In through the outfield blog

11 posts from September 2011

29 September 2011

Self-healing materials

The BBC website has an interesting story about self-healing materials, based on work by a research team led by Nancy Sottos at the University of Illinois.

Material that can "heal" their own cracks would be very beneficial in many areas, such as in construction. One approach, a decade old, is to have tiny capsules: if a crack occurs, the capsule breaks and a hardening solution spreads out to correct the weakness. Apparently this only works in tiny cracks, up to about 50-100 millionths of a metre, as a large capsule would weaken the structure. That means that a tiny capsule won't have much fluid.

The new approach, published in the Journal of the Royal Society interface, is to have a network of miniature channels imbedded in a plastic. The healing material is within the channels. Syringes on the outside put the fluid under pressure so that if a crack occurs fluids erupt from parallel channels, a solvent filling the crack while another fluid hardens it. With this approach the crack can be a millimetre across. Professor Sottos says "In a biological system, fluids are pumping and flowing," so it is an example of invention being based on a principle in nature. 

The more recent of the list of 14 American patent specifications by Nancy Sottos seem to cover this technology, providing a detailed account of how to use it. The idea is not, apparently, completely new, as there is a list of related patent documents for a World patent application by the team that was published in April 2009.

27 September 2011

Dee Dee’s Vintage, another Business & IP Centre Success Story

Dee_Dees_Vintage_logoI received a lovely surprise tweet recently. ” Hi Neil! I had a one-to-one with you  couple of years ago. Still implementing your advice – it was great!

It was from Dee Dee O’Connell, the founder of Dee Dee’s Vintage.  And after my blushes died down, I recalled the information advice clinic where we met. In particular I remember being impressed about how much thought Dee Dee had already given to her business idea, and how resourceful she had been.

Dee Dee didn’t have the delightful logo above at the time, or her partner Ian White.  But I was confident she would be successful, with her enthusiasm and expert knowledge of the vintage clothing market place, and her entrepreneurial spirit.

I get a lovely warm glow from being a small part of our success stories.

Below is the blurb from their website

Dee Dee’s Vintage is a brand new online shop, specialising in Americana and classic British vintage clothing. We began life back in June ‘09 as a stall at the Vintage Pop-Up Market at Brick Lane, East London. We can now be found at selected vintage fairs, markets and festivals all over the UK. Check out our blog for the latest updates on our events.

We’re based at The Print House in Dalston, East London – home of Dalston Roof Park and Café Oto.

They are also on Facebook and Twitter:

Dee Dee O'Connell and Ian White

Dee Dee's Vintage with Dee Dee O'Connell and Ian White

22 September 2011

Keep calm and carry on trade mark dispute

It is not often that trade marks appear on breakfast TV, but this morning there were several minutes on a dispute about the use of "Keep calm and carry on" for goods. The clip can be seen on the BBC website.

Mark Coop, the owner of the company Keep Calm and Carry On (incorporated in February 2009), says in the clip that he has been using it for four years to sell goods. The story I have heard is that the phrase was  printed in 1939 on leaflets and posters to encourage the British people to, indeed, keep calm and carry on in wartime conditions, but it was never used.

In October 2010 the company filed for an application for the mark with OHIM, the EU-wide registration body for trade marks. Registration occurred in March 2011 for the mark, with the goods covered by the 8 classes specified listed on the database entry for the mark. It's from the UK site, where they list it as a valid mark in the UK (it covers the entire EU). It is interesting that the goods sold by the company feature a crown above the phrase, which might be taken to imply government or royal approval or involvement, but the trade mark registration is only for the phrase.

The 8 classes are from the 45 classes of goods and services in the Nice Classification, and applicants list goods or activities within the classes where protection is sought. The UK IPO has a useful list of the classes. The idea is that different applicants can use the same mark for different classes so long as there is no conflict such as being confused about the source of the goods or services.

This has occurred: Keep Calm and Carry on Beverages Limited, incorporated in November 2010, filed the next day for British registration 2565406 which is for three classes involving beverages and transport, and then two applications in December for classes for infused drinks and for, perhaps oddly because of their company name, for contraceptives. These have all been registered.

Now a dispute has broken out, because Simply Printing 4 U, a Dorset start-up by Kerry Cade, has been told by e-Bay® that they cannot sell their mugs, mouse mats and posters on the site because of the registration by Keep Calm and Carry On. Cade, wife of army officer Jason, says "We are bitterly disappointed that we cannot sell items featuring ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON’. To be an Armed Forces family and to be told we cannot use what is essentially a British phrase feels like a real kick in the teeth. It’s a huge blow to our business”.

The entry for the European registration on OHIM's trade mark database is annotated to show that on the 8 September Jason Cade filed a request to cancel the trade mark on the grounds of invalidity.

Reasons will have to be put forward such as lack of distinctiveness, or that it is a generic phrase that would be unfairly monopolised by a single company. My understanding (I am not a lawyer) is that this normally involves wording likely to be used in the trade -- "four seasons" for sleeping bags is an example. A phrase can however acquire distinctiveness if people come to associate it with a certain product, as shown by poll evidence.

I notice from the Keep Calm and Carry On website that they do not make it clear that it's a registered trade mark by using the familiar ® icon, nor is it used on their goods. While this is not required as far as I am aware in Europe (it is in the USA), it is always good policy to make it clear that you are using wording as a trade mark and that you mean to enforce it.

21 September 2011

Gas pipelines and the development of inspection "pigs"

Today's Daily Telegraph has the obituary of Belfast-born Ernest Shannon, who led British Gas in finding a solution to the problem of monitoring gas pipelines for corrosion.

During the 1970s, according to Shannon himself, there were many explosions in American gas pipelines where fractures had occurred as a result of thin, corroded parts of the pipeline. The companies preferred to pay compensation rather than to look for methods of identifying possible problems.

New Scientist in an article in the 30 July 1981 issue, page 288, discusses the problem and the solution in more detail than I give here. Pipeline pigs to identify loss of shape were already known, but British Gas developed the concept to look for loss of thickness in the walls of the pipeline. The pig is wafted along by the gas and rings of magnets means it can assess magnetic field and hence the thickness of pipes. The data was digitised and stored on a tape recorder which was analysed when the pig was retreived later. Looking for stress cracks was more complex, and ultrasonic sensors were attached to the pigs to carry out this function.

It is not easy for the non-specialist such as myself to trace the relevant patents but here is a list of four in the sector by British Gas. The drawing below is from GB2260613 in that list, "Magnetic inspection machine."

Magnetic inspection machine 

It cost British Gas £47 million developing the technology, according to the New Scientist article, but the company was able to license the technology very widely. The concept has of course been developed over the years.

There was also the problem of getting the pig into the pipeline in the first place, hence the interestingly named Pig launcher patent application (more mundanely titled "Guiding of a device" when the patent was granted).

19 September 2011

American patent law reform

The Leahy-Smith Patent Reform Act, otherwise known as the America Invents Act (AIA), has become law following President Obama's signature.

The text of the act, H.R. 1249, is hard going and the USPTO's America Invents Act: Effective Dates document is a useful listing of the key provisions as well as giving the dates the legislation becomes active.

Perhaps most of interest to those in the rest of the world is that the USA will, for patent applications published on or after the 16 March 2013, become a first-to-file country. This means that in case of conflict between patent applications for the same subject matter, it will be the earlier filing rather than invention date that is vital. The filing date could be in another country under the Paris Convention, where the applicant wanted US protection. Now all countries will use first-to-file, although Brad Pedersen and Justin Woo argue in some detail that it's not quite the same regime.

It has been said that this change will hurt small companies and private inventors, and will encourage quick, perhaps premature filings to avoid possible disputes. It could be argued, though, that the cost (and uncertainty) of the old "interference" actions to determine the date of novelty for the parties involved will vanish, as will the associated costs for the USPTO.

Other provisions concern official fees, where, broadly speaking, small entities and those filing electronically benefit, while there is a 15% rise in most fees, and those who want quick processing can pay a $4500 surcharge. President Obama had pointed out that there was a backlog of 700,000 patent applications waiting to be "opened", and for many getting priority would be worth it. Others would say that it is unfair that money gives you an advantage.

There are other provisions to do with, for example, challenging a granted patent within one year. The USPTO itself says "The new law will afford more certainty for patent applicants and owners, and provide the USPTO the resources needed to operate efficiently and issue high-quality patents."

15 September 2011

Trends in the computer games industry

WiiAs part of the Library’s work to engage with the creative industries, my colleague Fran Taylor has been finding out some of the key facts and figures about the UK games sector.  We’d like to encourage games makers to use our collections for inspiration and contextual research and to use the Business & IP Centre to commercialise their ideas. Fran used the Business & IP Centre’s resources to gather it all together, including reports from Euromonitor, Datamonitor and online NESTA reports.

1.    In 2009, the global video gaming market was estimated to be worth approximately $72.2bn. It is expected to grow by 5.1% during the period 2009–14, to reach $92.5bn in 2014. Software revenues are worth 69.4% of total revenues.

2.    The UK video games industry was worth £2.8bn in 2010, which is bigger than its music or film industries.

3.    In the UK, the most popular brands are the Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Kinect and Call of Duty.

4.    Almost one third of all people older than 16 in the UK describe themselves as ‘gamers’ (with an equal breakdown between men and women).  The percentage goes up to 74% for people between the ages of 16 and 19.

5.    One in every two UK houses owns a video games console.

6.    The profile of the industry is changing, with a new breed of games developers working as sole-traders, freelancers and in small companies. Growth is expected at the lower end of the price range, i.e. online and mobile games.

7.    The online gaming segment is rapidly gaining traction and is gradually overtaking the PC and console gaming segments. Business Insights forecasts that online gaming revenues will increase from $13.2bn in 2009 to $25.3bn in 2014.

8.    The global PC gaming market was estimated at a value of $4.5bn in 2009, and is likely to erode to $4.3bn by 2014, posting a decline in of 0.9% CAGR during the period.

9.    Mobile games are the fastest growing segment of the video gaming market, with a forecast CAGR of 14.4% during the period 2009–14. Increasing mobile and 3G and 4G penetration are the key market drivers.

10.    Emerging technologies that are in a much more advanced stage of development include thought-based games, motion sensors, connected TV and HTML5.


Effective Writing And Communications with Kimberly Davies and Steve Trister

Kimberly_DavisYesterday I attended another of Kimberly DaviesMarketing Masters days. This time the topic was Effective Writing And Communications and featured guest speaker Steve Trister the creator of Performance Dynamite.

I not sure if Kimberly is a geographer at heart, but the four days I have attended have been located in south, east, north and now west London. I’m not sure where she will go next now we have covered all four compass points.

One of the consequences of moving to a new location each time, is that the rooms often have technical glitches with the sound or vision, or in yesterdays case, both.

Kimberly copes with these challenging starts to the day with an impressive level of  professionalism and humour.

steve_TristerKimberly spoke for most of the day and was excellent, however the highlight of the day for me was actor and business coach Steve Trister the from Performance Dynamite..

He walked to front of the room wearing a doctors mask and mumbled something to. That got our attention. He then asked us to name the number one disease in business. We came up with a range of suggestions, but failed to give the correct answer; Vomiticus Contentinaatum – otherwise known as puking content, or verbal diarrhoea.

I have to admit that working in one of the largest libraries in the world with over 150 million items in our collection, this is a disease I am all too well aware of falling prey to.

The cure to this disease is to make an emotional connection with your audience (of one or more). This of course is much easier to say than to do. So you need to prepare, by building the right mindset.

You need to tell yourself every day that you are already connected to your audience, then you need to mentally rehearse by visualising the event in advance (some of which will be scripted, and some not). This is similar to the way professional athletes prepare for a competition.

You need to be clear on the emotion you want to conjure up, be in state (or in the moment with no distractions), and to commit 100% to the performance.

Steve had investigated the famous research by Albert Mehrabian on non-verbal communication. He found the commonly quoted result, that clues from spoken words, from the voice tone, and from the facial expression, contribute 7 %, 38 %, and 55 % respectively to the total meaning, is wrong, as it it relates only to the communication of positive versus negative emotions.

Our voice is critical to how we communicate to our audience, changes in vocal emphasis (the stress we put on specific words) can completely change the meaning of what we saying. He asked how often do we take note of how we are actually speaking. He explained that our tongues are muscles, so we should exercise them using tongue twisters.

He also covered body language and the use of gestures, and how these can be used to reinforce or undermine our verbal messages. He said we should practice expressing our business activity in the form of charades. This made my mind boggle at how I could show the British Library through mime.

Steve illustrated each of these points with victims (sorry volunteers) from the audience, and guided them through. For the final example he had a professional photographer give an excellent and clear mime of his business.

Finally he said we should find an emotional story that will relate to your audience.

Needless to say Steve used all of these techniques during one of the most engaging and memorable presentations I have ever seen.

You can see a YouTube video of Steve in action, and an interview with

Here are my notes from the rest of the excellent day:

Learn the 20 rules of communication that should never be broken

Kimberly’s no. 1 life lesson;
“You can reach anyone in the world with, seven phone calls or less, saying the right thing.”

Statistics show that 50% of marketing spend is wasted.

Led to the idea for Sarsaparilla – to detox your marketing – Marketing Purification

Definition of marketing
Anything that affects the perception of your company. From logos to staff behaviour.

You are exposed to 4,000 brands every day. So how does your business stand out?

Know your audience
-    Who is your target market?
-    Who is your idea client / decision maker?
-    What motivates them?
-    Profile (gender, age, health, wealth, culture, interests, position, salary, budget, etc)

Then put yourself into their shoes.
-    How can you make their life easier?
-    What is in it for them?

Then find your voice (written language).
-    Who would narrate your content?
-    Think of a character of personality best suited – perhaps Steven Fry for the British Library
-    Who would your audience relate to and want to hear? Admire? Look up to? Believe
-    Imagine their voice each time you create marketing content

-    Ten words that best describe your business – For the Business & IP Centre: innovation, inventions, information, support, advice, help, entrepreneurs, business-startup,
-    One word that best describe your business – knowledge

Unique Selling Point
-    What truly makes your business unique – For the Business & IP Centre: The largest free collection of free market research and business information in the world, with expert guidance.

-    You need to be the only…
-    Everyone says, great staff, customer service etc. That is not unique
-    Sarsaparilla – the only marketing purification agency
-    Try to be everything to everyone and you will be nothing to no one.

-    Write down misconceptions about your company and industry
o    The British Library is a only accessible to senior academics and authors.
o    The British Library is a very big public library.
o    The British Library only has books.

-    Stronger to have others say it for you
-    One to address each misconception – a maximum of five
-    Keep them really short
-    Use white papers and case studies

Focus on the benefits for your customers
-    List them – information, advice, contacts, training
-    What problem can you solve?
-    How can you make their life easier? – a clearer view of what they need to do to start their business

Key Messages
-    What are the three key things you want people to remember about your business?
o    Business & IP Centre at the British Library at St Pancras central London
o    Free workshops and advice
o    Free access to market research and business information.

-    The trust people have in your company
-    Consistency – with the rest of your business
-    People will judge you from how you look

Professional photos
-    Stock photos are too common – better to use your own commissioned ones

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid
-    You have two seconds to make an impression
-    8 year old level reading age for printed materials
-    Get straight to the point
-    Bulleted lists are good, with verbs to start
-    Every word competes

Formula for success and to avoid writers block
-    I’ve got all this information, now how do I organise it?
-    Reverse pyramid order – most important to least important
-    Start with the ‘lead’ – who, what, where, when, how

-    Map out where you want them to go
-    Tell them what you want them to do

-    Free downloads
-    Upgrades
-    Gifts
-    Discounts
-    Occasion
-    Expiration date
-    First 10 receive
-    Etc

Call to Action
-    Create urgency
-    Why should I stop what I’m doing and buy NOW?
-    Now or lose your audience

Ask questions – keep the dialogue going
-    Show a sincere interest
-    Surveys, feedback, phone
-    What questions would you want to know for market research?

-    How can you connect your business to current news?
-    Have an opinion
-    Share your views – become an expert

The Elevator Pitch
-    What is it?
-    The most important tool
-    People decide whether to file or forget you
-    Get everyone in the company to memorise
-    Use it everywhere – keep it consistent – brochures, home page, flyers etc

The who, what, where, when and how of your business

I still think Sarsaparilla’s elevator pitch is the best I have come across;

50% of marketing is wasted. Sarsaparilla is a marketing consulting and training agency that specialises in marketing purification – the process of detoxing your marketing, protecting you from The Flash, Fluff, and Fakers, and helping you make more money with less.

13 September 2011

The Patent Blog, live

The British Library is hosting a free evening event on the 4 October called "The Patent Blog - Live".

I relish the opportunity to meet any of my readers who would like to come along, and questions and debate will be welcomed both for me and for the UK Intellectual Property Office's Nigel Hanley. There will be a certain emphasis on patents in software and computing and how they are protected. For example, Nigel will explain about the "Peer to Patent" initiative, which helps the Office determine if an invention in software and related areas is really new.

Patents and the media has also been suggested as an area for debate -- do the media often get things wrong, such as the (fictitious) "world patent" I often hear about. 

The event runs from 18.00 to 20.00 at our Business & IP Centre, and while it is free, it is essential to book. More information is given at this page