In through the outfield blog

Neil Infield on business and intellectual property

07 December 2012

Translating Chinese patent documents into English on the Espacenet database

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The European Patent Office has added Chinese to the list of languages available for machine translations on its free Espacenet database, which has a vast number of patent specifications.

“Patent translate” is a tool by which the text of either the descriptions or of the claims can be swiftly translated from or into many languages. Adding Chinese – so that you can either translate from Chinese into English or from English into Chinese – is a big step forward. While the translations are not exact, the vocabulary seems from a quick look to be accurate and you get a good idea about what the patent document is about.

However, this service is only available for the patent and utility model publications up to the end of 2010, judging from spot checking, so that there is a big gap.

This is important, as China is rapidly growing as a source of technical information it its patents, and Chinese patent literature is now part of the PCT Minimum Documentation that needs to be searched when so-called “World” patent applications are made. In October 2010 I wrote a post called Patents from China about the growing importance of Chinese patent literature.

Since then, in 2011 9,878 publications through the PCT scheme cited Chinese priorities, but this has risen to 11,744 in 2012 (and we’re not finished with 2012 yet). That’s an 18% rise !

To give an example of how the translation tool works. Suppose you are interested in solar power patents from China. In the advanced search format, you might ask for the simplistic

"solar power" or photovoltaic the title field, plus CN in the publication number field, plus 2010 in the publication date field. There are 1,109 results. Click on one of the titles, then on Description or Claims (on the left) then on the red Patent Translate tab.

As this facility is not yet available for 2011 or 2012 documents it is a good idea to use the publication date range ability such as 2005:2010 to restrict the hits to publications in those years.

29 November 2012

Catchup on the proposed European Union patent

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This is a followup to my post back in April on the subject.  Sorry for the delay in reporting back !

In June 2012, 25 EU member states agreed on provisions for the European Union Patent. Only Spain and Italy did not participate, annoyed that the only languages permitted in the scheme were English, German and French.

Some people assume that the European Patent Convention (EPC) already offers patents with EU-wide effect. It's certainly not the same thing. A granted EPC patent, which can be in English, German or French, is really a bundle of national patents, where after an initial opposition period the patent can lapse from protection in individual countries due to a failure to pay national renewal fees, or because of national revocation proceedings. Similarly it could be amended nationally.

There is no requirement to list all EU member states when applying for patent protection through the EPC. So e.g. Belgium might be omitted.

Switzerland is in the EPC but not in the EU, so membership is not limited to EU states. New EU member states are required to join the EPC, and all currently do.

The European Union Patent would involve having patents granted through the existing European Patent Office in Munich, which already deals with the EPC patents. All EU states must be included in such grants. The patents stand or fall as a result of centralised patent litigation, and lapse as a whole as well.

The main stumbling blocks in a struggle which has been going on since 1973 has been the language used in the patents and in the law courts, plus where the law courts would be.

The following provisions have been agreed on:

The patent specification can be in English, German, or French.

There will be a single renewal fee for the entire EU.

The Unified Patent Court will deal with infringement and revocation proceedings. It will have a court of first instance and a court of appeal. The court would have its seat, registry and central division in Paris. Litigation is in the same language as the patent.

The central division would have thematic branches in London (chemistry cases, including pharmaceuticals) and Munich (mechanical engineering cases), each expected to take about 30% of the case load. 

The choice of Paris is distinctly odd, as far more patents are published through the EPC in English or German, and London has much more IP law talent than Paris. Local courts can also be set up by individual countries.

There will be a transitional period of seven years during which either national or the Unified Patent Court can be chosen for litigation (if the latter, that choice cannot be changed).

Originally the court was to be mainly in Paris and partly in Munich, but David Cameron, the UK's PM,  protested.

Patent costs will be greatly reduced as a result of the deal. The European Union estimates that costs will fall from 32000 Euros to 6500 Euros, a saving mainly from translation costs. This does mean that some patents with force in the UK will as a result be in German or French, which will cause problems for researchers, librarians, industry and lawyers. Machine translations only go so far.

The position of Spain and Italy as to possible involvement is still unclear, as are various technical issues. Also unclear is how the new courts will be funded.

It is uncertain when all this will take effect. There is a detailed Wikipedia article on the subject.

[The European Parlaiment passed the legislation, see my later post. Ed.]

21 November 2012

Dragons’ Den: a versatile decorating tool invention

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The Dragons’ Den episode on the 18 November featured a new versatile decorating tool where brushes and other devices could be exchanged with the handle, to increase versatility.

Matthew Page and Louise Craven of Synagi Intelligence Limited, based in Nottinghamshire, were asking for £95,000 for 25% of the company. They said on the programme that it was patent pending but it has since been granted UK rights in GB2482945B. There is no foreign patent protection. Here is the main drawing.

Versatile decorating tool patent drawing

The idea is that you can switch sizes or types of tools while using the same handle. It took I estimate about 15 seconds the tools to be switched over, and I wondered if a simpler method such as button push types to release the tools wouldn’t be a better idea. Louise admitted that it was a “prototype” and the transfer would be faster in the later models. It was pointed out that this was a weakness – razor blades are not constantly being switched over, and people are fundamentally lazy -- and that although the ecological principle was laudable there would be problems in sales.

One advantage, though, would be that if people bought the handles they would be useless without the compatible “heads” that would be sold by the same company. The voice over by Evan Davis said that the UK DIY market was worth £7 billion but obviously only some of that is relevant, and above all – what inventors often forget – is that it is rare for a new, disruptive product to take more than a small portion of a market. Despite what people say to me: “everyone will love my product” (yes, I often get told that).

There is no website for the company, whose name is unusual for a tool company. Nor as far as I could tell did the product have a name.

None of the dragons decided to invest.

20 November 2012

Dragons' Den: the bionic glove invention

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The Dragons’ Den episode on the 18 November featured a bionic glove to improve hand grips when playing golf or gardening, where £100,000 was sought in return for 40% of the company.

Mark Richardson had a 5 year licensing deal with an American company to sell the glove across Europe. The patent was Batting glove by Hillerich & Bradsby, a baseball equipment manufacturer. Here is the main drawing.

Glove from Dragons' Den invention drawing

It was apparently designed by an orthopaedic hand surgeon, and dates back to a patent application in 2000. As the UK is not noted for its interest in baseball it makes sense that alternatives uses such as golf and gardening were emphasised.

What puzzled me was what exactly Richardson’s Bionic Glove Technology Europe company had bought, as there are only US and Canadian patents. Maybe it was the exclusive rights to be the company’s supplier.

Maybe, though, it was also the right to use the trade mark Bionic. Hillerich & Bradsby applied for that mark in several classes including Class 28, for sporting gloves, in 2004 in the European Union system as E3645521.

If so, I would advise that the Bionic Glove Technology Europe website be amended to show Bionic as an ® and not the TM used at present, as that means it is not registered, and therefore has weaker rights.

The outcome was that it was admitted by a dragon that the valuation at £250,000 was realistic as there was only a 5 year deal (which would continue after that only if Hillerich & Bradsby agreed), and two dragons put up the full amount for the 40% offered.

10 August 2012

The cold fusion "patent"

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Martin Fleischmann, co-inventor of the notorious cold fusion patent application, has died, and his obituary is in the Daily Telegraph.

The claim to have achieved cold fusion in a glass jar, rather than by spending a stupendous amount of money, was extraordinary enough, but what also ruffled a lot of feathers was that he and Stan Pons announced their apparent discovery at a press conference. The customary route is publishing an academic paper in a journal.

Four inventors contributed to the invention published as World patent application Method and apparatus for power generation in 1990, with 110 pages of text and drawings. The University of Utah was the applicant. The main drawing is given below.

Cold fusion patent drawing

The search report at the end of the application lists three items of prior art – forerunners – with only the first marked as an X, highly relevant.

The first two pages of the description list four properties for an “ideal energy source” such as utilizing deuterium and ensuring it could be produced in a small, even portable scale. The claim was that the invention produced more energy than was consumed – which is of course what any power plant is meant to do – but others were unable to reproduce the results.

A European patent, EP463089, was granted in 1996 but was revoked in 1998 after opposition by Clean Energy Technologies, a Florida company. I have not looked into their arguments – patents are supposed to be new, and of a patentable nature, but do not have to work in order to be granted. A patent was not granted in the United States. In 1998 the University of Utah stopped trying to defend patent rights (according to New Scientist, 21 March 1998, page 23).

It seems that Clean Energy Technologies was working on rival lines, as they, according to an article in New Energy Times, demonstrated a 1300 watt cold fusion reactor in 1995 at a trade show.

This is the sort of topic that can be researched endlessly, especially as many on the Web still believe that cold fusion is possible. For example there is Harold Aspden’s complaint about how his cold fusion invention has been treated by the US patent office.

This inventor, from Southampton, England had a British patent granted, for which Thermal power generation by electrically controlled fusion is the published application.

18 June 2012

My talk on patents at Newcastle Library

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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.

23 May 2012

The invention of the television remote control

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The BBC has an obituary of Eugene Polley, who has died at the age of 96, who it calls the inventor of the TV remote control.

His Flash-Matic invention is I believe the Control system patent, filed in 1955. Its main image is given below.

Polley TV remote control patent image

I must admit that I had thought the key patent was Robert Adler's patent, also called Control system, and also for Zenith Radio. It was filed in 1957. The main drawing is below.

Adler TV remote control patenr image

Unlike the Polley invention, which involved photocells, the Adler invention sent ultrasonic signals to turn the TV on or off, change channels, or turn the volume up or down.

In 1985 was filed the Universal remote control unit by NAP Consumer Electronics, which was apparently a big advance in the concept. It used infrared LEDs.

What was definitely not a useful idea was the Extensible television controls, filed in 1955 by the great industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who on this occasion had one of his less practicable ideas.

11 May 2012

PCT patent statistics for 2011

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WIPO has published a press release on PCT patent statistics for 2011, together with an annex giving data.

PCT is what many call the World patent. Nearly all large companies, and many medium-sized ones, use the PCT system, and it is a good indicator of willingness to patent. A published PCT document only means that the company asked for protection, and it is up to regional or national patent authorities to decide if they will grant a patent.

Total filings were up 10% in 2011 over 2010, to about 181,900. The biggest increases among the major countries were China, up by 33%; Japan, 21%; and Canada, Korea and the USA, all up by about 8%. Among European countries, the fastest growers were Switzerland, up 7%, and France and Germany, both up 5%. The UK was down 1%.

Among smaller filers, Russia was up 20%, Brazil 17% and India 11%. These of course with China form the BRIC countries of high potential future growth. Such increases may seem extraordinary in a time of heavy recession, and the problems of Japan after the tsunami in March 2011.

Actual figures are that the USA was first, with 48,596 filings (26% of the total), followed by Japan with 21%, Germany with 10%, China with 9% and then Korea with 5%.

China’s ZTE Corporation was the leading company, with 2,826 filings. 42 of the top 100 companies are from the Far East, and six of the top ten. The top US company was Qualcomm, in sixth place. No British company was in the top 100.

There is a table of the top university applicants, where only three of the top ten are from the Far East (the rest being American), showing how innovation is so heavily driven by companies and not academia in the Far East. The top UK university was Cambridge, in 71st place.

There is also a table showing the numbers in 35 broad technical fields. Twelve showed double digit changes, all up. The three biggest rises were in electrical machinery, apparatus, energy, up 23%, followed by engines, pumps, turbines, up 16%, and environmental technology, up 14%.

WIPO has also published a detailed 2012 PCT Yearly Review. Pages 39-41 were particularly interesting to me, as they present data on international collaboration. For example, 75% of the inventors in Swiss PCT filings were foreigners and not Swiss nationals (it was 25% for both the UK and the USA). Pages 45-46 give data on how specialised countries are, correcting for their size, so that for example China and Finland lead in the ICT sector by the percentage of patent filings in that field.

I posted last year on the 2010 figures.