In through the outfield blog

15 posts from February 2012

29 February 2012

The Common Citation Document for patent search reports

In the complicated world of patent searching a new tool is available to help analyse data in patent search reports.

When patent specifications are published many countries publish search reports listing earlier documents or “prior art”, mostly patents, that are of some similarity. This information is vital to the applicant, of course, as it will determine if the invention will be allowed.

Others will find the search reports of interest. Many countries publish this data on the first, A document rather than the later granted B document. This means that if an application is published there is a ready source of information on possibly damaging prior art to help those wanting to stop the patent or simply interested in new technology.

The normal approach is to look at each patent authority’s document for the same invention in turn. Now the Trilateral Offices (the USA, Japan and the European Patent Office) have put up a free tool, the Common Citation Document site.

You can enter a patent number and see different reports listed one after the other on the same screen. Look for example for US7479949, widely regarded as the main patent for the iPhone®.

It occurs to me that it would be useful to have a method to highlight, perhaps as an optional page, those citations that turn up the most times – so that if a patent is cited by say three patent offices it suggests that they are likely to be of special relevance.  

What I found really fascinating at the site is the “Inspector”, where on the right hand side of the page the classifications allocated by the different offices appear one after the other. Classifying patent documents must be very difficult, and sometimes offices allocate different classes to those by other offices.  

Take for example EP2015321, which is for magnetic cores. The European Patent Office, China and Japan all gave the same 5 International Patent Classification (IPC) classes.

The USA, on the other hand, gave 4 classes, only one of which was included within the 5. This may be related to the fact that at present the US office allocates the IPC by using a computerised concordance from their own classification scheme.

In addition there is EC (European Classification) data. This is independently applied by staff at the European Patent Classification to the invention, often with special, detailed subsets of the IPC. There are 8 EC classes for the invention – only 2 of which fall within the same classes as found by the offices (both being in the EPO/China/Japan listings).

Or take EP2097145, for a toy vehicle. The US gives a different, more specific class from the other offices’ class, while Canada adds a second class to the others. EC gives 3 classes – all different from those 3 different classes. You could, admittedly, use the broad A63H17/00 and ask for everything within it which in this case would work, but it would pick up a lot, and classification is meant to narrow down what is found.

These two examples were chosen entirely at random, and give food for thought. Maybe a large sample should be analysed ? Each search, at least in unfamiliar subject areas, should include carefully checking how the classes have been used by the offices.

These results may not be typical, and I do appreciate the great problems in classifying in a pressurised work environment. Nevertheless they do show that patent searching is a complex art and not, as some think, a simple, automated procedure.

28 February 2012

Create, innovate, protect at the British Library

Last night the British Library hosted a free event, "Create, innovate, protect" where the UK IPO hosted an explanation of the importance of intellectual property rights to business.

There were four talks in the auditorium followed by networking at the stands outside. The first was by  Dave Hopkins, of the UK IPO, who explained the different types of protection. Particularly memorable was his story about the much advertised George Foreman® Grill. Apparently it wasn't selling very well and the company asked George Foreman, the boxer, if he would give his name to the product. He agreed, and began receiving millions of dollars in royalties as sales took off.

The invention itself is apparently based on George Boehm's Electrical cooker patent. Here is the main drawing.

George Foreman grill patent image
The point of the Foreman story is adding value by using brands. It's hard to compete on price with the big boys -- so why not add value such as a popular brand (and the man himself advertising "his" grill on TV, as well) ? In this case instead of building up brand recognition they began with the name of a well known person.

Dave was followed by Jan Vleck of patent attorneys Reddie & Grose, explaining the role of attorneys in not just writing the patent document but giving advice and support in working out an IP strategy.

Then there was our very own Neil Infield, Manager of our Business & IP Centre, who has his own blog, In through the outfield, talking about what the British Library has to offer.

Stefan Knox of Bang Creations, a product designer company, rounded off the session. He used his experiences in improving and modifying designs to tell fascinating (well, very interesting!) anecdotes about what really happened in cables to secure laptops, sun loungers, a seating invention of his own design...

Afterwards the crowds went out into the foyer and were able to ask questions at the stands. I'm glad to say that we were all besieged. I talked to lots of people, giving what advice I could and suggesting our free one to one meetings about business ideas. The problem as always is giving useful information to people without being too broad and sweeping, as problems often can't be solved (let alone explained, or analysed) quickly.

27 February 2012

The UK Government's Foresight Programme

The British Government has since 1994 sponsored a Foresight Programme which, under the banner of the Business department, examines future issues such as manufacturing and science priorities (though its remit is broader).

It recently published a Technology and innovation futures: UK growth opportunities for the 2020s report which is packed with interesting reading.

Pages 25-34 lists “technology clusters” such as a smart electricity grid and plastic electronics where the UK is considered to have promise in developing new products. This section lists “annex sections” of topics within such clusters. These annexes are explained in detail in the Technology Annex which amounts to nearly 200 pages.

The Programme is currently working on the closely related Future of Manufacturing project, which does not report until the Autumn of 2013.

24 February 2012

Make it in Great Britain

The British Government has launched a Make it in Great Britain website. It is a "campaign aiming to transform outdated opinions of modern manufacturing and dispel the myth that Britain ‘doesn’t make anything anymore’."

It is a competition looking for entries in six categories. It is a requirement that the product is to be manufactured in the UK. The deadline for submitting entries is the 5 April, and shortlisted entries will be showcased in a rolling exhibition at the Science Museum during July to September.

Visitors each week will vote on their favourites, and the winners will be announced in September.

The categories are:

 Make it…Stronger
 Make it…Smarter;
 Make it…Sustainable;
 Make it…Life changing; and
 Make it…Breakthrough (for 16-21 year old entrants only)

There is no actual prize as such other than a lot of publicity for successful entrants.

This sounds like an exciting and ambitious competition and should attract a lot of interest.

23 February 2012

Early US patent coverage in the Espacenet database

The free Espacenet database has recently expanded its coverage of US patents before 1920. It has been possible for a long time to search from 1836 by patent number, but now options by class, title or name may be possible.

The sheet explaining US holdings is not in my opinion quite accurate (or easy to follow), and I've experimented, giving me the impression that, with gaps, coverage is good from about 1870 by ECLA class, and from about 1900 by title word or by name of inventor or applicant (assignee).

Previously information was only comprehensive, or pretty much so, from 1920 for these fields. Summary and a representative drawing are available from about 1972 only.

These changes mean that a lot of material is available for those interested in historical technology.

For those unfamiliar with it, the ECLA classes can be searched for by using the Classification tab in the Advanced format, and keyword searching. You can also move around within the classes by clicking on other classes or on broader classes (always given above the class you are looking at). When you find a class that interests you, tick the little box next to it and then click on Copy. The class is transferred to a new search page where US can be entered in the publication number field.

For example I searched for "stirrups" and got a list of possibilities. Clicking on either that word or the class, B68C3 gives me the contents of that class. I selected "one-legged stirrup". I added in the limit US in the publication number field and got 29 hits, of which 9 were before 1920 (starting with 1903, suspiciously late). 

It would be helpful if the database allowed searching by date range for all its collection, as I find that often doing this (in the publication date field in the format 1940:1950 for 1940-50) finds nothing for a given search even though the data is actually there. An algorithm based on each country's publication numbers ought to do it. This may have caused problems with finding pre 1903 material in the example given above.

22 February 2012

A refreshing cup of coffee half-way down the piste

Starbucks_squaw_valleyOnce again Springwise has come up with an innovative service, this time from Starbucks. I’m off to the Alps in a few weeks time for a bit of ‘piste-bashing’, so this story caught my attention. Starbucks have opened the world’s first ski-in ski-out coffee shop on the side of a mountain.

Today 10 February 2012, Squaw Valley is officially opening the world’s first ski-in/ski-out Starbucks location.

On the mountain at elevation 8,000 feet, Squaw Valley’s new mountaintop Starbucks boasts spectacular mountain views and the unique ability for guests to keep their skis or board on while they order their Starbucks® beverage of choice.

“We worked closely with the design team at Starbucks to create a one-of-a-kind experience that we know our guests will truly enjoy,” said Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley’s president and CEO. “Nowhere else in the world can skiers and riders enjoy a delicious Starbucks coffee without missing a beat on the slopes.”

Now, you can can me an old stick in the mud, but I think the idea of whizzing down the mountain with a cup of steaming Java in my hand is taking the idea of ‘coffee on the go’ a little bit too far.

The folding electrical plug

Last Saturday's Daily Telegraph had an article announcing that "Britain's first folding plug" was going on sale that day, Folding 'Mu' plug launches in Britain.

We are used to electrical devices getting smaller, slimmer and of course more mobile. One thing that hasn't changed is the familiar electrical plug -- it's still bulky, causing size problems (and scratches) when it's bundled with a device carried in a small pouch or in a pocket. The answer was to make a new kind of plug that folded up, as explained in the article and in more detail in the patent, or less technically, shown in the video below. 


Four inventors are credited, led by Min-Kyu Choi, a Korean designer who is a graduate of the Royal College of Art. Choi is quoted in the article as saying that he was "frustrated by the dimensions of the traditional plug, and felt that the existing unit, which dates back to 1947, was out of touch and incongrous with modern design."

International protection was requested and there is already a granted British patent, Electrical plug, with its main drawing shown below.

Folding electrical plug patent image
Mu is a UK registered trade mark, no. 2592224. It's good to see it properly used with the ® symbol on the Made in Mind website for the company formed to exploit the invention. The price ? £25.

21 February 2012

Blogging for fun and profit

wordpressSorry for starting with such a cliché headline, but I am conducting a scientific blogging experiment, more of which later on.

This post (my 509th to be precise) is about why I blog, and why any start-up or small business should seriously consider blogging.

This evening I am giving a talk as part of our Web in Feb series of events. The title is Business Blog – Live, and I am looking forward to some lively debate about the whys and wherefores of blogging for business.

I have already posted up my slides on Slideshare and am happy to share some of my key points below:


Why do I blog?

  • By accident… the idea was to show a colleague how to blog
  • Because it works – 25% of traffic to the Business & IP Centre website – 200,000 hits in 4 years – comments and feedback
  • Because I enjoy it – writing about interest business ideas
  • It is easy… and free – well not quite, now I am paying $20 a year for an advert free WordPress
  • It is my memory of events and ideas – I want to be able to look back in a few years time
  • I believe it helps the reputation of the Centre… and hopefully mine too – only my readers can be the judge of that!


Why you should blog

  • To build trust – ‘real’ people vs anonymous business – this is an increasing desire from customers
  • To build an audience – you can start before you business goes live – you might even attract some pre-launch orders
  • Increase SEO without the risk – Google loves blogs-hates cheaters so keep away from search engine optimisers with ‘magical’ properties
  • Drive traffic to your website – see Google above
  • Be seen as an expert in your field – requires insightful, quality content – but hopefully you will have this if you are starting a business
  • Reach a wider market – word of mouth referrals – one post might go viral


  • With passion… and patience – wait at least six months for the numbers to come through
  • For your audience – you do know your potential customers likes and needs… don’t you?
  • Mainly about things related to your business – don’t stray too far off base
  • Headings must be ‘Ronsealed’ -
  • Regularly – a minimum of once a week
  • Content must be engaging / surprising / controversial / intriguing
  • Length must be ‘just right’ – somewhere between Stephen Fry’s blessays and Euan Semple’s The Obvious.
  • Leveraging your other social media channels – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, +Google
  • Using your web domain if possible – to maximise traffic to your website
  • Promote using contacts and ‘Blogroll’
  • Measure using built in tools or Google Analytics
  • Handling comments and spam – to moderate or tolerate comment trolls

Ah yes, back to my scientific experiment. I want to prove that even by picking a popular title for this blog post, it will still soar up the Google rankings the minute it is published. Time to find out!