In through the outfield blog

Neil Infield on business and intellectual property

15 February 2013

Blue screen film pioneer and inventor Petro Vlahos

Add comment Comments (0)

The inventor of the “blue screen” film technique as it is used today, Petro Vlahos, has died at the age of 96. This posting is based on the interesting BBC tribute to him. I am glad to say the article links to Google versions of two of his patents (this is unusual).

A blue screen is used in filming where actors are combined in film editing with action or other backgrounds to give a seamless effect. A not very good version was available when Vlahos was asked to see if he could improve the process. Some objects would appear to glow, and that was clearly annoying and hardly realistic. Vlahos later said that he spent six months thinking about it, much of it looking out at Hollywood Boulevard.

He came up with a technique that involved a matte which is transparent whenever the blue screen is used but is opaque in other sequences in the film. The blue, green and red parts are separated and then combined in a certain order. It seems that rather than the actors being superimposed on a background, which I'd assumed, it’s the other way round, which sounds mysterious to me (I do love the magic of the “movies” after all).

His Composite color photography patent was applied for in 1959 and the technique was first used in Ben Hur.

A more complicated variation was also patented as Composite photography utilizing sodium vapor illumination.

Both patents were assigned to the Motion Picture Research Council but the article states that this second technique was developed for Disney. Actors were filmed against a white background with sodium lamps which made a yellow glow bounce off the background.

The camera filmed two separate images (or “film stock”) simultaneously. A prism on the camera would cause one film stock to split the yellow light from other colours and send it to a black and white film stock to create a matte.

The other film stock would record in normal colour without any yellow glow. This produced a very clean effect, and was typically used when actors were apparently interacting with cartoon characters as in Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Vlahos later formed a company, Ultimatte, to develop more techniques.

This is a list of Vlahos’ patents

13 December 2012

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

Add comment Comments (0)

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.

14 November 2012

Britain invented colour movies

Add comment Comments (0)

Britain’s National Media Museum announced a couple of months ago that it has found footage of the world’s first colour film / movie in its collection, which is now on display at the museum.

It used a process invented by Edward Turner. The use of red, green and blue filters in filming produced frames which were then superimposed on each other. The process was known, but any footage was thought to be lost, and it was assumed that it was a failure. Dating from about 1901 or 1902, the footage was in a collection formed by Charles Urban, an American businessman who had settled in London and who had taken over financing Turner’s work when the original backer, Frederick Lee, pulled out.

The collection was donated to the Science Museum in 1937 and was transferred to the National Media Museum a few years ago. The museum’s head of collections, Paul Goodman, is quoted as saying "We believe this will literally rewrite film history. I don't think it is an overstatement. These are the world's first colour moving images."

It had previously been thought that Kinemacolor in about 1909 was the first workable colour film process. This was by another Englishman, George Albert Smith of Brighton, who was also backed by Urban. The patent was numbered GB26671/1906. Smith described himself in it as an “animated picture maker”.

An article in The Guardian tells more about the exciting find. The Turner patent is GB6202/1899, Means for taking and exhibiting cinematographic pictures, and is in the names of both Turner and Lee, since the patent system at the time credited the applicants rather than the inventors (hence a financial backer named in the patent might appear to be an inventor). Below are its main drawings.

Turner and Lee colour film patent drawings

The patent gives Turner’s Hounslow, Middlesex address and describes him as a “gentleman”. The two men also secured an American patent for the invention, US645477. Tragically, Turner died in 1903, when he was only 29 years old. There’s also a short video below giving more information and some footage.


These are just two examples of the many patents in the early history of cinematography.

22 August 2012

Our YouTube channel is now up to 341 thousand hits

Add comment Comments (0)


Back in October 2011 I wrote Our YouTube channel gets 250 thousand hits.

This has proved to be a very popular topic on my blog recently, so I feel obliged to point out that the number is increasing rapidly, and today stands at 341,492.

Our BIPCTV channel has been going since the Centre opened in 2006, when we began posting recordings of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs events, and our success stories.

The most recent upload was From Battlefield to Business, and run in partnership with Heropreneurs, Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity and ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, British Legion, Franchising Works and Help for Heroes.

The wonderful Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae Sauce still tops the charts with 25,541 views, but he has stiff competition from Success Stories Guy Jeremiah of Aquatina Ltd, and William de Lucy from  Amplify Trading.

However my favourite remains Sam Roddick, founder of the ‘erotic emporium’ Coco De Mer, and daughter of Body Shop legend Dame Anita Roddick. She describes herself as an activist first and accidental entrepreneur second.

Levi Roots

14 June 2012

Ying EDS and their enhanced depth solution technology

Add comment Comments (0)

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 £21,000 per hour for television footage, while 3D for television is more like £70,000 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.

10 April 2012

Patent for Battleship game

Add comment Comments (0)

There has been publicity over the new film Battleship, based on the game of that name. Back in 1933 Louis Coffin applied for a patent for the game.

It's the classic game where opponents try to “hit” enemy ships which are marked by pegs on each side of the same vertical board. A simpler way, that is thought to predate the patent, is using pen and paper -- according to a Wikipedia article on the Battleship game, Milton Bradley published a pad and pencil version in 1931, "Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy". Coffin in his Game board patent suggested calling it Battleships. Below is reproduced its page of drawings.

Battleship game patent image

07 March 2012

Our Spring Festival has sprung

Add comment Comments (0)

British_Library_Spring_Festival_creativeIn January I blogged about our Spring Market competition for designers and makers. From the 80+ applicants, the 12 lucky winners got the chance to set up shop in the British Library Piazza last Thursday.

This was all part of our Spring Festival week of events which ran from 1 to 5 March, as a five day celebration of fashion, design and creativity. Highlights included the Spring Market, ‘Make it, Sell it’ speed mentoring sessions, talks from Quentin Blake and Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz), a pop-up exhibition, Vintage Knitting and a pecha-lecture with Neville Brody.

I have to admit I was a bit worried about the Spring Market as we have had some very mixed weather recently (it is cold and wet as I write this), so we were very fortunate to have a warm sunny day for the market. I popped down to have a look and say hello, and ended up buying some of the wonderful items on display.

history_mugsThe first stall I visited was Cole of London founded by Sarah Cole. Sarah designs colourful mugs that are a contemporary take on age old themes. Featuring figures from history and illustrations. Her mugs feature English monarchs, great writers and the wives of Henry VIII. She has used the Business & IP Centre to learn about copyright and research the ceramics market.

Next was SquidLondon, who I have mentioned before (SquidLondon brighten up a rainy autumn day). Rather than go for one of their best-selling line of colour changing umbrellas, I plumped for a ‘Miss Squidolette’ Shower Curtain which comes to colourful life each time the shower is turned on. It makes a great gift for anyone with young children who might be reluctant to ‘get wet’.


BathSoak-200x200Next came Ruby Red Cosmetics founded by Martine Burford who is passionate about ethical cosmetics, and her skincare range contains no synthetic chemicals, fragrances or dyes, and has not been tested on animals. She makes all her products locally in London and they are beautifully packaged .

The idea for Ruby Red grew and grew during the 18 months sabbatical Mike and Martine took in 2005. We had given up our high flying jobs to travel around South East Asia and spent a lot of that time with the locals, discovering effective natural apothecary remedies for keeping skin looking healthy and glowing.

The happy ‘punters’ at the fair, seemed to be a mix of British Library staff (showing what good taste they have for innovative products), and visitors to the library who got a nice surprise on their way in to do their research.

All the stall holders I spoke to said they were getting a lot of interest, and sales, so I am hoping this might be first of many such events at the Library. Congratulations to Fran Taylor our Marketing Manager for Creative industries, for masterminding the Spring Festival.

We were also lucky to have Buzz Films present during the week and posting several excellent short clips onto Vimeo.


Fran Taylor Marketing Manager for Creative Industries

18 January 2012

Interview with Jesús Montero freelance film maker

Add comment Comments (0)

Jesús_MonteroMy colleague Fran Taylor recently interviewed Jesús Montero, a freelance film maker on how the British Library has helped his work.

I am a freelance film maker and have used the British Library consistently over the last few years. I have worked for the BBC, Channel 4, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and Animal Planet. The collections I have consulted at the Library vary hugely according to the content of the programme I am researching; anything from ancient Egypt to Meerkats. At present, I am working on a part-time basis for National Geographic on a very popular show called Air Crash Investigation.

One project I worked on for National Geographic was Seconds from disaster: Inferno at Guadalajara. One of the books I consulted at the British Library to make this documentary was a compelling account of some of the people who survived this terrible human disaster in Mexico. Once I finished my research, I packed my bags and travelled to Mexico, in search of one particular survivor depicted in this book: a Mexican woman with an incredible story to tell. Eventually, I did find her and she became one of our contributors, which was all down to this extraordinary book.

The British Library has been a constant and constructive road companion for me over the last fifteen years. It keeps the films that I work on, accurately informed. It gives them focus. More importantly, it fuels my pen.

You can follow Jesús on his blog at The Hidden Cracks of Oblivion, or on his Twitter feed.