In through the outfield blog

Neil Infield on business and intellectual property

05 August 2013

Moving on to Innovation and Enterprise team blog

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From today In through the outfield is being merged into our newly created  Innovation and Enterprise team blog written by my colleagues in Business & IP Centre, as well as our partners.

The blog will cover the essentials of starting and growing your business with stories from people who have already been there and can share their experiences. We will be talking about their successes, and learning from mistakes made along the way.

I will contributing to the Innovation and Enterprise team blog and look forward to hearing your views on our new venture.

Signing off for now...


28 February 2013

Dog leash inventions by Lucy Mitchell

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Tara Roskell’s Ideas Uploaded blog has an interesting interview with inventor Lucy Mitchell about her magnetic snap lock for dog leashes or leads.

Now based in Wiltshire, Mitchell lived for 20 years in Florida where she was a pilot. She has always been interested in how things work and in improving products – she is quoted as saying “I remember as a child being annoyed at things that didn’t work properly.” She has not had a formal engineering training.

She thought of her new lock when at a pet trade show in Germany in 2010. She already had had a World patent application published, the Retractable pet leash with self powered electric light, illustrated here.

Retractable dog leash with light patent image

While talking to a vendor, Mitchell was playing with a leash. The lock suddenly snapped and tore her fingernail. It was the small knob on the snap bolt which had done it. Mitchell realised that standard locks became progressively more difficult to open, but are easy to snap shut. She thought it ought to be the other way round. Magnets, she thought, were the answer.

She filed for another World patent application, Hook with magnetic closure, illustrated below.

 Magnetic closure for dog lead patent image

The interview says that 80% of the buyers of dog leashes are female. This may explain why her US trade mark, called MagneClip in the interview, is actually MagneClip No More Broken Nails®. Mitchell comments that [many ?] men “have an opinion that women must be dumb and don’t know what they are talking about”, and she had to intervene in the mistaken designs of her Taiwanese manufacturer.

She has tried raising funds on crowdfunding site Indiegogo as MagneClip magnetic snaphook, where extra details are given. Between them, the two sites give a lot of detail about the development of her invention.

30 January 2013

The LumiPotti® night-time toilet for children

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I recently came across the LumiPotti toilet to help children use a toilet at night. I have written on the topic of toilets with aids for children before, in my post Toilet training aids for children.

The LumiPotti website says that two mothers, Rachael and Kerry, thought of the idea over “coffee morning banter”. The site announces that they have received a granted UK patent, Childs pot. Its main drawing is given below.

 LumiPotti nightime training aid for children patent image

It involves a “potty” (child’s toilet) with a removable lamp which has a motion detector with a timer to switch off after an interval. As often happens, the title had changed since the patent application, when it was called Motion detector lamp for potty. Rachael Louise Forder is given as the inventor, and the applicant was Small Ideas Limited, of Southsea, Hampshire. Both women are named as the directors of that company.

The website says that the recent grant of the patent “is a big step in the security of LumiPotti and means that we are now officially the world’s first and only ‘night-light child’s pot’ for night toilet.”

I’m sorry but that isn’t quite true. It may indeed be the only toilet that switches a light on when used in darkness, but having a granted patent for a method of doing so (there may be more than one way of doing this, which can also be patented) does not make the invention “official”. The UK IPO themselves found 8 patent specifications which had a certain similarity which are listed here.

I would also suggest that the owners add the ® symbol to the end of LumiPotti on their website and in other usage as this makes it clear that the brand name is a UK registered trade mark, as it was registered last September as no. 2623533

While it is not essential, it is a good idea to use the symbol in a consistent fashion as it shows that the mark is registered, which gives it stronger rights over non-registered usage, and that the owners are serious about their intellectual property.

The product is not yet available for sale. I wish the owners well with the product in the future.

18 January 2013

Patented ! An exhibition of unusual inventions

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Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science is hosting what they describe as “An exhibition of quirky patented devices with unusual uses, from musical board games to seemingly unbreakable padlocks.” It ends on the 10 March, and is free.

They come from the collection of Fletcher Wallis, who has curated the exhibition. Here is an image of the introduction to the exhibition.

Patented ! exhibition image

And here is an image of the display about a corkscrew invention by Sir Edward Thomason.

Corkscrew patent information image

It all sounds great fun, and I am sorry that it is unlikely that I will be able to get up to Oxford to see it. From my experience I am only too well aware that while most patents are for useful if sometimes dull improvements, some are – well, distinctly strange. I am sure that a visit to see the exhibition, and indeed the museum (which I have never visited), would be very enjoyable.

17 January 2013

Facebook and its published patent specs for searching

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Facebook announced on the 15 January its Social Graph Search capability which uses Bing to find data within Facebook entries itself.

This is a list of Facebook patent applications mentioning search which may include relevant material, but it must be remembered that it takes 18 months for a filed application to be published as an A document (which isn't a B, granted patent).

It's interesting that their US patent application Providing context relevant search for a user based on location and social information was published just a few days earlier, on the 10th, but my impression is that it's not the same. Here's the main drawing from it.

Facebook searching technique patent drawing

10 January 2013

Transport for London and patents, designs and trade marks

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This post is about intellectual property by Transport for London and its predecessors and marks 150 years today of the London Underground. Congratulations !

From 1908 onwards there was a conscious attempt to provide what would nowadays be called a corporate identity, using initially what became this famous icon for the Underground


and this was reinforced as more lines were added. By using it as a trade mark, numerous items can be sold, as in a European trade mark registration in 2004 for named goods and services in numerous classes, some rather surprising (see Class 03 for example).

Some early attempts at the logo are still protected, as opposed to having been allowed to lapse, possibly because they are still selling souvenirs, and possibly to prevent others from using the logos. An example is British trade mark 548799, applied for in 1934, and shown below.

 1934 London transport trade mark

British trade mark 2103551 sounds rather unusual – the registration of Pantone 485 as “the predominant colour of the coloured surface of a passenger transport bus.” The famous red, that is – registered in Class 39 for, specifically, transporting bus passengers in London.

Turning to designs, there are three British designs currently registered for the appearances of buses and all for “Structure for use as a commercial outlet”, according to the title. These can be found here. Click on the logos and then on the Formal Reps to see the detailed drawings.

I suspect that the old Harry Beck maps may have been registered as designs but a long search through the National Archives design holdings would have been needed. Does anyone know the answer ?

And then there are patents. In 1984 London Underground applied for a Fare collection system which was a customer operated ticket machine. Page 68 shows the way the system worked – coins in, tickets out, etc. Provision was made for data to be collected centrally. I am guessing this is the basically the method used today.

Most patents relating to the Underground or buses are probably in the name of the manufacturers and hence harder to find. There are just five patents in the name of London Underground, from 1984 onwards.

Of course, private individuals can always join in. In 1920 Fountaine Burrell, an electrical engineer from Sydenham, London, applied for British patent 176163, which is specially marked dominoes to play a game based on the London Underground map – read it to find how it works. Perhaps he worked in the system itself. Two of the drawings are shown below.

Dominoes based on London Underground game
Something that could be protected as copyright would be the look of the floors and the seating on trains and buses. For a long time the seats have been in a variety of colours, while the train floors consist of sealed grey material mixed with scraps of yellow and white paper. I am told the reason is that if staining occurs it is much less noticeable than if the surface was a uniform colour.

09 January 2013

Patents as a social history source: ladies’ skirt supporters

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Women for a long time wore very long skirts or dresses to conceal their ankles, and a problem with this was that clothes could drag and get soiled on the ground. Hence skirt lifters or supporters were invented, and patents are the obvious source to find material on this little corner of fashion history. I suspect that patents are much under-used for researching any aspect of social history.

There was for example Clara Shippen of Buffalo, Wyoming. In 1909 she applied for an American patent, and was told to divide her application into two, so that two patents were published, both with the title “Skirt-supporter”. The drawings are rather attractive and clearly show the mechanism.

The first was US986769. The drawings page is shown below.

Skirt supporter US986769 patent drawing

The second patent was published as US987091. A different solution, and rather a versatile one, is found in British patent 1908/15537 by Eda Nesbitt of Australia, which claims to be a "combined chest-expander, skirt and bodice retainer, and stocking-suspender". The main drawing is shown below.

Skirt holder British patent drawing

Were either of these ladies successful in making money from their inventions ? That is something that is much harder to find out, and usually there is no evidence at all. Relatively few inventions actually make money, so the answer is probably no.

Many more can be found in the free Espacenet database but a real problem is that many relevant patents are not classified by the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC), which does have a relevant class, A41F5/00 for “trouser supports attached to the shirt, waistcoat or the like”. This ought to be reworded to show it is for any garment which has to be lifted up.

That classification will find 34 British patents from 1909 and and 127 American patents from 1920. Most of the early patents, at least, are indeed for women’s clothing.

A way to get around the problem is to try variant words in the title field such as “(lift or support*) and (skirt or dress)” together with say GB or US in the publication number field to limit to those countries. Dates can be limited by using e.g. 1895:1910 in the publication date field.

British patents are, with a few gaps, present on the database from 1893 while American patents, while present earlier, tend not to be included with titles to search until 1900.

There are certainly problems in this as in any research, and that is why it is always best to visit a specialist patent library to ask for their advice. The UK has a network called Patlib while in the USA there are Patent and Trademark Resource Centers.

08 January 2013

The UK's Technology Strategy Board's funding competitions

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The UK's Technology Strategy Board has a funding competitions page where bids can be made for funding for innovative technology in specified technical areas. These bids can be from academia or from business.

I suspect that these funds are not as well known as they ought to be.

As an example of what is available, in biomedicine alone £39 million has been allocated to 22 SMEs and 10 academic institutions.

I liked the many case studies where interesting solutions had been devised and were moving towards commercialisation.