In through the outfield blog

19 posts from October 2010

29 October 2010

Smarta – Five business tips from Paris Hilton

Five business tips from Paris HiltonSmarta are great at finding engaging ways to talk about entrepreneurship.

This example using Paris Hilton is an excellent case in point.

Go to the Smarta website to see the full story Five business tips from Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton: heiress, celebrity, porn star, entrepreneur and permanent resident of the brat pack. Love her or hate her, Paris Hilton is one of the most successful celebrity brands of the past decade. She may be famous only for being famous, but she has made some canny business decisions to market herself. In February 2007, the Associated Press tried to curb Hilton’s fame by refusing to report her name for a whole week. Needless to say, the experiment failed. Here’s what business owners can learn from Paris Hilton.

Cash in on your connections

All publicity is good publicity

Create lucrative partnerships

Be seen on the scene

Get political

Growing Knowledge the Evolution of Research – the garden is open

Our Growing Knowledge – the Evolution of Research was officially opened by Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee last week.

Over the next nine months, we will be using a dedicated exhibition to explore what technological tools will shape the library’s future research facilities.

The exhibition aims to challenge visitors on how research is changing and ask what you want to experience from the library of the future.

I have volunteered to be a guide to the exhibition so do drop by and say hello.


Working with hardware partner HP and software partner Microsoft, the library is showcasing a range of research tools, including a prototype of Sony’s RayModeler 360-degree Autostereoscopic Display that uses gesture control to view static and moving 3D images and video.

At the end of the Growing Knowledge exhibition, the British Library will evaluate the tools and decide which have been most useful for researchers – a term the library uses to describe anyone using its resources.

Richard Boulderstone, CIO at the British Library, explained: “It’s about trying to explore what tools and services we should provide for researchers in future. What is the future of the library? What tools, spaces, technologies should we provide for researchers?”

Clive Izard, head of creative services at the British Library, added: “We are evaluating the way researchers will work in an area that is not hushed and quiet – where people will be more collaborative physically.

“At the end [of the exhibition] we will produce a report. JISC [independent advisory body providing advice on ICT use to higher education] is going to take the findings and incorporate them into our services.”

The exhibition, which is running on a thin client solution, is testing everything from monitor set-up – from a single touch screen monitor to four standard monitors – to audio search software developed by Microsoft.

These tools, which include map rectification software that reshapes old maps over current maps, and a Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts tool that enables users to digitally delve into Austen’s handwritten manuscripts, will be alternated with other ones in the British Library’s portfolio over the nine months.

Researchers can also experiment with a Microsoft Surface Table, on which the British Library is showing an interactive, digital version of the world’s longest painting, the 19th century Garibaldi Panorama. A set of dials, developed with (University College London (UCL), also measures Twitter activity across nine capital cities.

The Growing Knowledge exhibition will run until 16 July 2011.

Rapstrap®, an invention on Dragon’s Den

Andrew Harsley of Grantham, Lincolnshire appeared on the Dragons' Den TV show in August 2008 with his Rapstrap® cable tie invention.

He thought of the basic idea as a teenager when putting out the rubbish. "When I first came up with the idea, I could not believe someone else hadn't thought of it. There's a lot of waste with the nylon cable tie. The Rapstrap does the same job but is four times more effective in cost and wastage.”

The strap is looped round the object to be tied and the hooks lock together to form the tie. Having originally asked for £150,000 in return for 15% of the equity, he gave away 50% to James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne, two of the dragons. Rapstrap soon won a £36 million order, and the invention has been called one of the success stories of Dragons' Den.

A “World” patent application was published in February 2010 as Moulded tie strips. Granting of patent rights is awaited. Here is the main drawing.


Rapstrap patent drawing 

However there was a problem.

In 1994 Harsley had founded Millepede Cable Ties, which applied for a patent (with himself as inventor) called Tie strips. The link, and a representative drawing given below, are for the granted European patent.

Tie strips patent drawing 

"I was amazed when Harsley, who had previously founded the Millepede company, forgot to mention Millepede’s existence on the programme," said John Butterworth, managing director of Millepede. "Then afterwards all the parties showed a lack of interest in talking to Millepede about our prior patent. I hope this official review will now change that situation.” Harsley had left Millepede some years before.

In November 2008 Millepede asked Britain's Intellectual Property Office for an "opinion" on whether or not the technology of the Rapstrap® infringed that European patent. Opinion 26/08 said that they thought that it infringed Claims 1 and 5. These five claims can be found on pages 5-6 of the link to it.

An "Opinion" is just that -- it is not legally binding, but rather provides useful information for those who, perhaps, contemplate legal action. Only litigation in the courts would settle the matter.

Later on, Harsley himself asked in January 2010 for an Opinion on whether or not his invention infringed the European patent. Opinion 2/10 said that they thought it infringed Claim 1. The first claim is always the broadest, most general claim.

The odd thing about all this is that the search report for the later Rapstrap company patent application, which lists similar patent documents, does not mention the earlier Millepede patent at all.

It does however list in its search report several patent documents thought to be relevant, marked as "X" (done before) or "Y" (obvious improvements) for several of the claims. It is up to individual patent offices to consider whether or not to grant protection to the Rapstrap invention. Attempts can be made to persuade the patent offices that patents should not be granted (or severely limiting the protection). 

Meanwhile both Rapstrap and Millepede are offering their products for sale.

27 October 2010

The end of Sony's Walkman® personal stereo

It has been announced that Sony stopped production of its Walkman® personal stereo in April 2010, after over 200 million had been made.

When it was introduced in 1979, this audio cassette device began to sell in huge numbers, even though it lacked a record function, which at the time was thought vital in a cassette machine. It came about when Akio Morita, the company chairman, wanted to listen to opera on his many flights. Existing prototypes of a small cassette player designed for dictation, and tiny headphones were adapted to make the product. 

Morita hated the brand name, but it had been chosen without consulting him and was already being used in promotion, so he couldn't change it. He himself thought that making them so that two can listen at once was a good idea, as he had noticed his wife looking annoyed as he listened to music on it. Large numbers of that model were made, but it turned out that people regard them as personal accessories. 

The biggest mistake, though, was not applying for a patent (Sony thought it unpatentable) and therefore, perhaps, not being aware of a patent by Andreas Pavel. Here is the main drawing from his High fidelity stereophonic reproduction system.

Pavel audio system patent 
The equipment was to be worn on a belt but the principle was fairly similar, hence litigation. Pavel's patent application, made from Italy where he was living at the time, was made in 1977 and therefore predated the Sony work.

Court litigation dragged on for years.  A detailed analysis of the arguments for and against Pavel was made by Judge Peter Ford in his Patents County Court judgment in 1993, Court Decision CC/14/93 (held at the British Library), where Ford said the patent's technology was old and obvious. The case later went on to the Appeals Court, where Pavel lost again in 1996.

An out of court settlement with Pavel for using his technology (said to be in excess of $10 million) was made by Sony but, it has been said, was only possible after Morita's death in 1999.

Patents from China

This is the fourth in a series on Asian patenting (see my initial survey, Japan and Korea posts).

In 2000 China made up 780, or 0.8% of the total, of published WO “World” patent applications. By 2009 this had climbed to 7,900, or 5%. Over 480,000 patent specifications were published in China itself in 2009. This is an immense number. Originally most were by foreigners, but this has shifted, and now most of these specifications are by residents – only 34,000 cited American priority filings, and 2,500 British filings. They (and the publications in the World system) are of course in Chinese. The problem then is in identifying and reading them.

The main applicants in the World system are Huawei Technologies, which with 1,843 publications in 2009 was actually second only to Panasonic, and ZTE Corporation. China is making a big effort to move up the “value chain” in manufacturing – to move from assembling products made with Western technology to innovating their own products – and the statistics reflect this.

Some do appear in translation. Patent applications of Chinese origin that go through the European Patent system appear mostly in English (German and French are the other options) and only accounted for some 1,600 documents in 2009. In the US system, they accounted for 6,200 published applications in 2009.

China publishes A and B (unexamined and examined) patents, and U or Y utility models (for simpler inventions), which nowadays are not examined to see if they are novel. Utility models account for about half of China’s patent output.

There is an English interface search mask on the Chinese patent office website. Some documents can be machine translated in the same database (for free).

There is also the CNPAT database with an English interface search mask which also offers free machine translations. Designs are included in this site.

And there is also the CNIPR C-Pat Patent Search System. All three sites are free to use.

I have only glanced at these databases, as I instinctively use Western sites. If you need a copy of a Chinese patent document you should turn to them if Western sources fail.

An alternative is to use the Espacenet database with its international coverage. Asking for CN as a publication number limits the search to Chinese documents. Occasionally a foreign “equivalent” (usually in English) will be available, which is shown by a PDF icon.

At the time of writing, English titles and abstracts were available in up to about June 2010, and the actual specifications could be found to about September 2010. The “Mosaics” format can be selected to see the drawings only, which may be helpful. IPC classes seemed to be available for all published applications, that is, for September 2010, but there is a lag for applicant names, which seem to be present only up to June.

All this is of course just a brief summary of some key points (there are other databases, including for specialist topics). There is more on the China Virtual Helpdesk page from the European Patent Office, including advice on the numeration system and how to search Chinese language interfaces.

20 October 2010

Raymond Loewy, pioneer of industrial design

One of my heroes in industrial design is Raymond Loewy, a Frenchman (later an American citizen) who took manufactured products by the scruff of their neck and made them attractive and practical.

It was the late 1920s. Loewy has been living in the USA for some years and was making a living as an illustrator for fashion magazines and the like. He enjoyed putting sleek cruise ships or other objects in the background, and this began to attract (favourable) comment. So he began to move into the new field of industrial design. He had always been interested in engineering, anyway.

Far too many manufactured products, he felt, were bulky, boring and awkward. They were often noisy and smelly, too. He wanted to be surrounded by objects that were bright, streamlined and easy to use.

The company he founded, Raymond Loewy Associates, grew to over 200 staff, and designed a huge variety of items. Loewy himself was involved in designing many. These included the packages for Lucky Strike cigarettes after a bet that he couldn't improve it. There were Greyhound buses, locomotives for the Pennsylvania Railroad, refrigerators, jukeboxes, cars, the labelling on tin cans, you name it.

He was responsible for a number of patents for functional changes as well as numerous American "design patents", for the look. Some of his work can be seen as Locomotive body, Motor coach, and Beverage dispenser.

An interesting article was written about him in Life, in the 2 May 1949 issue, called The great packager. In 1951 he published a splendid and highly personal account of his life as a designer, Never leave well enough alone.

After working into his late eighties, Loewy died in 1986 at Monte Carlo. He was 93.

19 October 2010

Invention competition for students

The IEEE has announced its 2011 competition is open to applications, the "Presidents' Change the World Competition".

It was new to me. $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to San Francisco is the top prize. It is for students who "develop unique solutions to real-world problems using engineering, science, computing and leadership skills to benefit their community, the world at large, or both".

Students have to be at least 18 and there has to be an IEEE involvement (as a member, etc.) as explained in the eligibility rules. Applications close on the 31 January 2011. Sustainability seems to be a key requirement.

The 2010 winner was e.quinox, a group of students from Imperial College, London, who have not just designed but also implemented a project to provide power to a village of 60 households in Rwanda. Solar or other renewable power is used to recharge a central battery store. The batteries are then hired out to local householders to provide electrical needs -- this is in a region without power lines.

Founding member of e.quinox Mohammad Mansoor Hamayun and the project's new Chair Christopher Hopper accepted the prize at a ceremony in Montreal. There is a utube video about the rural electrification project.

There is also information about the other prize winners in 2010.

18 October 2010

Are you a Chicken Entrepreneur?


Once again EnterQuest have come up with a great angle on business start-up.

Although many business start-ups come from enforced redundancies or a choice to start afresh, the more cautious approach of starting with just a toe in the water is becoming increasingly popular.

I don’t think Chicken Entrepreneur is a particularly flattering name, for what can be the most sensible way to start a business, and one recommended by Jason Fried and David Hansson in Reworking, which I reviewed in  A radical Reworking of business.

Auntie P -

Chicken entrepreneurship

No, we’re not referring to the number of people taking up KFC franchises, or householders keeping poultry and selling the eggs.

We’re talking about people who start up a business but are too ‘chicken’ to give up their current employment. They’re being entrepreneurial because they have a reasonably firm idea or vision for their little venture, but are afraid to risk everything by going the whole hog and quitting work completely, not for a while anyway.

These are ‘spare-time’ start ups and side-businesses, and are very often second, third or even fourth-income enterprises whose objective is simply to make ends meet and pay the bills.

And there are a heck of a lot of people doing this.

(article continues with comments)