In through the outfield blog

17 posts from April 2012

26 April 2012

The Apprentice hits the mark with gourmet street food

Lucky_ChipThis evening’s Apprentice shows the show’s researchers have their ears to the ground with regard to the latest trend in street food retailing.

Pop-up shops selling gourmet fast food is all the rage in the trendier parts of London these days.

Luckily the Kings Cross development area is just one such place, with its Eat Street, just up the road from the updated eponymous station, and literally across the road from the recently opened University of the Arts.

I have been lured over to this new venture on numerous occasions, despite the relatively high prices compared to traditional fast food outlets. But the food has always been worth it, with a notable spicy burger which had a real bite to it.

As was pointed out during this weeks Apprentice episode, branding is a key element of any enterprise, and some of the stalls in Eat Street certainly have memorable names. My favourites are Daddy Donkey, Well Kneaded Ltd, Yum Bun, Hardcore Prawn, and Eat my Pies.

Tongue-n-cheekHowever, I think that Tongue ‘n Cheek needs to find a way make its delicious sounding underrated meat cuts and Italian inspired street food treats, such as Ox cheek with caramelized onions and polenta, a bit more accessible given the queue size I observed the other day.

These names certainly compare favourably to the Apprentice team’s choices of Gourmet Scot Pot and Utterly delicious Meatballs.


25 April 2012

Spelling errors in patents

The IPKat blog has reported on the appearance of an academic paper by three German authors, The impact of spelling errors on patent search. It is in fact about errors in giving the names of patent assignees/ applicants.

It was rather hard reading but seems to say that the number of errors in giving company names in US Patent Office records went down from 6.5% to 4.7% between 2001 and 2010 in a sample of 3100 company names. That means that at least one error occurred in those names. The main sufferers were Koninklijke Philips Electronics, 45 misspellings in 2008, and Centre national de la recherche scientifique, with 28 in 2009.

This suggests manual keying in to me, and the solution surely lies in electronic data supplied by the applicants, together ideally with a thesaurus of known names so that a computer prompts a check each time an unknown spelling is used.

Important as this is, my own interest is more in incorrect wordings in titles and the summaries. I had a look to see how often “gold club” is used when golf club is meant. As of the time of writing, the phrase “gold club(s)” appeared 90 times in titles in the free Espacenet database. Of these, 45 were from Japan, and 27 from the USA (2 being Design Patents).

Espacenet will only correct spellings if their version is different from the original. In other words, if the original patent misspelt it, it stays misspelt. Of the 3 British entries among those 90, there is indeed Gold club cart, which was published in 1985, but the other two are errors in transcription or scanning.

I would not blame Espacenet alone – the Free Patents Online database for example reported 1154 hits for “gold club(s)” among US applications and grants, which does include designs and the full text. Food for thought, certainly.

24 April 2012

The European Union Patent and Unitary Court

The discussions – arguments, if you like – over the European Union Patent and Unitary Court have been rumbling on for many years.

When I attended the International Patent Forum 2012 last week here in London I entered the conference hall in the middle of a discussion of the Unitary Patent. The complicated issues involved in this are explained in detail in the Wikipedia article but here is a brief summary of the issues.

Before 1978 those who wanted patent protection in Europe needed to apply to each country’s patent office. Each would decide separately if a patent would be allowed, and renewal or maintenance fees would be paid separately.

Since 1978 there has been the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich. Many countries have joined it over the years and it is now required that new states in the EU join it. With hindsight membership should, perhaps, have been confined to EU members, but Switzerland and Norway are members, for example. This means that it is not possible to suggest that its patents are converted to EU patents.

The EPO means that a single patent application covering most of Europe can be made, and the Office decides if a patent will be allowed. The patent specifications can be published in English, French or German, although the claims in the patent grant must always be in all three languages. After publication of the granted patent, there is an opposition period during which the patent can be attacked at the EPO’s own court. This may results in revocation or an amended patent if for example it lacks novelty.

After that, the EPO patent grant becomes a “bundle” of patents, which confuses many. Any further attempts to attack the patent must be in a national court and only affects rights in that country. Renewal fees can be paid in one state but not paid in another, when of course it loses protection in that country. Translations into local languages were in the past often required to ensure the patent was valid (see the Wikipedia article on the London Agreement for this complicated issue).

All this means that patent protection in Europe is both expensive and risky for innovators. The European Union patent idea, which has been around since 1975, was to create a single document for validity for the entire EU with a single court to decide litigation. The granting of its patents would be run by the EPO. Publication would again be in either English, German or French.

As far as I can figure it out there are two main obstacles.

The first is that Spain and Italy are opposed to the three language regime as they feel it discriminates against their nationals. They launched legal challenges in the EU’s Court of Justice. Machine translations have been suggested to get around this, but that does not sound at all satisfactory. Incidentally the text of the European Patent Convention is considered valid in all three languages, which has caused problems when for example the exact meaning of the word “species” is discussed in a court case.

The second obstacle is where to put the Unitary Court to decide on all litigation. While Munich itself has been suggested, the idea of separate courts for London, Paris and Munich to decide on cases in those languages has been suggested. There are also issues concerning how it would work, its funding, and whether the concept is legal within the EU framework.

After over 35 years it will be interesting – doubtful ? -- if a solution is quickly achieved.

23 April 2012

Let our Industry Guides show you the way

industry guides

I was rather surprised to discover this morning that I have failed to blog about our wonderful Industry Guides. This is even more of a crime when I consider how my colleagues have toiled over them every six-months to hand-pick the best information for researching key industries.

Although by no means comprehensive (not really possible in the British Library due to our vast range of content), these guides highlight useful databases, publications and websites, hopefully in an industry or topic you want to research.

Below is a list of our current guides:

Open Innovation: an event at the British Library

The topic of open innovation -- how to facilitate ideas coming to a company or other organisation from outside so that it can be further developed -- has become one of great interest to many.

The British Library is hosting a free workshop on the topic on the 21 May in London, Preparing for Open Innovation. There will be four speakers, including Nigel Spencer of the British Library (my manager, as it happens), as the British Library is one of the partners in the Open Innovation Project. I intend to be there.

"Collaborate to innovate" is the motto of OpenInnovation, who have a useful list of links. Another useful site is 15inno.

The first academic book on the topic was Open innovation: researching a new paradigm, published in 2006 by OUP. Procter and Gamble were perhaps the first large company to use it in a big way to bring in ideas thought of or developed outside the company, often by private inventors or small companies. Formerly 10-15% of their new products originated from outside the company, and this is now over 50%, a figure which was in fact a goal -- after all, they reasoned, most engineers and scientists in the world don't work for P & G. Applications are welcomed through their Connect + Develop page.

Another company that actively welcomes new product ideas is Reckitt Benckiser, which also has many household products, through their RB-Idealink page.

20 April 2012

Searching the old patents: France

France has a database of its patent data from 1791 to 1844, and intends to add material to 1902, at Brevets français 19e siècle. It is entirely in French.

Those who want to search material before about 1850 have, really, only three good possibilities: the USA, England, and France. It is very useful to have the French data available in this way on a free database.

Content can be searched for by title word, applicant name, address, or profession. It contains for example four patents by Robert Fulton between 1798 and 1801. As many of the American patents before 1836 have been lost due to a fire this is potentially a useful way to trace such material.

In the hit list, if you "voir la notice" you get a printable summary of content, while if you click on "voir la dossier" you get a set of manuscript pages, which in the case of the first listed Fulton patent was 68 pages long. Even for those who know French these could be hard going.

The British Library has in storage a published set of volumes containing those French patents that were printed (which only applied if the first year's renewal or maintenance fee was paid), and the material covered so far in the database corresponds to our Série I "tomes", for 1791 to 1844. They are somewhat awkward to use as they are only roughly in date order, and the drawings are at the back, separate from the text. Each volume is indexed but we also have on the open shelves of our Business & IP Centre an index by subject to 1876 (compiled by the USPTO, and hence in English) and various name indexes.

19 April 2012

An Aga Saga blog – to write home about

aga-ladyI last blogged about Aga cookers way back in June 2008 (Aga goes Web 2.0). Well, they have finally seen the social media light (Blogging for fun and profit) and started a blog.

Rather painfully it is called The World According to Lady Aga, I’m guessing Lady Gaga is unlikely to take action, as she has against Moshi Monsters (Lady Gaga wins injunction against Lady Goo Goo) and the Icecreamists (Milking a story for all it’s worth). After all the AGA brand is nearly 60 years older than Lady G.

On the positive side, it does publish some interesting facts about the expensive cookers (AGA inventor was a Nobel Prize winner), as well as some tasty recipes. And, more importantly, it has a sense of humour, with AGA Characters: Retired Rock Chick, and AGA Characters: Yummy Mummy just two examples.

So the occasional post about new product launches or expansion into new territories can be easily forgiven.

18 April 2012

The law of unintended consequences and e-books – Fifty Shades of Grey

50_shades_of_greyThe law of unintended consequences is an interesting topic in its own right, with perhaps the most well known example being the unexpected use of text messaging on mobile telephones.

The latest example according to David Sexton in the Evening Standard is the way e-book readers have allowed more women to read adult fiction. Apparently the lack of a racy cover and give-away title when reading a discretely packaged Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad, allows more and more women to indulge their tastes in public. No longer do they need to fear the snorts of derision or disapproving looks as they plough their way through the latest Bodice ripper.

Apparently the growth in e-books (one in eight of adult fiction books is now purchased digitally) has allowed for a rapid growth in what some call ‘Mommy porn‘, or literotica.

The UK market leader in this genre is E L James and her début adult romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey. According to her official website;

E_L_JamesE L James is a TV executive, wife and mother-of-two based in West London. Since early childhood she dreamed of writing stories that readers would fall in love with, but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and her career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

It is claimed 250,000 copies have already been sold in different formats, and has topped the New York Times Bestseller list.

So, the next time you see a fellow commuter looking a bit hot and bothered, it may not be due to the faulty heating system on the train, but caused by something hot and steamy in her e-book reader.