article is followed by several posts from previous employees of Davison Design who testify to their dubious operating procedures.

According to one of the posts over 25,000 inventors are conned each year (just in the United States). The information comes from the Invention Statistics website at Inventor Scam Statistics. colleague Steve van Dulken has recently posted a blog story warning of UK Invention Promotion companies, and the UKIPO have produced a pdf Step by step guide to using invention promoters.

Another sensible piece of advice is to use Google to find out a range of views on any potential company you come across. For instance the third item in a search on Davidson Design is titled Ripoff Report Search Results: DAVISON DESIGN.

23 June 2009

Marketing Maestros: Innovative Strategies for Small Businesses

Once again a great Inspiring Entrepreneurs panel this evening, with regular chair Matthew Rock (the founder-editor of Real Business) brining his inimitable enthusiasm to the event.

(You can still watch a  webcast of the event at

Ajaz Ahmed Chairman of AKQA, the world’s largest independent digital agency showed some impressive examples of innovation in advertising, illustrating his point about the importance of originality.

His key message was for his company to let their work do the talking’. In other words, don’t tell you customers how great you are, show them.

Not surprisingly Simon Calver the CEO of LOVEFILM (a £100 million turnover company) is a fan of films, and so used examples to illustrate his four P’s of business success.

P1 – ‘I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse’ (The Godfather).
Focus on the consumer proposition first and worry about building the brand later on. The three legs which hold up his company are choice, value and convenience.

P2 – ‘Self preservation society’ (The Italian Job) i.e. Preserve the cash in the business. Make sure you focus on the time it takes to get cash in and out. If you get it right it gives you a competitive advantage. Also analyse everything you do – where you spend your cash and how you do it.

P3 – Spin City (American sitcom)  Never under-estimate the importance of PR. In his case they have three targets, their investors, trading partners and of course their consumers. You have to be constantly creating new stories about your business the papers will want to publish.

P4 – Passion (a choice of seven films according to Wikipedia) Make sure you surround yourself with great people from the beginning. ‘Fiirst division people recruit first division people’, which makes the business great. Make sure you have fun too. Simon hosts a monthly BBQ for his colleagues. Also reward your people on a quarterly basis (in the case of LOVEFILM bonuses of between 10 and  20%. This allows for more flexibility in changing targets in a fast growing business.

In conclusion, starting a business is probably the most rewarding thing you can do in your life.

Tristram Mayhew the founder and ‘Chief Gorilla’ of Go Ape, the UK’s leading forest-based adventure company talked about Gorilla marketing.

Instead of focussing on their specific activities Go Ape are branding themselves as ‘creating adventures’, and are encouraging everyone to live life more adventurously.

Gorilla marketing means turning your customers into an effective free sales force. These are his tips:
1.    Wow them with what you do.
2.    Delight them – turn complainers into ambassadors.
3.    Build a trust and charm based relationship
4.    … and they will buy more, and more often – Tristram openly admitted that many of their ideas have been borrowed from the Innocent drinks company.
5.    Innovate, validate, cultivate.

The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design : a Whiteboard OverviewTristram strongly recommended The Brand Gap, it is very readable and nice and short too.

They are building a loyalty base using Tribe magazine (published every 6 weeks) to reinforce brand values.

They also make use of Social Media such as encouraging customers to post videos on YouTube, and have nearly 5,000 to date with hundreds of thousands of views.

By ‘making friends’ with existing adventure bloggers and giving them free Go Ape experiences they hope to generate positive reports online.

‘Doing good things.’ For example to help support gorillas in Rwanda 25 staff and 85 customers completed a fun run dressed as gorillas.

Will King is the ‘King of Shaves’, creator of the cult shaving brand that has overtaken Wilkinson Sword and Nivea to become number two to Gillette in the UK shaving market.

After 16 years of building the brand Will launched his own razor the Azor one year ago almost to the day. They already have up to 10% market share in the UK.

Lessons learnt:

The Harvard rule of 4
1.    No one has it
2.    Every one will have it
3.    Price for profit
4.    Price for sale

AzoriPhoneEdge.jpgTake an existing product and make it better – eg iPhone, Innocent smoothies.

Change constantly, push boundaries – it also helps to generates news stories for PR coverage.

Will introduced his SPACE strategy, which stands for Satisfaction of Success, Passion and Persistence, Attitude of Action, Confidence and Communication and Enthusiasm and Enjoyment.

There is a great degree of satisfaction in succeeding. If you achieve great satisfaction, whatever that is, it may be having children or running a marathon, but you’ve got to work at that. There’s no substitute for hard work to get that satisfaction of success, which feeds on to the passion and persistence bit. Things don’t happen overnight, it takes years to become truly successful..

You’ve got to have a can-do attitude to get things done; if you can’t be bothered who else will? The confidence and common sense part relates to having confidence in yourself and what you’re doing but not being delusional; if you try to take on Apple with an iPhone it’s a big ask, but if you want to come up with a cover to protect the iPhone clearly that’s something you could do.

There’s a certain amount when you’ve got to have confidence beyond the success that you don’t enjoy, especially when you’re starting out – people won’t give you credit, people don’t believe you’re going to do it, people think you’ll go bust, you’ll owe them money, and you’ve got to imbue them with confidence if you’re going to be successful.

And finally the enthusiasm and enjoyment piece; if you’re not enjoying it then nobody else is, especially if you’re leading a business. So have enthusiasm, have an edge about what you’re about to do because people do look to you, especially if you’re running a business or are involved in senior management. If you can’t get them motivated by transferring your enthusiasm to them, then how are they going to transfer their enthusiasm either to the products you sell or to the services you provide? They’re not.

19 June 2009

Initial thoughts about SLA 2009 conference

Although I have yet to make it back home as planned, thanks to missing my Thursday evening flight, I have been mulling over the SLA 2009 Conference in Washington DC.

Here are some initial thoughts:

Colin PowellIt was fascinating to hear Colin Powell talk about some of his experiences in his long and mainly distinguished career  (many of the American librarians I talked to have not yet forgiven him for failing to dissuade President Bush from invading Iraq). Although his support for the Barack Obama in October 08 has somewhat softening their criticism of him. He has become a big fan of Web 2.0 technologies, and tries hard to keep up with his grand children. He expressed concern that America may have over-reacted to the 9/11 atrocity by making it too hard for tourists and foreign students to get visa permits. He felt this was damaging the economy of the United States as well as limiting the opportunity to promote the benefits of democracy and freedom.

I think the highlight of the trip was a night-time visit to the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. The round reading room was a thing of beauty. I was lucky enough to be allowed behind the counter and down (a tiny flight of stairs) into the space below.

File:Library of Congress.jpg

The round reading room

Underneath the round reading room

Underneath the round reading room

Underneath the round reading room

Underneath the round reading room

For the initial views of a first timer to the event I suggest you look at woodsiegirl’s blog post.

Beginners Guide to Business Finance with Johnny Martin


From time to time I take time out to attend one of our partners workshops. This enables me to recommend them to clients and visitors to the Business & IP Centre from personal experience and hopefully to learn something new and useful.

I have been aware of my lack of understanding of business accounts (despite having spent 16 years working for an investment company in the City of London). So although familiar with the terms gross and net profit, cash versus accruals, assets versus liabilities and not forgetting the many and varied ratios such as: Liquidity, Asset turnover, Financial leverage and of course Profitability, I wasn’t confident about what they actually meant.

If you had watched the semi-final of the latest BBC Apprentice series, you would have seen the eventual winner get in something of a muddle about the difference between net and gross profit for the business she had been successfully running for six years.

Now, thanks to attending our Beginners Guide to Business Finance course run by Johnny Martin I am feeling much more confident about how to create a set of management accounts (both for before and after a business starts). And I am now more familiar with these important business concepts. I particularly liked the way he used live spreadsheets to show the impact of a change in price or order volume on the profit (or loss) for the year.

My favourite quote from Johnny after explaining the roles of various accounting jobs from Book keeper to Financial Director was, ‘you can delegate but DON’T abdicate’, financial responsibility for your business. The experiences of both Elton John and Leonard Cohen are salutary reminders of this point.

The courses cost just £18 and are run at regular intervals here in the British Library.

18 June 2009

Sino-Japanese War game patent

Recently while looking for something else I stumbled across a patent for a game based on the Sino-Japanese War. This was the first war in which Japan fought a foreign country using modern methods and materials, in 1894-95. The conflict was over Korea, which Japan took over after a relatively easy campaign.

Newton Sample of Philadelphia in 1895 applied for his Game apparatus. It consisted of a shallow oblong container with a gun at one end, with a map of the campaign area (the Yellow Sea and surrounding land) with little flags. "Puppets" on hinges were present to represent armies. The only drawing is shown here.

 Sino-Japanese War game patent

As perceptive readers will have guessed, the gun was loaded with marbles which were fired across the board. I thought at first the trick was to knock over the puppets, but they were placed next to holes which represented towns or forts. Getting a marble in a hole meant that the place was captured and the puppet removed. As Sample pointed out, any adjacent countries could be used, and China and Japan were used for illustration. He suggested other pairings were Germany and France, or England and the United States (only separated by a few thousand miles, of course).

11 June 2009

50th anniversary of the hovercraft

Today is the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the hovercraft to the press, at the Saunders Roe boatyard at Cowes, Isle of Wight. 

Boatbuilder Sir Christopher Cockerell had come up with the idea after playing around with a cat food tin inside a coffee tin, an industrial air blower (altered to blow rather than suck) and a pair of kitchen scales. The key patent was filed in 1955, the Improvements in or relating to vehicles for travelling over land and/or water. Here are its main drawings.

Hovercraft patent

The problem, though, was lots of spray and insufficient lifting power. Much of the force generated by directing the force downwards was going uselessly off to the sides. It was by using flexible segmented skirts round the bottom of the craft that ensured that the power was used effectively. The Improvements relating to means for bounding a space for receiving pressurised gas by Denys Bliss did this, and here are its main drawings.

Denys Bliss patent 

Visit to the new Guardian newspaper building in Kings Place

The same evening as the The Social Media Exchange – For the Cultural and Heritage Sectors event, I hobbled over to Kings Place to visit the shiny new Guardian (and Observer) newspaper offices.

As it was evening, we were able to see the journalists hard at work creating the next days newspaper. The building itself is amazing, with lots of glass and open spaces, making for a ‘transparent’ working environment. But as the building is also partially open to the public, the journalist are even more open to scrutiny.

Our guide Luke Dodd, the Guardian’s project manager for the building and former Director of the Newsroom, explained the background to the move. In particular the bringing together of several disparate offices into one space. But also merging the paper and digital activities so that content for both media is produced by one extended team instead of separately as before.

The current iMac model features a widescreen display and an aluminum case.As a bit of a techie, the most impressive sight was the literally hundreds of uniform 24 inch iMac computers on every desk. Each floor was filled with these very desirable pieces of kit as far as the eye could see. Again, the move gave an opportunity to equip all the staff with a same technology.

Many thanks to the Association of UK Media Librarians (AUKML) the organization for print and broadcast news librarians, news researchers and information workers in the media industry, and SLA Europe for organising such a fascinating visit.