In through the outfield blog

Neil Infield on business and intellectual property

20 December 2012

Launch of the Cooperative Patent Classification

The much anticipated Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) is now live on the free Espacenet database as a more detailed version of the International Patent Classification (IPC). It replaces the old ECLA classes in that role.

On that database, asking for “Classification” takes you to the CPC schedules, which can be used in its own search box on the database. The alternative is using the IPC in its own search box.

I have already posted about the concepts behind the CPC.

What is essential now is that anyone running current awareness searches, or who is used to searching a particular subject area, check to see if the classification has changed or if new classes are available. 250000 classes replace the old 160000 ECLA classes, a 56% increase.

Even your searching did not include any of the old ECLA classes, there may be new classes available because of the incorporation of concepts from the US classification – in software, for example. Always have a look, you never know what you may find.

The way the CPC can be used from the schedules is somewhat different from the old ECLA.

There is a single search box in which you enter either keywords or a class, or you can drill down through the A to H sequence. For keywords, a list of possibilities is offered in order of preference. Clicking on the box next to the class moves the class to a search box on the left hand side. This will include “low”, which means that any subordinate classes to the chosen class will also be included in the search (click it to alter to exact class).

You can then either click on “Find patents” to run a search or, if additional fields are to be used such as date spans or keywords or selected patent offices, click on “Copy to search form”. A new search mask appears and the additional requests can be made.

Above the schedules are little icons. These allow extra functions, such as “toggle tree”, where the classes that are subdivided are perhaps show more clearly, and the useful green “CPC” icon. Clicking on this means that any CPC as opposed to IPC material is given in green. If an entire entry describing a class is green it means it is CPC only and is not used by the IPC. Other classes may have additional notes or references in green. To the right of the schedules is a little “S” icon, which converts the selected class to PDF format.

Within the Y classes, for interesting material relevant to climate change (but not used by themselves as they are additional classes to the main ones), the number of subclasses has also been dramatically increased.

Those who want to know if a topic has many entries in the CPC which are not in the IPC will benefit by clicking the green CPC icon plus the toggle tree icon. This can show dramatic differences, as in e-commerce in the G06Q30 area, where most of the entries appear in green and are, I suspect, newly added to the what was ECLA.

19 December 2012

Automated storage and retrieval of retail stock: inventions

Retailers depend on increasingly complex machinery and software to store and retrieve stock when they receive orders, something which is happening on a huge scale, of course, this close to Christmas.

I was reminded of this when reading the very interesting BBC story Logistics: rise of the warehouse robots

An example of what the systems can look like is given in the drawing shown below, which is from the (German language) Storage and picking system.  

Warehouse robot picking patent image

The systems are expensive, but they do mean that the right items can be correctly and quickly identified and retrieved. Storing them in an optimal way so that the most highly requested items are quicker to retrieve is often part of the system as well. Using staff would take much longer and would occasionally involve errors. It is easy to take all this for granted.

Autostore was mentioned in the BBC story. This Norwegian company has a system where instead of retrieval being based in aisles between high stacking, robotic units move around above a huge cube containing the retrieval system. They have an American patent on the topic, Method for organizing the storage of different units, which dates back to 1997.

A list of those World patent applications in B65G1/137D, the ECLA for such equipment designed to fulfil orders in warehouses, is given here.

Amazon went to the trouble of buying a company involved in the field, Kiva Systems, for $775 million. This is a list of World patent applications by Kiva Systems.

It’s not just retailers who find such systems useful. Pharmacies can use them as well, while the British Library is building a storage area for its paper copies of newspapers at Boston Spa, Yorkshire, which looks just as space age as any automated retail warehouse. The same principles apply. Automated shelving still needs to be installed before the newspapers are put there.

18 December 2012

The European Union’s new unitary patent

The European Parliament passed on the 11 December legislation for a single patent and its unitary court (UPC) for the European Union. The details of the concept are in my previous post.

The European Commission has estimated that the cost of obtaining patent protection for all EU countries is about 36000 Euros, of which 23000 is translation costs. By comparison, they say that the cost of an American patent is 1850 Euros (for private inventors and small companies). The cost of the new patent is estimated to be under 5000 Euros.

A press release by the European Patent Office, which will administer the patent, states “Request for unitary patents may be filed once the legal provisions for both the unitary patent and the UPC have entered into force. The agreement establishing the UPC is expected to be signed on 18 February 2013 and will enter into force once thirteen EU member states have ratified the package, including France, Germany and the UK. The EPO expects to validate the first unitary patent in 2014.”

14 December 2012

How the bar code was invented and developed

It has been announced that Norman Woodand, co-inventor of the bar code, has died. There is a BBC obituary with interesting facts about him and the invention. Bernard Silver, the other inventor, died in 1963. This post adds further information to the BBC story.

In 1948 Silver, a graduate student at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, overheard a conversation between a faculty member and a food store chain executive. The executive wanted the Institute to develop a system which would quickly and accurately capture product data at the check-out counter.

His friend Woodland first suggested ultraviolet light sensitive ink, but that did not work. Then he suggested adapting Morse Code – dots and dashes – by drawing them down to form thin and thick lines to represent binary information (zeroes and ones). The sand story, as told in the obituary (and new to me), came about when he was staying at his grandfather’s apartment in Florida.

Similarly the DeForest movie sound system, that used a sensitive tube to detect the projector light shining through the side of the film, was adapted. Light was converted into numbers rather than into sound. The patent advocates a shape like an archery target rather than our modern linear design, so that it could be scanned from any direction (both covered both formats). Its title was Classifying apparatus and method and it was filed for in 1949. Below is the main drawing.

Original bar code patent drawing

The concept was not feasible until computer power and cheap reliable machines based on lasers became available in the late 1960s. The now standard bar appearance is used, as the target design meant that the ink tended to “bleed”, making accurate reading difficult. The common usage of uniform barcodes had to be agreed by manufacturers in what is now the Universal Product Code, or UPC, and must have been a huge effort, as lots of items had to have codes printed on them before any scanning actually happened.

A bar of Wrigley’s® chewing gum was the first to be scanned, in an Ohio store in 1974.

13 December 2012

The secret doors of the British Library

Before you get too excited, this is not a post about our collection of ‘naughty’ books.


The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings film series in trade marks

The first of the three Hobbit films, An unexpected journey, opens in the UK today on general release to an eager multitude of fans. It will be followed by The desolation of Smaug in 2013 and There and back again in 2014. All the titles of course to be preceded by “The Hobbit”.

The potential in merchandising is huge, and this is reflected by the sheer volume of trade marks taken out on names and words associated with the book, while others are related purely to The Lord of the Rings.

The money is not being made by the heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien. In 1968, Tolkien sold the film, stage and merchandising rights of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists for just over £100,000 plus royalties. That company sold the rights on to the Saul Zaentz Company in 1976. Saul Zaentz himself is a film producer and Middle-Earth Enterprises handles requests for licensing.

The Wikipedia article on that company lists some licensees for games and collectables, plus the film rights to New Line Cinema. As the first “Ring” film was only released in 2001 the value in what is in effect a complex brand took a long time coming out.  

I can only trace one registered design, applied for in 2006, and shown below. It is European Design 000482070-0001. Its title is “Clothing, jewellery” but in fact designs work so that it can be used across all product areas.

The Lord of the Rings European Design logo

Trade marks are far more prolific. Saul Zaentz has 180 applications or registrations listed in the European trade marks as found on the official database.

These include the titles of the three Hobbit films in French, German, Spanish and Italian as well as in English, and a few wordings in Dutch. Hence for example EL HOBBIT: UN VIAJE INESPERADO for the first film and LE HOBBIT: HISTOIRE D'UN ALLER ET RETOUR for the third film. For some reason the full title of the second film has not been applied for.

This EU-wide system was only used by the company from 2011 onwards, well after the “Ring” films began to come out. There are a number of British registration, the oldest being HOBBITS,  made in 1961 for knitted articles of clothing (and, curiously, originally in the name of Bear Brand Limited, a Liverpool manufacturer).

The EU marks include obvious wordings like GOLLUM, SARUMAN and GANDALF; also some of the dwarves; and numerous place names such as RIVENDELL, MORIA and GONDOR.

Various product areas are listed for them such as, for ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL, Classes 14 (jewellery), 16 (includes stationery), 20 (place mats), 25 (clothing) and 28 (toys and games). There are 45 classes in the Nice Classification and it is required that applicants both use them and list within them the goods and services for which they intend to use the mark – this can be fascinating reading ! The registration for SAURON for example includes Class 25 where the only use listed is "Costumes" -- interesting, as surely he's never really seen in the books and films ? 

There’s also THE LORD OF THE RINGS: MIDDLE-EARTH DEFENSE which I gather is a game that can be played on an app.

The trade mark show below was, however, withdrawn and not registered. Perhaps because of conflict with their earlier design registration ?

EU trade mark for Lord of the Rings logo

These EU trade marks can be found on the official database by asking for Zaentz as owner.

 Owners of rights often go to considerable lengths to defend what they consider to be their rights. In 2010 Saul Zaentz opposed the US registration of Mithril in Class 30, which includes jewellery, on the grounds that it was a word from the Tolkien books and that they had already registered it for other classes of products. The opposition was successful.

More controversially, the company has also asked a pub in Southampton, England to change their name from The Hobbit, and a website name incorporating the word “shire” was asked to stop doing so in 2004, although shire is a well known English phrase by itself and also occurs in Hampshire, Devonshire, etc.

12 December 2012

Christmas inventions

It's that time of year again and here's a roundup of some Christmas-related inventions.

There's the Christmas tree game patent application from the USA, which may sound an unusual topic for a game. The players roll the dice and fit branches onto a tree to form the Christmas tree. Below is the main drawing. Can't say it really excites me.

Christmas tree game patent drawing
The Christmas holiday access, indicator, and mementos key method and apparatus is meant to explain to children how Santa Claus gets into the house to deliver the presents.

Then there's the Artificial Christmas Tree and Antler Apparatus, where antlers are placed on the tree. "The antlers strength keeps the branches from drooping under the weight of the decorations, which leaves the Christmas tree aesthetically pleasing to the eye and particularly attractive for animal hunters and enthusiasts." Below is the main drawing.

Christmas tree and antlers patent drawing

More festive fun is in my 2007 posting on Christmas inventions and, a big favourite of mine, the posting I did once on the story behind the shaking Santas you see every Yuletide.

In that same theme, there is the Christmas ornament with selectable illumination and motion mechanisms featuring a novel reindeer, as illustrated below.

Christmas ornament patent drawing

I'll close with a festive contribution by ClearViewIP, an IP consultancy, who kindly sent me an analysis of patents relating to Christmas.

Enjoy the "holiday season" !

Christmas patents