In through the outfield blog

11 posts from August 2010

26 August 2010

The James Dyson Award shortlist

The shortlist of 21 inventions submitted for the James Dyson Award for 2010 is now available at the web site. Click on the blue "View Projects" to see details of the inventions.

The award is for engineering and design students who have met the challenge "Design something that solves a problem."

The shortlist of semi-finalists is divided into four topic areas: lifestyle, medical, transport, and disaster relief. Five are from the UK, three each from the USA and Canada, and two from Switzerland and New Zealand. The inventions are a stimulating and varied mix, and visitors to the site can indicate which they prefer. 

The judges will pick their top 15 from this selection on the 14 September. The international winner will be  announced on the 5 October, and there will also be national winners.

The international winners in 2009 were Yusuf Muhammad and Paul Thomas for their home fire suppressant system called Automistâ„¢, which is explained on the website. It is already available through Plumis Limited.

25 August 2010

The Kymera Magic Wand

Yesterday the biggest ever investment on TV's Dragons' Den was made -- £200,000 from Duncan Bannatyne.

The offer was for the Kymera Magic Wand. Inventors Chris Barnardo and Richard Blakesley of the Wand Company, based at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, made the pitch. Their web site resembles something out of Hogwarts, and the product certainly sounds like a merger of wizardry and electronics. Their pitch emphasized the appeal of Harry Potter and other fantasy films.

Here is a video about it, which shows the careful attention to detail made to create an attractive product.


The wand can be used to make up to thirteen different gestures to emulate commands to the television. The wand is "taught" that a gesture corresponds to a command on a standard hand-held remote control by pressing it. Besides televisions, it could control music centres, DVD players and laptops. There is a detailed article about it in the Daily Mail.

All five dragons offered money, but it was Bannatyne's money, for 30% of the company on a sliding scale down to 10% if they made £1.2 million, that was accepted. UK residents can watch their presentation here. There was quite a bidding war, as the dragons were keen on a product with great sales potential that cost £10 to make and which was being sold direct to consumers for £50, or to retailers for an average of £31.

The patent application for the invention was published in May 2010 as Remote control device, in particular a wand. Here is the main drawing.

Kymera Magic Wand patent drawing

That document is 33 pages long, with lots of detail about motion sensors and the like. Clearly a lot of ideas in it are similar to the Nintendo Wii®, but others are of course different. Page 31 of the patent document list two forerunners which the patent examiner thought relevant. These are Mitsubishi's Continuously variable control of animated on-screen characters, where specific hand movements are learnt (main drawing shown here), and Outland Research's

Mitsubishi handheld remote control patent drawing

Method and apparatus for a verbo-manual gesture interface, which involves using a wand. The point of this search report is to enable patent offices to decide which of the "claims" made by the patent application should be accepted as new and valid. In some cases the entire application is rejected. It is valuable information for anyone wondering if an application is truly new.

The Kymera Magic Wand was launched in September 2009 and has sold 20,000 so far. The standard retail price is £49.95. I am unlikely to buy it, as I would forget which command meant what. Maybe that is an attraction -- different waves of the wand would mean different commands for each person's wand, making it a truly personalised remote control. 

23 August 2010

The oldest private library in Scotland

While on holiday staying with friends in Doune in Stirling in southern Scotland we popped over to Dunblane and paid a flying visit to Leighton Library.

According to the sign outside, it is the oldest private library in Scotland. It dates from 1687, and was built for the 1,400 book collection of Robert Leighton, the Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to 1670. The cost of the building was £162 and the Bishop left another £100 to help build on the original collection of mainly religious texts.

The number of books grew to 4,500, and cover a wide range of topics printed from 1504-1840. Apparently the Bishop could read several languages, although at least 80 have been identified in the collection so I’m not sure who would have read those.

leighton_library_from_east_comThey have quite a few first editions dating from those periods, including The Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott. However, in many cases they only managed to get  hold of second editions as they were often too slow coming up with payment to get hold of significant new publication before they had sold out their print run. So for instance they have a second edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

We asked to have a look at Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language. Although not the first dictionary, this was certainly the most influential from the 1700′s. The library has a second edition from 1756, and it was wonderful to be able to look through the pages of such a significant publication.

We were very fortunate to have two librarians present to talk about the collection. One turned out to be the founder of the business library at Strathclyde University and the other had employed my old friend John Coll at the National Library of Scotland from the days when they had a science library.

We were made to sit on the original ‘turkie red lether’ chairs bought for the library in 1688, and still going strong today, and told lots of interesting stories about the collection and Johnson’s dictionary. I hadn’t heard about Johnson’s somewhat dubious definition for Oats before:
‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’
We have an image of the definition on our education pages.

The library is open to the general public from the beginning of May until the end of September as follows:

2011 – Robert Leighton was born in 1611 with the consequence that 2011 will represent the 400th anniversary of his birth. A number of events are planned to mark that occasion.

Ingenious Britons event

There are two weeks to go before the British Library's Inventing the 21st Century exhibition opens in the Folio Society Gallery in our London site.

That's free, while modestly priced at £10 (£7.50 concessions) is our Ingenious Britons: Personal journeys in invention and design event, on the evening of the 22 September.

It features four of the inventors whose creations will be showcased in the exhibition. They are Natalie Ellis, with her Road Refresher® dog bowl, which doesn't spill water if knocked; Mike Spindle, with his radical redesign of the wheelchair, the Trekinetic®; Jim Shaikh, with his yoomi®, an easy to heat baby feeding bottle; and Mark Sheahan, the British Library's Inventor in Residence, with the Popi™, a clever twist on confectionery containers.

Besides hearing their stories, there will be ample opportunity for the audience to ask questions. The event should appeal to designers and those interested making money from new products as well as inventors. As the "curator" of the exhibition, and author of the accompanying book, I will be identifiable by my staff badge at a table laden with our leaflets on the evening, and would be happy to talk with anyone who is interested in what the British Library has to offer those who wish to commercialise inventions.

19 August 2010

Valuable links website

There is so much on the Internet that the sites that select the best, or list relevant sites, in their field perform a valuable service. For the field of searching inventions, designs and trade marks, the site is excellent.

It has been created by Marcus Bates, a UK-based patent and design searcher. As so often happens he started collecting links for his own benefit, and then decided to put it put it on the Web.

Running the cursor down the maroon headings on the left hand side causes options to open up, such as (for patents) databases, patent office websites, official journals, and classifications together with country and document codes.

Patent attorneys and searchers for IP rights will find the site very valuable. It may, though, be hard going for those less familiar with the field as there is no evaluation to show which sites are considered the most useful, the easiest, and so on. For those, the Intellogist Compare:Patent Search System page is very useful, evaluating and comparing different databases.

Those who are new to the subject of searching to see if an idea is new will benefit by visiting a library that covers the subject, where staff can explain how to carry out a search. In the UK this is done by a Patlib UK library, while in the USA there is the Patent and Trade Mark Depository Library scheme. Having worked in the field since 1987, I am quite sure that beginners trying to do everything themselves at a PC need advice to know how to search, let alone to interpret what they have found -- or the implications of what they have not found. 

13 August 2010

The Tamagotchi®

The Tamagotchi®, the handheld virtual pet, has sold well over 70 million since Bandai put it on the market in 1996. Initially it was so popular that school children were mugged in the streets.

Although the original idea is not thought to have been patented, there are a number of patents by the company for refinements in the idea, such as Simulation device for fostering a virtual creature and Nurturing simulation apparatus for virtual creatures. The "pet" has to be looked after by clicking buttons or it will suffer. A clever idea, it was perhaps originally thought of as a substitute pet for Japanese children living in tiny flats. Here is a drawing from a relevant patent.

Patent drawing from a Tamagotchi invention

Apparently there were problems when children took them to school as otherwise they would "die" if not cared for. Many schools banned the product. Parents often thought that it took up too much of the time of their children. Later models had for example a pause feature to get over such concerns.

The concept has continued to evolve, with links to the Internet and to friends' Tamagotchis. They can be bought now for less than £9.

Many patents for the general idea can be found by using patent class G06N3/00L. This is for "computer systems based on biological models" where life is artificially simulated. This is a list of Bandai patent documents in that class.

11 August 2010

Roald Dahl's involvement with inventions

Roald Dahl’s 1964 book Charlie and the chocolate factory is a fantasy with an Inventing Room for chocolate inventions. Once though, Dahl helped inspire a patented invention that helped many small children. This account is based on details given in an extract from Donald Sturrock's biography of Dahl, Storyteller, published in the Daily Telegraph.

In 1960 the Roald and his wife, actress Patricia Neal, were living with their family in New York City. Four-month old Theo was being pushed in his pram along Madison Avenue by the nanny who at the same time was coping with Theo's sister Tessa and the family dog.

The traffic lights changed and just as she began to cross 85th Street, a taxi came round the corner and crashed into the pram. The driver panicked, and instead of braking stepped on the accelerator. The pram was torn from the nanny's hands and shot into the air before hitting a parked bus. Theo's head took the full impact, and his skull shattered.

In a horrific time for the family, Theo underwent several operations to drain fluid from the head. He went home, and seemed to be recovering. Then he suddenly went blind. A psychiatrist neighbour realised what was happening: the fluid was building up again.

The doctors drained the fluid and installed a valved pump, or "shunt", down into the heart, where the fluid could be reabsorbed by the body. After a while at home Theo's sight was restored. Then his vision went again. The shunt had become blocked. Again and again it happened, with only some of his sight returning. It was unbelievable that the problem could keep recurring.

Dahl tried to understand just what was happening and soon became very knowledgeable on the subject. He recalled a man whom he had known for more than a decade. Toymaker Stanley Wade lived in High Wycombe, back in England. He was a maker of miniature steam engines, with little hydraulic pumps.

Pumps which never got blocked.

Dahl asked Wade if he could build a new shunt to the specifications required. Within a year the Dahl-Wade-Till valve was ready (Till was the brain consultant, brought over from London). It was less than 2 centimetres long, and had six tiny moving steel parts inside it. It was tried on a one-year old child, and worked perfectly. Theo was already on his way to improvement and never needed it, but the new shunt was used for almost 3000 children round the world.

That is what the extract tells us. I can add that a patent for the invention was published in the name of Wade, the Hydrocephalus shunt pump. Here is the main drawing.

Hydrocephalus pump

09 August 2010

Be Your Own Brand

Richard-ReedI've just finished watching a short BBC documentary following Richard Reed of Innocent drinks company (On The Road With… – 4. An Entrepreneur). You might recognise him as one of our speakers at our recent The secret ingredient event. And, in fact the documentary ends with some clips of Richard at the evening.

Watching Richard reminded me how many of the most successful entrepreneurs are their own brand. I suppose Richard Branson and Virgin would be the most extreme version of this.

So it is timely that our partner Rasheed Ogunlaru will be running a workshop on this very topic here in September.

Be Your Own Brand: A unique one-day course to take you and your business to the next level.

Are you an entrepreneur, sole trader or small business? Is marketing, promotional and PR support beyond your budget at the moment? If so, then you must become your own brand. Leading life/business coach, PR and media specialist, Rasheed Ogunlaru, shares insights into raising awareness of your business, promoting yourself, broadening your networks and boosting your business – and your success.

He is joined by solicitor-turned-business advisor, Helen Parkins. Helen will show you how to develop powerful partnerships and when you’ll need to introduce the right legal agreements and abide by current rules and regulations to fast-track your success and avoid the pitfalls.

Benefits of attending and areas covered:

  • Develop a powerful sense of your brand and values
  • Communicate your message clearly and effectively
  • Be seen as a specialist in your field
  • Precise marketing: approaching the right customers directly
  • Build your business through contacts, partnership, joint initiatives
  • Identify simple ways of increasing your impact and profitability
  • Promote yourself as an expert in your industry or locality and in the media

Cost: £60  (lunch not included – but available in the library’s cafe/ restaurant)

How to Book:  email to book your place. When booking please include:   Tue 21 Sept   Thurs 25 Nov