In through the outfield blog

27 posts from September 2010

30 September 2010

Patents from Japan

This is the second in a series on Asian patenting (see my initial survey).

In 2000 Japan made up 12,122, or 10% of the total, of published WO “World” patent applications. By 2009 this had climbed to 46,698, or 19%.

Over 303,000 patent applications were published in Japan itself in 2009. Most of these were by residents – only 9000 cited American priority filings, and 530 British filings. They (and the publications in the World system) are of course in Japanese. The problem then is in identifying and reading them.

Some do appear in translation. Patent applications of Japanese origin that go through the European Patent system appear mostly in English (German and French are the other options) and only accounted for some 19,000 documents in 2009. In the US system, they accounted for 64,000 published applications in 2009 – just 21% of those published in Japan.

If you know the actual specification number, you can go to the Patent & Utility Model Gazette database. It can be a little tricky entering the numbers -- the European Patent Office offers advice on the numeration and coding.

Generally, the A or Kokai numbers is what is known/ wanted. Just seeing the drawings can be very helpful. However, there is more. Instead of going straight to the Japanese, after a time-lag to prepare English abstracts, what you get instead is a summary. Above it is given


"Japanese" leads of course to the Japanese text, while legal status is obvious (and useful). “Detail” in fact means the ability to machine translate the specification (in portions, not all at once). It's fun and instructive to try it for yourself. Sometimes the English is a little odd, but as a machine is translating it it’s not bad – and all free.

Alternatively, if you don’t have the specification number you can search using the Patent Abstracts of Japan (PAJ).

Its coverage goes back to 1976, and there are gaps in technical fields (such as toys) before 1989. Words or applicant names can be used. “Index indication” is the list of hits. It links through in the same way to the “Detail” capability.

An alternative is to use the Espacenet database with its international coverage. Asking for JP as a publication number limits the search to Japanese documents. The same PAJ abstracts are available, but there is no link through to the translation capability. However, a foreign “equivalent” (usually in English) is shown by a PDF icon.

At the time of writing, English titles were available before mid-June, and English abstracts before the end of May, sometimes into June. So there is a three or four month delay. Names of applicants were generally available from the end of June (there were exceptions) while IPC classes were only available from before the end of August. All these present problems for those looking for timely data on Japanese-origin inventions.

All this is of course just a brief summary of some key points. There is more on the searching page from the European Patent Office, including how to use Japanese language interfaces.

29 September 2010

Interval Research: a patent battle

A patent battle has erupted in the United States.

Interval Research was founded in 1992 by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, and David Liddle, also in the computer industry. The idea was to develop concepts that would shape the future of the computer industry. The company was wound up in 2006, but not before it had received over 120 American patents.

On the 27 August Interval Licensing LLC filed a lawsuit in Seattle against 11 companies, including some famous ones, alleging infringement of four patents by Interval Research. This is the PR Presswire story on the lawsuit, which lists the patents, while the text of the 15 page "complaint" can also be seen.

The patent titles are quite interesting. They were granted protection between 2000 and 2004, and their term lasts 20 years from the date of filing. They are for software, but in the form of flowcharts etc. showing what happens rather than in code.

The earliest is the Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device. The main drawing is given below.

Interval research patent 6034652 
Then there is the Browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audiovisual data. The main drawing is given below.

Interval Research patent 6263507 
There is Alerting users to items of current interest. The main drawing is given below.

Interval Research patent 6757682 
And then there is US6788314, with the same title as the first on this list. When two patents have the same title and give similar filing data it usually means that the main difference is the number of "claims" to new technological areas: this one has 15 claims, the other 18.

Facebook, one of the defendants, stated that "this suit is completely without merit, and we will fight it vigorously". A spokesman for fellow defendant Google said that the lawsuit reflected "an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the market place".

The British Invention Show

This year's British Invention Show is at Alexandra Palace, London. It is on from the 14th to the 16th October (the 13th is designated as a "media and preview" day from 4 to 7 pm only). 

I haven't been since the Show was held at the Barbican, and look forward to going this time. The photos suggest that there will be lots of large, interesting machines to look at, and it's a great opportunity to talk to inventors about their inventions.

27 September 2010

The Royal College of Art at the London Design Festival

On a wet Friday I visited the exhibitions put on by the Royal College of Art (RCA) as part of the London Design Festival.

The Festival is a time when as many events as possible are crammed into nine days (it's now over). In a few cases an exhibition will carry on beyond that period -- the RCA's seven exhibitions are on until the 7 October, and are free (see their Current Exhibitions & Events page).

I have always meant to visit the RCA but this was my first time there. I'll certainly be back next year. I found the displayed work by students or recent graduates highly stimulating. My favourites were Hye-Yeon Park's "In-Betweening Clock", where each digit swirls into the next in an electronic clock display, David Seesing's Symbiosis car, and the "Free lunch", a closed system aquarium and plant area, an example of aquaponics. Design and invention merge into one and, quite rightly, it is often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

In a more intellectual way I also enjoyed the showcase of projects carried out in the "Lives of Others", this year's Helen Hamlyn Research Associates projects. The theme is assisting others.

Given special prominence was a radical redesign of the ambulance. The two researchers spent many hours riding in ambulances with the paramedics observing normal usage. I was interested to see that one of these research associates was Yusuf Muhammad, who is included in the 15 inventions in our own Inventing the 21st Century exhibition.

23 September 2010

Ingenious Britons: Personal journeys in invention and design

inventing21Last night’s Inspiring Entrepreneurs featured successful inventors and was organised in conjunction with our wonderful Inventing the 21st Century exhibition.

Our five speakers gave us their very different stories, but with common themes and lessons learnt.

natalie-ellisNatalie Ellis, inventor of the Road Refresher non-spill dog travel bowl.

Natalie Tried for many years to get into the pet market. She came to The British Library about eight years ago and immersed herself in our market research reports and pet related industry  information. This gave her the knowledge to understand the market and be able to sell effectively to supermarkets like Sainsbury’s.

This is a message I repeat to all of my clients in advice sessions. If your background is not from the sector you plan to launch your product or service, you must first gain in-depth industry knowledge by reading relevant publications, and even gaining some work experience where possible.

The idea for Road Refresher came from nearly being arrested by the police, for trying to let her dog drink water while driving her car. Natalie built a very basic prototype in her kitchen in the evenings while waiting for her daughter’s dinner to cook. As is almost always the case, her initial prototype didn’t work.

She displayed her final product at a trade show and generated interest there. This encouraged her to enter a women’s invention awards competition, where she won three awards, which led to BBC news coverage. Next came the fateful invite to appear on Dragons Den. Apparently the unusual chairs the Dragons sit in, make them look small and insignificant, which inspired (misplaced) confidence in Natalie. As anyone who has seen the clip will know, the experience turned out to be awful, with personal attacks from the Dragons due to Natalie’s lack of knowledge of the size of her market.

James Caan’s reaction to her plan to take the bowl to America, was to warn Natalie that America was the graveyard of British business. All successful inventors and entrepreneurs have ‘bounce back ability’, and so a few days later when she had stopped crying, and realised she believed in her product, she decided to ignore the Dragon’s advice.

She flew to America and took a stand at a trade show, and had initial difficulties selling the product, but by the time the Dragons Den show appeared on television, it had become the fastest selling dog bowl in America on


Q. Did anyone offer to licence the product?

A. She was offered a 3% licence and turned it down. The moulds are made in China, but by a company recommended by a personal contact.

Q. How to present your product to potential buyers?

A. Natalie demonstrates her product by waving a full bowl in front of potential buyers faces, and watches their reaction when no water spills onto them.

Mike Spindle, inventor of the revolutionary Trekinetic Wheelchair

Mike has a Formula 1 racing car background, but despite a lack of knowledge of the wheelchair sector or disability background he developed all aspects of the Trekinetic. He said the key is noticing the problem, and the poor current solutions in the market to address it. He thinks his lack of industry knowledge and decision not to review existing solutions or patents helped him find a truly  innovative solution.

The initial trigger was seeing a trendily dressed young man stuck in a terribly old fashioned wheelchair, painted purple in a failed attempt to jazz it up.

Mike’s advice was first check existing solutions in the market place. Then sketchyou’re your solution, and build at prototype or test concepts using Meccano. Concentrate on function first, looks come second. Ultimately the product must sell itself. A big marketing budget will only take a mediocre product so far.

Don’t spend a fortune on prototypes, you can do a lot with MDF. Try and keep what you are doing as private and secret as possible.

Ask yourself if anyone will buy it. Mike gave the example of collapsible paper basket invention. Ingenious, but not ultimately not that useful.

Can you patent your idea? Use non disclosure agreements (NDA’s) to test out invention. They found a set of wheelchair users and gave them a questionnaire to fill out.

Beware of patent agents as their time is so expensive, and they want to write your application straight away, before searching the databases to see if you qualify.

You only have one chance to get it right, so make use of help from Business & IP Centre  and the UK IPO.

If you believe in your idea, don’t give up – make it happen.

Mike’s crunch point was when he discovered the chair wouldn’t run in a straight line. It took a year to fix, but is now the best on the market and can be used one handed wheelchair occupants.

The wheelchair took six years of his life, but was worth it, and now the demand is greater than they can produce.

The key is to find customers that love your product and competitors who can’t copy it.


Michael Pritchard, inventor of the Lifesaver bottle

Michael started off by agreeing with the Natalie and Mike that it does feel very lonely at times when you are inventing.

He told us the story by the Lifesaver, which came about because he got angry during Boxing Day 2005 watching images of the Tsunami on television. People were dying due to a lack of clean water, so he decided to do something about it. But as is so often the way, work and life took over, and he didn’t pursue the idea. Then came hurricane Katrina, and the same problems again with lack of drinking water. He was appalled that it took five days to get water to the thousands of people stranded in the Superdome in New Orleans.

Needed a solution that did not require chemicals or power.

Michael then gave a very polished demonstration of the Lifesaver bottle, using very murky and smelly water from the bottom of his pond.

He talked passionately about his recent visit to Pakistan and used his own photos to show the extent of the flooding and its impact on the people there.

He said how great it felt to realise that giving them a Lifesaver jerry can took the place of a dependency on a regular supply of bottled water.

His motivation was a vision of his gravestone with nothing written on it. Also his wife told him to go for it.

Q. You on the stage tonight are the lucky ones.

A. Michael disagreed, the invention must meet and unmet need, but must also be commercial.

jimshaikh---feed-me-bottlesJim Shaikh, the inventor of  Yoomi, self heating baby bottle

Jim was the father of a three and half month weight premature baby. Jim’s job was to feed the baby at night, but kept getting the temperature wrong. Ended up with crying baby and crying wife upstairs.

It took a year to develop the concept, a bit like a combi-boiler and a gel-pack hand warmer, re-packaged into the top of a baby feeding bottle.

It has taken six years from original idea to get into Boots and soon into Europe.

Marketing tag line ‘Inspired by Mum, Designed by Dad’.

Wants to build a brand as it is more valuable than individual products.

Jim learnt about IP in the Business & IP Centre, and raised £140,000 from Angel investors. He made the very important point that a patent is an asset that helps convince investors of value of product.

It took a year to get funding for the product.

Prototyping is expensive. Jim used it to prove to investors that his product was a worthwhile investment. Took 3-4 prototypes to get the product right.

You need a support network to help you out.

You will hit low points, but part of being an entrepreneur is being able to deal with problems.

You need to be aware that competitors will respond, in Jim’s case with price cuts. How will you respond back? Do you have the flexibility?

msheahansmMark Sheahan, the Business & IP Centre’s Inventor in Residence

Mark used his immense experience of inventing and advising inventors to come up with a list of Do’s and Don’ts of inventing:

Keep your idea secret

Has to be better and or cheaper than the rest of the market

Have a professional patent search done

Review the prior-art, and carry on searching

Do your market research – players, size, prices

Is the market I am going into worth the time money and effort

Can you make the invention, and for the right price?

Look at how you can add value with your product

What is your USP? Why kill one rat when you can kill a hundred?

Helps to be optimistic

WIT – Whatever It Takes

Your enthusiasm will become infectious

Has to become the most important thing in your life

You need to become good at business

Understand the role of IP and patents

Secrets have a role to play

Don’t write your own patent – it is a false economy

Avoid sharks – not just the rogue Patent Promotion Agents

Listen to your gut feelings when dealing with people

Take on a business mentor with a couple of percentage of your business.

Create a SWAT analysis

Choose the right business model – draw up a partnership agreement

Don’t expect money from banks or government grants.

Make yourself investable – develop your marketing line

Understand contracts and letter writing

Get good at negotiating

Be realistic about the time scales – 15 years in the case of Dyson

Experience is rewarding even if you fail

Have fun with it


Q. When should one extend a British patent to a wider market?

A. Jim S – A difficult question as it is expensive to go wider. Need to think about where your market will be. Babies are born across the world. Strategy was to nationalise their patents in their biggest markets (USA and Europe).

Michael P – Find out where your competitors are manufacturing and patent there.

Q. How can you use a patent as collateral?

A. Jim S – I put in my patent into the business in exchange for investors money.

Q. Why not licence your product?

A. Mark S – I prefer to licence my technologies.

A. Michael P – Increase the value, decrease the risk by outsourcing the manufacture, but keeping control of selling and marketing of product as it is so new in the market. Wanted to build the value first.

Q. How did you foster partnerships and collaboration to get your invention market?

A. Natalie E – all self done

A. Jim S – used friends and family as focus groups, but using NDA’ and CDA’s. Balance between protecting what you have but getting valuable feedback from potential customers.

Q. The difference between being an inventor and an entrepreneur.

A. Natalie E – work to your strengths – go to trade shows to find the right

A. Mark S – licensing is a quicker and cheaper route

A. Michael P – get product into market as early as possible – don’t show a picture, have a prototype

A. Mike S – if you are going to licence your invention, make sure you get a serious amount of money up front to ensure they are committed.

22 September 2010

Read or Die (R.O.D) and the coolest librarian in the world

read_or_die_coverI’m wondering if my quest for the most exciting librarian in the world (Cool librarians, More cool librarians) has now ended with the discovery of Yomiko Readman, codename The Paper, an agent for the Special Operations Division of The British Library. Yes you read that right, but may have realised that Yomiko is a fictional character set in an alternative future, where the British Empire has managed to maintain its superpower status.

In this fantasy world the British Library is an institution devoted to the promotion of literacy (so far so believable), but is also home to The British Library Special Operations Division who run operations around the world to fight book related crime and terrorism. Their slogan is ‘Peace to the books of the world, an iron hammer to those who would abuse them (I have some colleagues who would support this part), and glory and wisdom to the British Empire’.

Yomiko, the hero of the stories is a half-Japanese, half-English papermaster. This means she has the ability to manipulate paper in a wide variety of ways, including creating paper darts that can carry people, paper-rope stronger than steel, and BL_LLLU_logosamurai swords. As a result, she never goes anywhere without her case full of stationery supplies.

Although polite and friendly with very few exceptions, she does have a licence to kill, and does so with her deadliest technique, death by paper cuts!

joker_smileYomiko reports to Joker, a stereotypically stiff upper lip Englishman who needs a proper cup of tea in a china cup to help him in a crisis. He reports to Gentleman, an aged, one eyed man, who is the power behind the throne of the British Empire (no sign of the Royal family here).

Although not generally a fan of Manga comics, I greatly enjoyed watching the Read or Die DVD animated version of the stories last night (many thanks to colleague Matthew Shaw for the loan).

In particular I loved the way that Yomika always asks so politely for her books to be returned to her. And the almost sexual excitement with flushed cheeks she shows when coming across a special book. Needless to say her apartment is piled high with books, to the extent that she is covered by them as she sleep on her sofa.

Here are some links about this exciting (for a librarian) new discovery:

Please give back my book! Welcome, fellow readers, the newly revamped

Internet Movie Data Base

Wikipedia entry

Read or Die Wiki

The rise of Asia in patenting

The rise of Asia in innovation has been swift and dramatic in recent years. This is the first of a series of postings discussing the role of major Asian patenting countries and ways of finding data on their innovations.

There are various ways to measure their innovation. My favourite is to use the number of PCT applications. PCT stands for the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the so-called "world patent", which provides a way of applying for patents in most countries by publishing a single patent application. Each country then decides if they want to accept the application and grant a patent. It is administered by WIPO.

Using a table of data, the number of filed applications through the PCT by China, India, Japan and South Korea in 2000 was 12,122, 13% of the total. By 2009 this had risen to 46,698, or 30% of the total. I would have liked to have included Taiwan but they are not a member of the PCT, and its use is restricted to citizens or residents of treaty member states.

Many patent searchers are becoming more and more aware of the importance of published patent documents coming from these countries, if only because Espacenet has a vast number of Chinese and Japanese documents on its database. CN and JP keep on turning up as hits if a search is run. Sometimes there is only an awareness of a document in those languages, with the searcher alerted to it by use of a classification or keywords in a title. An English abstract may be available, or machine translations.

To help with these problems the European Patent Office has for many years had, within its Asian patent information pages, a Virtual Helpdesk. This is an excellent starting point for anyone uncertain about how to search for or interpret patent documents from China, Japan, South Korea, India and Chinese Taipei. The "Searching in databases" sections are, in my opinion, especially useful as they suggest the best ways to find patent information.

When it comes down to it, there is no substitute for lots of practice.

21 September 2010

Smarta’s checklist for How to start a business

How to start a business: a checklist Today seems to be the day for checklists. First there was Jot-it, a wonderful way to help remember what to buy when out shopping. Now we have a checklist for How to start a business from Smarta.

They now have so much useful information on their website that the list below is full of links to their own pages. Which reminds me of their gallery of 500+ business plans sourced from Business Plan Pro.

It must qualify as the ultimate to-do list for starting up a business.

tick 2 What kind of business should I start?

There are loads of options out there for all of you who want to become self-employed. Click on the links below to explore each.

  1. Start a part-time business.
  2. Your own business idea – a completely new product or service. Read up on idea protection if you’re following this path.
  3. Start a franchise.
  4. Buy a business.
  5. Buy a license to sell an existing product.
  6. Do you want to start alone or would it be better to find a business partner?

tick 2 How do I research my business idea?

  1. Is your idea viable? You need to do a rough working of your costs versus the money you can make from sales. How much will people pay for your product? Use this guide for more info and ask people who will give you an honest opinion.
  2. Is there demand for your business? This will take more time. You need to do market research and work out who your target customers will be.
  3. Can you afford to start the business you have in mind or find the money to do it?
  4. Research your competition.
  5. Find at least three unique selling points (USPs). If you can’t, think of a new business idea, because you won’t be able to lure customers away from your already-established competition. This feature will help you determine USPs.
  6. Do some preliminary research into suppliers and distributors – a bit of Googling, a few casual phonecalls to potential suppliers, and ask other businesses in your sector – so you know how easy it is to get the materials and products you need and how much those items will cost.
  7. Find out what price people will pay for your product and what your business model will be. Do market research and use this advice section.
  8. Try making a few sales if you can via eBay or however you can – just a bit of testing to see how the market responds. Follow up on other ways to test your market.

tick 2 Writing a business plan

Writing a business plan might seem like a long and boring task, but it forces you to think about your idea rigorously, highlights potential show-stopping problems and makes you take a hard look at how much money you’re going to need. Use our 500+ free business plan templates for guidance.

  1. Read our advice on business plans.
  2. Decide where your business will be based – start at home if you can (here’s why). If you need commercial premises, look at this advice section and research property prices in your area to include an approximate cost in your budget. Factor in business rates and utility bills.
  3. Write your business plan.
  4. Some details will need to be updated as you complete the next few steps – or you might need to complete the next few steps before finishing your business plan. That’s fine – a business plan should be a live document, updated regularly.
  5. Once you’ve done your business plan, make a project plan what you need to achieve by which (target) dates to get you through the next steps. This is an absolute must!

tick 2 How can I finance my business?

  1. Work out what savings, income and solutions like remortgages you can use to finance your business. Warning: do not put all your eggs in this one basket. Five in six businesses fail in their first year – we don’t want to be pessimistic, but we also don’t want you to end up homeless if this doesn’t work out.
  2. Read our section on business finance to look at all the options available to you.
  3. Talk to an accountant. Here’s advice on how to find one.
  4. Talk to your bank manager, business plan in hand, to find out what kind of loan you will be able to access. Make it clear you’re still pre-start-up and just doing research at this stage. Watch this video for advice on what the banks are looking for. Watch this video on the EFG to see if you’re eligible for that too.
  5. Look into which small business grants you might be eligible for – you can start by searching our grants database.
  6. Redraft your business plan according to the finance you have available.

tick 2 Prepare: business training, skills and support

  1. Read our advice section on business skills and training.
  2. Start reading business books relevant to your sector to get a good feel for how it operates and how you should enter the market.
  3. Do any courses or training you think you need.
  4. Join relevant networks and find a mentor if you can. Look at our advice on networking and mentoring to find out more.

tick 2 Getting the right people on board

  1. Find an accountant if you haven’t already.
  2. Assess your skills set and start thinking about what other help you will need. Bring in a business partner if needed and talk to people or businesses you will need to outsource to. Warning: don’t start employing people until you really, really need to. You need to keep costs as low as possible. If you definitely need employees, check out this advice section.
  3. Make sure you have the support of family and friends. You’ll need it.
  4. Join start-up networking groups, the Smarta community and look into business mentors.

tick 2 Naming my business

  1. Read up on branding and advice on choosing business names to start thinking about the perception a business name creates.
  2. Brainstorm a whole heap of possible names and pick out 10 – 20 favourites.
  3. Google your names to see if anyone else has them.
  4. Search Companies House to see if the name is available.
  5. Check no one has the web address (or addresses) you’d want if you started up with that name. If you’re sure about the name, buy the domain for it now.

tick 2 Registering my business

  1. Work out which structure is right for you with this advice section.
  2. Contact HMRC to tell them you’re becoming self-employed and to get the right business starter pack for you.
  3. If you’re going to be a company, you need to register with Companies House. You can register your company with Companies House on Smarta – we simplify the process to save you time and hassle.

tick 2 Setting up shop

  1. Set up your home office (this feature tells you what you need and how to get it on the cheap), or…
  2. Find your premises and negotiate your lease.
  3. Open a business bank account (click the link to do this with our partners RBS or NatWest here on Smarta) if you haven’t done so already, and apply for a business loan if you need one. And read this feature if you get rejected first time for a loan.
  4. Sort out your IT and equipment, furniture, business mobile and phone lines. Handy hint: rent stuff rather than buying it.
  5. Order business stationery (though make sure you have secured your domain name first – see the section below).

tick 2 Set up a website

  1. Read our advice on business websites.
  2. Buy relevant domains for your new business name.
  3. Either build your website yourself or get a designer to, following these guidelines.
  4. Read our feature on what you should pay for a website.
  5. Optimise your website for SEO following the advice in this section.
  6. Read up on the data protection act if you’re going to be collecting data from your website.

tick 2 Getting suppliers and distributors on board

This stage might come earlier in the process, depending on the type of business you’re starting.

  1. Read our advice section on business suppliers and distributors and logistics – or import and export, if that applies.
  2. Read our guide on choosing a supplier.
  3. Set up relationships with main suppliers and distributors, but also keep a list of back-up ones in case something goes wrong.
  4. Get credit from as many suppliers as possible to cut costs. Read this case study if you struggle with getting credit.
  5. Road-test your supply chains and distribution processes with small batches of product first, to make sure everything is working.
  6. Talk to suppliers and distributors about their capacity to scale up if you plan to grow quickly.

tick 2 Get the nitty-gritty right

  1. Get legal advice.
  2. Get business insurance.
  3. Push through any patents or other IP needed.
  4. Find out about what business rates (on premises) and taxes you need to deal with.
  5. Find out what regulations and restrictions you might face, and any licenses you need to obtain before you can start trading. Talk to your local council to find out.
  6. Find out about health and safety regulations.
  7. Read up on VAT to find out if you need to register for it.

tick 2 Almost ready to start selling

  1. Read these guides on sales.
  2. Work out your pricing strategies.
  3. Learn about advertising and marketing, PR and social media and plan your strategies.
  4. Have your books set up and know who will manage them. Crucial note: you need to be able to understand them even if an accountant is doing most of the work. Check out our advice sections on money management and bookkeeping for help.
  5. Network like crazy to tell people about your business!

tick 2 Start selling

Congratulations – you’re in business!