In through the outfield blog

18 posts from August 2011

30 August 2011

Oscar Pistorius the athlete and his prosthetic legs

Oscar Pistorius, the South African athlete who runs with carbon-fibre prosthetic legs, came last in his 400 metre semi-final at the Athletics World Championships in Korea, with a time of 46.19 seconds, which is still a very good time.

He was born with a congenital condition that left him with lower legs but no feet. When aged 11 months the lower legs were amputated. A serious athlete, he won three gold medals in the 2008 Paralympics.

His presence in competitions for able-bodied athletes, though, has been controversial, as his prosthetic legs are said by many to give him an unfair advantage over the other runners. In 2007 the IAAF amended its rules so as to ban "any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device". This was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in May 2008, which ruled that there was no evidence that he had an unfair advantage.

The blades are called Cheetahs or the Flex-Foot®, and are available from Icelandic company Össur. They were invented by Californian Van Phillips. A water-skiing accident in 1976 resulted in his left leg below the knee being amputated. Existing prosthetic legs did not fit well and did not respond as he wished, so he looked for a strong, flexible and light solution. Dale Abildskov, an aerospace composite materials engineer, worked with him to make a carbon fibre prototype. Giving it a “C” shape meant that the properties of carbon fibre could be used to simulate the spring action of a normal foot, allowing users to run and jump.

The video below by Össur shows the innovation in use. 


In 1992 Phillips applied for what became World patent application Attachment construction for prosthesis. Below is the main drawing.

Prosthetic blade leg for athletes patent drawing 
There are numerous patent specifications in Phillips' name for ideas relating to prostheses, as listed here for the American ones.

26 August 2011

Steve Jobs and his patents for Apple

Miniature drawing images from all of Steve Jobs' 313 patents for Apple have been very usefully listed by The New York Times.

They are in 12 categories, and clicking on the image leads to the first page of the drawings, and you can click onwards to the other drawings pages. It is more tricky to see the full document: clicking on "U.S. Patent Reference", to the right of the drawings, links to the full text (description and claims) at the official USPTO site, and from there to get to the full document you have to click on Images (at the top). The trouble is, that links to a TIFF file and not a PDF, so you may need to load that software.

It's a pity, as the information provided by the newspaper is otherwise very neat and easy to use if you are interested in Steve Jobs' epic contribution to consumer technology. There is no doubt that he has been the driving force behind Apple's innovation, and, though the look may be slipping a little, he created a cool, we-are-not-a huge-corporation image for the company. A profit in 2010's financial year of £14 billion means that they are,actually,indeed huge.

Some of the 313 are in fact "design patents", for the look, rather than "utility patents", for the function. Design patents are preceded by a D in their numeration. In every case, it seems to me, Jobs is one of several or even many named inventors.

Now his sudden resignation for health reasons as CEO has both caused a dip in Apple's share price and a surge of interest in the company. Whither Apple ?

The company takes out numerous design patents, and Media player looks like the original look of the iPod®, while Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics, with its main drawing below, looks signficant for the iPhone®. Increasingly numerous patents are involved in consumer electronics innovation, and it is often impossible to name just one or two as being the key patents for a certain product.

I-phone patent drawing image 

Thanks to a contact at the UK's Intellectual Property Office for drawing my attention to the webpage.

25 August 2011

Jaime O'Connor's oven door shield invention

Today's Metro had an article on Jaime O'Connor of Halifax, Yorkshire, who has invented (and is selling) an oven shield to prevent the doors from being splattered by cooking foods.

The shield is easy to fit on the door, using suction pads, and she says that users will save a fortune on oven cleaners. She thought it up when husband Dale, who runs an Aga oven servicing business, told her that his customers wanted to know how they could keep the oven doors clean.

She first invented a shield for Agas but then made one suitable for other ovens. They are made in Britain, and are available in several retailers and on their own Oven Door Shield website.

Jaime works full-time in her husband's business and also has to cope with a five-year old and a two-year old. She is quoted in the story as saying "I want to show other mums it is possible to invent your own products and get them out there."

The World patent application for the invention was published in June 2011 as Oven door shield. Both Jaime and Dale are listed as inventors.

In searching for the patent, I noticed that the free Espacenet database did not recognise O'Connor as a valid search term. There were lots of hits for Oconnor, though not for this invention, which could only be found by asking for Connor as the search term. It could easily be thought that there was no patent specification for the concept.

24 August 2011

A Land Rover for all seasons

The actual Defender that took us through the Serengeti

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am interested in niche products and markets. Previous examples include A cake slice with a musical difference and Luxury foods in terribly bad taste.

Driving to my parents house the other day, I notice an unusual garage by the side of the road in shape of a thatched house (The Thatched Garage). Even more surprising was the extent of the niche of their shiny objects filling the forecourt. Not just off road vehicles, or even just Land Rovers… they only sell the Defender model of Land Rover.

However, they have been doing very well thank you occupying this tiny niche for over twenty years.

Having recently spent two weeks on safari in Tanzania, I have new found admiration for the sturdiness and off-road capability of this particular product of the Land Rover factory. After hours of pummeling on corrugated and rocky roads, I fully expected the vehicle to start shaking itself to pieces. But our driver had spent ten years driving the same car, and explained that all it needed was a thorough service after each adventure to be as good as new.

23 August 2011

Bang Creations: a product design agency

Yesterday I visited Bang Creations in Haslemere, Surrey, a "product design agency", following an invitation to see them.

Stefan Knox, its founder, and his colleague Alan Ward explained to me about the way their company works. They can design a solution to a problem, or refine an existing product to improve it; they can work on the packaging or brochures, and on the actual marketing.

Stefan is clearly an outstanding product designer and is enthusiastic about what he does -- making something better, and more attractive to customers. He originally had a lot of experience in the toy industry, such as with Hasbro, although the company now mainly works with any kind of consumer products.

Here are a couple of stories they told me about. The website has other case studies.

LoJo® is a transformation of the beanbag concept. It looks rather like a beanbag, but you can unzip it so that a seat falls down and the remainder supports you. The support comes from an inflatable bladder, which means that it can be shipped deflated, which saves on costs. It was created by Stefan and his wife Kristin, and there is a website for the product. Below is the main drawing of the patent specification, Collapsible seat.

LoJo collapsible seat patent drawing 
Another project was being asked to improve a sun lounger, Rotasol®, where it can fold away within a shell. The case study page shows the original drawings at the bottom, and the refined look at the top in mauve. There were constraints, such as keeping within the original shell dimensions (as tooling had already occurred), but it was possible to bring in features to improve versatility and safety. There is also a website for that company.

Bang Creations will do a certain amount for free. They can send a questionnaire about a concept (with a non-disclosure agreement) to anyone interested, and will briefly comment on the answers. This may lead to a free initial one-hour consultation.

All in all, I was impressed by the sheer range of what the company can do, and the obvious commitment and professionalism of those who work there. 

19 August 2011

Autonomy and its speech recognition inventions

Hewlett Packard has offered £6.2 billion for Autonomy Corporation, a Cambridge, UK company with considerable expertise in the speech recognition area, where software works out what people are saying.

This is a list of American patent documents by Autonomy. They include for example Automatic spoken language identification based on phoneme sequence patterns . 

Like other software-based patent specifications, the description does not consist of machine code but rather a detailed description of how it works, which must be fascinating for anyone interested in the problems of speech recognition.  

The Autonomy board has unanimously recommended the offer to its shareholders. The company is widely considered to be one of the UK's software stars. The company website says that it helps "organizations to derive meaning and value from their information, as well as mitigate the risks associated with those same assets", and that it was founded in 1996 to radically change the way people and computers interact: "where computers adapt to our world rather than the other way around."

There is much patent activity in the field of speech recognition. Here is a list of just the World patent applications published in that topic so far in 2011.

17 August 2011

Modular straw bales for construction

I have often watched, on television shows like Grand Designs, self-builders taking a lot of time packing straw bales to make walls, and then rounding them off with chain saws.

ModCell is a company based in Bath which has applied for patents for a Construction panel where straw bales are treated in modular fashion: you slot in the panels where needed. They already have a granted British patent, and the product is already available -- as ModCell®. Here is the main drawing.

Modular straw bales for construction patent image 
Straw is plentiful and provides excellent insulation (although rather bulky, perhaps), and is sometimes used as a green method in construction. Enabling its use in pre-made panels should make its use cheaper, simpler and quicker.

The ModCell website was very attractive and interesting, and I particularly liked reading about the BaleHaus which was built in 2009 in Bath.

The classification E04B1/35K is for "constructions using straw bales" and there are 34 patent documents in the list available on Espacenet.

15 August 2011

History in an Hour – another of our Success Stories

History-in-an-HourAfter my post Here’s one we helped earlier – Seasoned culinary courses, I’ve heard from another client of the Business & IP Centre who has gone on to great success.

Even better, History in an Hour is the brainchild of a librarian.

Rupert Colley had the idea ten years ago, but with the encouragement of his partner Annabel and help from the Business & IP Centre, he finally made a success of it.

The value of the idea has now been recognised by international publishing house Harper Collins, who recently purchased the e-book series from the Rupert.

Annabel kindly sent me a note saying;

“… had it not been for the Business & IP Centre, I wouldn’t have had the idea or the confidence to know where to start in registering a trademark for “In An Hour”, which meant that this became also an asset purchase, not just a straight multi-book licensing deal.”

Rupert also sent me a note to say they are having a summer sale. For the month of August 2011 only, the apps are 69p -  iBooks 49p – Nook 99c and Kindle 98p or less.


HarperCollins Signs History in an Hour Ebook Series

In a major new acquisition HarperCollins has purchased the History in an Hour e-book series from the company founder and author Rupert Colley. The deal was set up by Scott Pack and the books will be published by Arabella Pike at HarperPress.

History in an Hour is a series of e-books and apps that summarise key areas of world history in digest form, with each title taking no more than sixty minutes to read. From World War Two to Black History, from American Civil War to the Reformation, History in an Hour titles have been a permanent fixture in the Apple bestseller lists since September 2010, often with 3 titles in the top ten or five in the top twenty. They recently came out on Kindle as well. The History in an Hour website and blog can be found at:

Scott Pack says: “When I saw these e-books topping the Apple iBooks charts I was intrigued as I was pretty sure they weren’t from a major publisher. I downloaded one and was really impressed, it did exactly as it promised. I was amazed to discover that they were all the work of a librarian from Enfield creating them in his spare room. I was determined to snap them up before anyone else did.”

Rupert Colley comments: “History is fascinating but it can also be daunting – huge books, a huge choice and endless websites. My aim with History In An Hour is to make it less daunting and more accessible whilst still providing a quality read. I want to offer readers a starting place in their historical reading; a platform on which to build. Now, with HarperPress, we can take it to a new level and spread the word – that History is exciting.”

HarperPress will launch the series on 4th August with six titles. A further seven will follow in October. All existing books will be rebranded and an ambitious programme to grow the series will include titles on the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gunpowder Plot, the Vietnam War, Castro and the Wars of the Roses, as well as an extension of the brand into other subject areas. More than one year on, History in an Hour is still topping the charts with World War Two in an Hour currently number 15.

Arabella Pike comments: ‘This is an incredibly exciting venture for HarperPress. In just over one year Rupert has, single-handed, created a superb brand offering great history for busy people – short, sharp, informative books to be read on a phone or e-reader perfect whilst enduring the daily commute to work. As a leading publisher of history, we intend to work with Rupert to build this pioneering series to publish some terrific titles, show how historical content can be refashioned to suit the digital age, and open up a whole new generation of readers to the delights of history.’

Launch titles:

  • World War Two
  • The Cold War
  • The Afghan Wars
  • The Reformation
  • Henry VIII’s Wives
  • Nazi Germany
  • October titles:
  • Black History
  • 1066
  • Hitler
  • Ancient Egypt
  • American Slavery
  • The American Civil War
  • The World Cup