In through the outfield blog

9 posts from June 2012

30 June 2012

Playback Rewards, a success story in the making

playbackrewards-logoMost of the inventors and entrepreneurs we help in the Business & IP Centre realise that it takes hard work and patience (and some luck) to become successful.

For Alistair Kelman the man behind Playback Rewards it has taken three years of seven day weeks with no holidays.

I have often seen him working in the Centre, and for the past couple of years he has been giving me regular progress reports on his patented invention. These updates have been an alternating mix of positive and negative news, as hurdles appear and then are overcome. Or amazing opportunities arrive, but then disappear again.

Alistair_KelmanThroughout this roller-coaster of events, Alistair has remained positive, and bounced back from setbacks (an essential ingredient for an entrepreneur). He has also taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to commercialising his invention (another necessary requirement – but sadly rather too rare for inventors).

For the last few months I have been waiting for permission from Alistair to talk about his invention on my blog, and now he has given me the green light. I am excited because Playback Rewards has the potential to be our biggest success story so far, by far.

Alistair started working on his ideas for revolutionising television advertising at the Centre at the beginning of 2009. He filed his first patent later that year, which was granted in February 2011. He then worked for months, almost on a daily basis at the Centre, developing, researching and refining the commercialisation of his invention.

In late 2010 Alistair ran out of money for his patent. But managed to persuade Stephen Fry to put in a little to keep the project on the road. As you can see from the video Stephen recorded ???, he liked Alistairs’ ideas and wanted to help. Then on Christmas Day 2011 his company was mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times.

Five months later Playback Holdings Ltd won a place in the semi-finals of the CISCO BIG awards, where it stands the chance of winning $100,000 for the business. Alistair feels that which everyone should know about this amazing programme.

As part of his entry for the CISCO i-prize competition Alistair has made a video Magic in your pocket which explains how the service would work.

On 6 July Playback Holdings Limited starts its Series A  fund-raising via an Financial Services Authority (FSA) approved crowdsourcing  platform called Seedrs. This innovative investment method allows ordinary people to invest between ÂŁ10 to ÂŁ100,000 in any of the start-ups on its platform.

The full story behind Playback Rewards, and where they are going is on their website

29 June 2012

Finding the patents of famous inventions

Many want to find the patents for famous inventions so that they can find out more. I have been told about a site which lists close to 500 inventions, mostly patented (the numbers are prominently given), and enables simple searches and sorting, Compare Inventors from FindtheData.

This listing is very useful, and they are accompanied by interesting comments and biographical details. An academic might ask for more such as the ability to sort by level or type of education, or by company. I have in my time been asked many strange questions by academics, but my lips are sealed as they were asked in confidence.

Also useful, and covering many more inventions (but only sometimes giving the patent number), is's Famous Inventions site.

The site I have traditionally used is the National Inventors Hall of Fame site, which consistently gives patent numbers. As the emphasis here is on the inventor rather than the invention you get what may seem odd attributions for, for example, penicillin and television.

All three only give American patent numbers only. All three sites are worth researching but the problems are a lack of source material (many inventions are disputed, such as the light bulb and electronic television) and the frequent lack of a patent number to refer to.

18 June 2012

My talk on patents at Newcastle Library

I’ll be visiting Newcastle upon Tyne on the 4 July in a free event at its Business & IP Centre, In Conversation with the patent and IP expert, from 4 to 6 pm.

It’s going to be very informal, my talking but also answering questions and joining in discussion about the role of, and importance of, patents and IP. I’ve been in the business since 1987 but as a librarian rather than a patent attorney, which is a slightly unusual approach to the subject. For a number of years we have been emphasising how IP protection has to be backed up by commercialisation by using business information, and we've had lots and lots of visitors and enquiries.

It’s an approach that Newcastle has also developed, particularly since the launch last September of its Business & IP Centre.

Like the British Library, they are working with partners to provide a range of services and activities to help innovators and business people. Since the launch, their librarians have delivered nearly 130 hours of advice on IP to clients, while partners have delivered 123 sessions on topics such as marketing, branding and tax relief. Nearly 1450 people have attended 53 events. It now means that there is a single venue for information and help in IP, as well as business, for the Northeast.

It all sounds terrific, and I’m actually going to see it for myself. I haven't been to Newcastle for many years. I’m looking forward to the evening, and hope that many sign up for this free event.

15 June 2012

The Central Saint Martins' degree show 2012

I’ve just visited the degree show at Central Saint Martins’, close to King’s Cross, and wished I had longer than an hour and a half.

There was a vast amount to see, as well as exploring the building, which only opened last Autumn in converted buildings linked or roofed by huge amounts of glass, next to the Regent’s Canal, as part of a huge regeneration project. It has several thousand students who all study art.

I paid particular attention to the product design exhibitions, of which there was lots, but the jewellery, ceramics, graphics – well, the whole place was full of exciting and stimulating work. I was delighted that a lot of the work seemed to come from working with industry to design products to meet specifications, which is a great way to learn. Many were based on saving space in our shrinking houses by using compact furniture.

Among the dozens of possibilities I’ll just pick out a few that caught my eye. Today, at least, the designer was often standing next to the exhibit to talk to.

Edouard Burgeat, the tetra project for creating miniature vertical gardens quickly out of discarded drinks containers.

Sangkeun Yu, with his hanging partition to cushion the noises that resonate around so many restaurants (something I also hate, modern restaurants seem to be designed to be noisy as they usually lack soft furnishings).

Alix Bizet, with a cupboard with a front that opens up and comes down to form a table, with the support neatly folding back to the front and looking decorative.

Thomas Radwanski’s Neptune dining table, a proposal for the John Lewis store, a transparent table that has wooden supports with a centre piece that rises when the end pieces are pulled apart, revealing for the first time metal. The transparency is deliberate to show off the bones, as it were, of the table.

Fanny Nilsson, the sound station for Urbanmiix which is a handheld wireless speaker that can be stuck onto a docking station to enhance sound and also recharge it.

Tahiya Mueen, with her multitasking bag to help mothers transport in an easy and convenient way the things they need for the baby.

Perhaps my favourite – Yifei Chai’s collapsible table that folds up out of sight like origami.

The last day of the show is the 21 June – look at their website for exact days and times.

14 June 2012

Ying EDS and their enhanced depth solution technology

Yesterday's Evening Standard had an article called A TV revolution made in London ? about Ying EDS, a company that offers an "enhanced depth solution" (EDS) to TV and film to increase the viewer's enjoyment.

The immersive feeling is only slightly inferior to 3D systems requiring the use of special glasses, and is a post-production technique rather than requiring special cameras and other equipment when filming. It costs ÂŁ21,000 per hour for television footage, while 3D for television is more like ÂŁ70,000 per hour.

The article includes clips of footage to see what it's like. EDS uses conventional 2D video frames and alters them, and -- says the article -- "works on the brain - persuading viewers that they are seeing a deeper picture than they are - rather than creating an optical illusion, circumventing another complaint made about conventional 3D: that it can give viewers a headache."

The article also says "the patented technology they have been developing in London for over a decade could now change the face of TV worldwide."

A patent ? Gosh, that would mean lots of technical details. I had a look, and could not find a published patent application by Ying EDS, which means that unless they used another name that the technology is not in fact published, yet alone patented.

What I did find -- and which can be found by doing a Google search for Ying EDS plus the word "patent", where for me at least the relevant entry was sixth in the hit list -- is the fact that on the 9 May 2012 Ying EDS filed for a British patent for "Improvements in motion pictures", with the reference GB1205141.3.

I wonder how many people finding that entry would understand that this means that the patent application will be published 18 months from that date, with a granted patent to follow if it is thought to be new. Protection in other countries is potentially available by filing abroad within 12 months of the 9 May, who also publish at 18 months from the 9 May.

It is rare for journalists to cite the actual patent when discussing a patented technology. Film and book critics, I notice, do mention the names of the films and books that they review to assist the reader who wants to know more. In this case, of course, an incorrect statement was made.

12 June 2012

Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Forward-thinking Fashion

Tonight’s excellent Inspiring Entrepreneurs event looked at different approaches to ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable fashion.

Rather than seeing ethical fashion as an add-on, our speakers are taking advantage of new technology and practical innovative business models to make them more creative and also sustainable in the long-term.

Tonight was run in partnership with  London College of Fashion’s Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) and Designer-Manufacturer Innovation Support Centre (DISC).


Christian Smith is Corporate Responsibility Manager at ASOS, and has an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from UCL. His work at ASOS includes measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, helping the company to understand its impacts and opportunities for improvement.

Annegret Affolderbach is designer and founder of Choolips, who revive  ancient textile traditions. She is passionate about sustainable fashion, and the exciting and potent future it presents for global fashion. Her range is now sold through the ASOS Green Room.

Annegret spent a year and a half after graduating collecting ideas on Post-It notes trying to work out how she could use her talent to make a positive difference to fashion in the world. She also felt the need to be inspired for her whole business career, rather than a short term goal.

Annegret spent another year travelling and listening, visiting the Gambia to learn about Batik, and how the local producers thought about their lives and impact on their local environment.

She was determined to create a product that would be harmonious to both the producers and consumers of the products, and started with just two simple dresses.

Electrobloom flowerMark Bloomfield with a background experience of designing wearable accessories for brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson and Asprey, talked about developing his own jewellery business, Electrobloom.

This has been inspired by how the worlds of nature, art, technology and science collide, he produces unique jewellery designs using 3D printing technology.

Eleanor Dorrien-Smith is the founder of PARTIMI, and graduated from Central Saint Martins with a BA in Fashion and Print. She has worked for Mary Katrantzou, Tata Naka, John Galliano and Eley Kishimoto before setting up PARTIMI. After creating a capsule collection for US retailer Anthropologie, the PARTIMI ready-to-wear collection was launched in 2010. The PARTIMI collections are defined by striking prints, a distinctive personal narrative and an environmental edge.

The evening was chaired by Melanie Frame, Sustainability Manufacturing Developer at London College of Fashion (DISC). Melanie is part of the DISC project to support fashion manufacturers and designers to innovate their production process. Melanie has been involved in various sustainability projects helping small businesses to set up sustainable and ethical practices.

A question about the concentration on sustainable supply lines led to a fascinating discussion about the speaker’s views on what sustainable fashion means to them.

For Mark it was about recreating a made-to-order type of personalised shopping experience, which gives a more engaged experience for customers.

For Christian improving the welfare of the environment and fashion producers are an important new additional part of the business model, from the traditional success measures of company share price and market share.

He talked about how the Green Room at ASOS helps breakdown the enormous challenges of sustainable fashion into bite sized chunks, making it more manageable. Also telling the story behind the product is another way of engaging customers and staff.

He gave several examples of innovation and change:

The discussion ended with a transparent discussion of producer pricing and markups that are common in sustainable fashion.

11 June 2012

Early inventions in the London Gazette

The rapidly increasing amount of scanned material has opened up fresh fields of academic research. A favourite of mine for this purpose is the London Gazette, an official government journal, which is available from its beginning in 1665.

I had a look to see if I could find mentions of early inventions in its pages, and found quite a few, mainly if not entirely as advertisements. I have added in below the present patent number (which were only allocated in the 1850s as a single numerical sequence) as links to the London Gazette page.

GB531/1731, the feeding of swine.

GB663/1751, for pot ashes and pearl ashes. One of the inventors was from Georgia, and, unusually, the English patent was also valid in America and West Indies. On the same page is GB690/1754 for pine varnish.

GB766/1761, an anti-venereal potion. The advertisement calls it an “Imperial lotion” and gives the date of the patent so it is possible to identify the inventor as Thomas Jackson, who, unusually, is not named in the gazette.

GB878/1767, Bowen's patent sago powder. This is a testimonial to the product by the famous Captain James Cook, writing from Mile End on the 7 May 1776, who had used it in "two Voyages round the World". You wonder how much he was paid for it. Samuel Bowen was from Georgia, and the patent is for making sago and similar products from American plants equal in goodness to those from the East Indies.

GB2798/1804, manufacture of soap. By Baron von Doornick, who states in the advertisement that he has ceased its manufacture at his London address and that the “exclusive right of manufacturing the patent soap” has been licensed to Taylor and Lorkin, of a Whitechapel address.

Warnings of counterfeiting and where to purchase the invention are common. These are merely indications of the sort of material that can be found, and I leave it to others to carry out detailed research.

The use of the words patentee and invention while good but rather restrictive, while “King’s patent” is also useful. The former has 18 hits for 1750-1799, the latter 75 hits. I had the impression that medicines were particularly common.

Newspapers can similarly be scanned, such as in the British Newspaper Archive.

The English patents that these refer to are not available online, and printed copies such as here in the British Library must be referred to see the full text.

09 June 2012

James Dyson Award 2012 for inventors

The James Dyson Award for 2012 is open for entries.  

The competition is open to design or engineering university students (or the same within four years of graduation) in any of 18 countries. The brief is, "Design something that solves a problem."

The International Prize wins ÂŁ10,000 and the same amount goes to the university, and there are national winners as well. The closing date is the 2nd August.

There are already 15 (anonymous) entries which can be viewed on the Projects page. They are interesting to read, as they often describe the nature of the problem before giving a solution.

Entrants so far include a special needs tricycle, a helmet light for cyclists, a power assist device for manual wheelchair users, and the "Shark" spanner.