In through the outfield blog

17 posts from November 2011

30 November 2011

New research into patenting and innovation

WIPO has just published its 2011 World Intellectual Property Report: the changing face of innovation.

Its 184 pages packs in a huge number of tables giving data about research and development, technology transfer, patent pools, innovation by universities and the like. It looks like a very useful reference for anyone interested in such topics.

The report's arguments as summarised in the Executive Summary are that the geography of innovation is changing, although "high-income countries" still dominate R & D; it is more international; it is more collaborative and open; IP ownership has become more central to business thinking; knowledge markets based on IP products are becoming more important; patent portfolio races complicate cumulative innovation processes; patents facilitate specialization and learning; and so on. It also says that market forces do not always lead to "desirable levels" of collaboration, and that academia is doing more now in patenting and commercialising their research.

Also recently published are two UK-focused reports.

The first report is Patenting in the UK by Dr Victor Zhiromirsky of PatAnalyse Limited and Mick McLean and Jeremy Klein of Technologia Limited.

They suggest that each patent is equivalent to about £2 million in R & D expenditure. Their analysis also suggests that about 44% of UK-origin patents are by companies filing 5 patents or more annually; 40% from those that file fewer than 5; 8% from universities, and 8% by private inventors. Some inventors form a company and then file, of course, and some universities sell or license their inventions to others who then appear as the applicants in the patents.

Tables in the report are also used to show "clustering" within technical sectors by companies.

The second report is UK patent attorneys by the same Dr Zhiromirsky.

Based on the same format, it has some fascinating statistics about individual patent attorney firms and their activities in the UK and abroad. The report suggests that 58% of UK-origin patents are handled by patent attorney firms; 25% by non-attorneys (mostly by the inventors themselves ?); and 17% by in-house patent attorneys working for industrial companies.

The report also discusses the loss of business at the European Patent Office to Munich-based attorneys.

29 November 2011

Jottify, a website for writers

Jottify is a website where writers can "share, read and sell". I was told about it by its founder a few days ago, when he was explaining it at one of our free meetings where new entrepreneurs can discuss their business ventures.

He mentioned that BBC's Click was going to mention him on their TV broadcast at the weekend. It did indeed, about 20 minutes and 30 seconds into it -- with comments like "nice" and "homely feel". Here is the episode (UK users only). It is easy to navigate, and its interactivity encourages comment and voting on favourite pieces of writing. I can see if becoming a popular site for those who love writing.

We normally see those wanting to set up a business at an earlier stage -- the site has been live for months -- so we discussed ideas for the future.

So who is the founder ? He is a pleasant and enthusiastic man, who has extensive experience of building websites to encourage writers. He's a bit shy on the site, but you can find his picture if you click on "About" on the bottom left of the home page -- the "founder, developer and designer": Jack Lenox.

28 November 2011

Boost your business growth with the 2011 Leadership and Management Grant

grow_header1Many thanks to Alasdair Inglis from our partners Grow, the small business marketing experts, for passing on this information:

Although specialist business advice is usually beyond the reach of most SMEs, the new LMAS £1,000 match-funded grant provides ambitious, fast-growing businesses with a great opportunity to access Grow’s Business Growth Programme

The key eligibility criteria for the government grant are:
  • You are an existing business with growth potential
  • You have a minimum of two people working in the business (ie yourself and one other)
  • The grant is match-funded, so you pay £2,000 and receive a £1,000 reimbursement from the government.

Football goal line technology inventions

We may be getting closer to using technology to determine goal line decisions in football -- did the ball cross the line or not ?

It has been announced that an independent authority commissioned by FIFA is currently testing nine different systems, and will report in July 2012. FA General Secretary Alex Horne says that the accepted technology could be in place as early as the 2012/2013 season.

It's hard to make a definitive list of relevant inventions, but here is a stab at it, patents on goal line technology which is based on ECLA class A63B71/06B, which is for "decision makers and devices using detection means facilitating arbitration" in sports.

These include a Taiwan origin invention where both the ball and the boundaries of the field are equipped with RFIDs.

The best known contender is probably Hawkeye®, which comes from Roke Manor Research, in Romsey, Hampshire. These are the published patent specifications based on their technology. The image below shows how its triangulation method using multiple viewpoints could be used in cricket. This is the system currently used in tennis and snooker as well as in cricket.

Hawkeye technology image

There is also for example Goalminder, invented by two Bolton Wanderers fans after their team was not allowed a goal, which resulted in the team being relegated, and Cairos GLT, a German system.

24 November 2011

Open Innovation: Working with others to make new ideas fly

My colleague Nigel Spencer, Research and Business Development Manager reports on our exciting workshop next Monday 29 November:


Do you have access to all the skills, knowledge, experience and perspectives needed to develop innovative products and services within your own organisation?

No matter how large that organisation is, it is highly unlikely that you do.  If you seek input from other businesses, often in different sectors, customers, and others you are much more likely to identify innovative ideas and solutions and to build the type of partnerships which will help you turn those ideas into sustainable products and services.  This simple premise is the basis of open innovation.

Stefan Lindegaard 15inno says that people should view  open innovation as ‘a philosophy or a mindset that they should embrace within their organization. This mindset should enable their organization to work with external input to the innovation process just as naturally as it does with internal input’.

So,you should not look at  open innovation as a rigid business or innovation model. It  is a shorthand that describes a diverse range of engagement and collabration activity with differing levels of formality and structure.  Examples of these include crowdsourcing, online competitions, online jams and more closely facilitated relationships. There are many examples of  global corporations that have applied open innovation methods. These include  ‘Orange’, Procter & Gamble, Boots, Lego and Virgin Atlantic but the growth in social media and online open innovation platforms like Innocentive, mean that anyone can find a way of applying open innovation principles.

However, if you are looking to embrace the world of open innovation, or even dip your toe in the water, a number of perceived and genuine barriers and challenges may make you hesitate. Some of these are:

  • How to make the contacts needed with external organisations and people and develop long-term mutually beneficial relationships. This a particular concern if the businesses are of differing sizes.
  • How to overcome the internal organisational cultures which may be uncomfortable with the kind of openness, transparency and perceived loss of direct control which are involved in applying these ideas.
  • How to protect ideas and creative outputs when these are being shared and an uncertainty as to how intellectual property fits into an open innovation environment.

On 29 November 2011 the BL is hosting a half-day conference which looks at these challenges head on.  It is called ‘Open Innovation: The Challenges & Solutions’.

We have brought together a great selection of experts and practitioners from organisations like 100% Open, Creative Barcode, Procter and Gamble and Quantum Innovation Centre to debate these issues.

More information and booking on the event.

The event is part of an EU-funded Interreg IVB NEW project called The Open Innovation Project.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – A monster of a book about a monster of a man

Steve_Jobs_by_Walter_IsaacsonMany thanks to Debbie Epstein for giving me this amazing book as a present.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson is the only authorised story of the life and death of one of the most influential figures of the last 50 years, who died on 5 October this year, aged 56, from pancreatic cancer.

The book is something of a monster at 627 pages, and chronicles Steve Jobs‘ life from his childhood, through the creation and early days of Apple computers, his battles with Microsoft, his sacking and 12 year later return to the company he founded. Isaacson managed to interview Jobs himself over forty times, and tracked down more than a hundred friends, family, colleagues, competitors and adversaries.

I found it a compelling read, and managed to complete it in less than a week. It is perhaps the most honest and revealing authorised biography ever written of an industry leader. Isaacson uncovers both the amazing stories behind the revolutionary products Apple produced. However, he also reveals something of a monster of a man.

Jobs was a sensitive person, perhaps more so due to being adopted at birth, who spent several months wandering across India in his youth looking for spiritual enlightenment and followed Buddhism for the rest of his life. But he could also be the most manipulative and down-right nasty person it is possible to imagine. So much so, that his early colleagues referred to his ability to distort reality to his own ends (Reality distortion field even has its own Wikipedia entry).

Having been something of a computer nerd as a teenager in the mid-1970s I first came across his creations in the form of an Apple II computer. As you can see it was some way from the sleek and sexy design of the more recent iMacs. So reading the story of how Jobs and Steve Wozniak developed these machines made for riveting reading.

Apple II computer

Although he made many mistakes along the way, as well as many enemies, and a trail of broken colleagues, his vision and passion resulted in products which have truly revolutionised the computer industry, and made Apple the most valuable company in the world.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Steve Jobs was that he never felt the need to conduct market research (something we recommend all our clients in the Business & IP Centre should do). Instead he worked on creating ‘insanely great’ products people would discover they didn’t know they needed until they saw them.

23 November 2011

Make it, Sell it in the Business & IP Centre at the British Library

Many thanks to Fran Taylor for this report on Make it, Sell it:

On Friday we ran the very first of our ‘Make it, Sell it’ events, designed to help jewellery and crafts makers to commercialise their designs.

Around 90 makers came to the Business & IP Centre networking area during the day.  In a ‘speed dating’ style format, they got to meet some great names from brands such as Etsy, Real Business, Tatty Devine, Folksy, Artquest, the Design Trust and Wolf & Badger.

In what was described by Time Out as “an Antiques Roadshow-esque” show and tell, attendees could also bring along their work. I loved all the products on show, but here were some of the ones that caught my eye:

Camilla Smith-Westergaard from Butterscotch & Beesting has designed an amazing range of circus and magic inspired confectionery. She has created a really distinct and strong brand through her own illustrations.

Butterscotch & Beesting Circus

Laura Brannon produces unusual, fine-art style pieces of jewellery under the theme of ‘Dead lights’.   She reuses household materials from shower heads to rubber and foam.

Laura Brannon lucy

Belinda from Bels Art World produces fantastic illustrations in the form of calendars, bags, cards and zines.

Bels Art World

Last but not least, Jo Cameron of Wild Fowl Designs makes contemporary earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets.  This was one of my favourite designs from her range, which Jo also wore on the day. It’s always good to wear your own products…

Wild Fowl Designs

17 November 2011

BP and its patent applications for silicon solar cells

MIT's Technology Review has an interesting article called "How BP Blew its Chance to Spearhead a Solar Innovation". BP had published in 2007 details of a process for transforming raw silicon into large cubes of crystalline silicon, which would be very useful in constructing solar panels, but they dropped the concept -- and the Chinese have learnt from the patent documents.

The cubes that are made can be sliced into wafers for use in solar panels. Every manufacturer is trying to cut costs, and this is especially important in renewable energy, where efforts are made to achieve parity at least with the costs of conventional power sources. The article implies that the new technology would mean an 8% efficiency gain in manufacture.

BP demonstrated the technology in 2006 at a trade show and then published two patent applications.

One was published as an American application in 2007, Methods and apparatuses for manufacturing geometric multicrystalline cast silicon and geometric multicrystalline cast silicon bodies for photovoltaics.

The other was published at the same time and a few weeks ago was republished as a granted US patent, Methods and apparatuses for manufacturing monocrystalline cast silicon and monocrystalline cast silicon bodies for photovoltaics. Below is its main drawing.

BP silicon patent image
BP continued to test the technology and then in March 2010 closed its operation and stopped developing the technology. They later sold the rights to Dutch company AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group, who are making some sales but in a difficult market due to the world recession and, sometimes, the withdrawal of subsidies.

Meanwhile, it seemed that several Chinese companies were working on the same technology. One of these was Suntech, the largest solar cell manufacturer in the world. They have now begun selling solar cells based on the concept.

Roger Clark, who at the time was part of BP's research effort, is quoted as saying that BP was very conservative and wanted to ensure that the resulting wafers were very stable.

Suntech's Chief Technology Officer, Stuart Wenham, says that Suntech got the ideas from an inventor called Fred Schmid whose patents were about to expire. He had formed a company called Crystal Systems and was working on making crystals out of sapphire, and had tried applying the technology to silicon. This is the Frederick Schmid who has a number of US patent documents.

The inventor in BP's applications, Nathan Stoddard, also says he learned from Schmid's work -- from a former employee at Crystal Systems.

It just shows that the old patents can often be a valuable source of information and inspiration, even if the technology sometimes needs to be adapted.