27 May 2011

Out of this world: flying car inventions

The British Library has just opened its new, exciting (and free) exhibition, Out of this world: science fiction but not as you know it.  

One of its themes is Future Worlds, and asks if we are living the world that science fiction writers imagined.

One thing that many films imagined was that we wouldn't have traffic jams, as we'd all be going around in flying cars. In 1959, Einar Einarsson of New York state applied for a patent for his Flying car. It was published in 1963.

Flying car patent drawing 

The drawings show the vehicle progressively changing from a flying machine to a car with enhanced stablizers. Propellers are at both the front and the back. At least its means of propulsion are more obvious than in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

1985 saw the publication of the patent for what is quite literally a flying car, which I believe I have actually seen being flown in a documentary. Dennis Butts of Arizona came up with the Air vehicle having driven wheels and ducted fans.

Dennis Butts' Air vehicle patent drawing 

Of course, not all flying machines have to be big enough to contain a human. In 2000 appeared a patent by Georgia Tech Research Corporation, the Entomopter and method for using same. It moves about by beating its wings like an insect, and is designed for covert surveillance work. Not a car, true, but too good not to include. Here is its main drawing.

Entomopter patent drawing 

26 May 2011

The James Dyson Award 2011

The James Dyson Award Foundation is looking for entries for its 2011 awards. 

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 £10,000 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 many (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. There is great variety, such as vacuum bins for portafilter coffee machines, redesigned shopping trolleys, and collapsible headgear for cyclists or motorcyclists.

They can be searched for by country. At present there are 28 entries from Australia, and just one from the UK. The USA has none so far.

25 May 2011

SAS Innovations

This is the final posting in a brief series following the opening of the Innovation Centre in London, about which I recently posted.

One of the stalls at the fair was for SAS Innovations of Bexhill, Sussex. They had several products, including A fluid leak prevention arrangement in a mains pipe, which is illustrated below.

Fluid leak prevention patent drawing 
The company call it S.A.F.S., the Super Anti-Flood Saver. If the water is left running more than 6 minutes the mains supply is automatically cut off. A by-pass valve is available, which can be used for baths etc.

There was also granted British patent 2439044, illustrated below.  

Washing a person's hair patent drawing 
The idea is that they slot together round the neck so that someone whose hair is being washed by another does not get other parts of their body wet.

Other products are explained on their website. As with all the people I talked to on the afternoon the company was enthusiastic about their products, and it was both interesting and stimulating to have the chance to talk to many people in a visit that lasted several hours.

23 May 2011

Patented sports equipment for the disabled athlete

I have created a PDF of illustrations with brief comments called Patented sports equipment for the disabled athlete.

It is a contribution to the Sport and society: the Summer Olympics and Paralympics through the lens of social science site, a British Library-led initiative to celebrate and study the meaning of the Olympics in the runup to the 2012 Games at London.

It was fun sourcing the material. Some relate to adaptations of existing sports; some are totally new sports; while others are exercise equipment designed with disabled individuals in mind.

Here is just one of the illustrations from the PDF.

Wheelchair occupant motion stablizer for exercise machines patent drawing 

20 May 2011

Toast Ease®: toasting sandwiches from the freezer

Toast Ease®, an invention for toasting sandwiches which have been in the freezer without having to wait for them to defrost, is another of the inventions I saw at the recent opening of the Round Table of Inventors' Invention Centre in south London, which I recently posted about.

They take about five minutes to cook and the toast not get soggy as would normally happen. The toasting can be in a variety of media -- sandwich toaster, a George Foreman grill, and so on.

Jeff Parker, the inventor, explained its benefits to me as I ate the delicious results. He filed for a European patent in 1994, which is still in force in the UK, the Sandwich-like frozen food product. I'm not clear what is different about the way it is prepared, to be honest.

Mr Parker sells a variety of sandwiches made by his method. There is no website for the product, but anyone interested in contacting this Basingstoke inventor can use the e-mail given on the fact sheet I took away -- parker-j2@xxsky.com [that link won't work, remove the xx to make it a usable e-mail address].

19 May 2011

The BBC's "Britain's next big thing" TV series

I've been watching the BBC TV series Britain's next big thing. It's about inventors and designers trying to get their ideas accepted as products by retailers.

The retailers are Liberty, the arts and crafts department store in London; Boots, the chemist retailer with thousands of outlets; and Habitat, a smallish home furnishings chain.

I enjoy programmes which show the real business world, and how tough it is. Naivety has no place -- making a realistic business plan, which should include analysing your strengths and weaknesses, is vital. Lots of good things came out of the interviews where pitches were made for potential products, including the "price point" problem -- a store might say that a product will only sell at a certain price, which might be below the actual cost to the designer.

Theo Paphitis, who is well known from Dragons' Den, is the presenter, and is himself heavily involved in retail. I liked his ordering boxes to be taken away in a warehouse to show how much of the money paid for a product has to be paid out in rent, business rates, to staff, etc. Little, typically, is left at the end as profit.

I also liked his saying that many people who are hoping that their ideas will be accepted don't know the product, don't know the market, and won't listen to feedback.

As usual I looked for published patent documents among the many people profiled.

There was for example Una Tucker of Brockley, London with her handheld massage device, the Massage device set, illustrated here.

Massage device set 

There was Shamus Husheer's DuoFertility, his method of recording tiny differences in a woman's body temperature so that she is alerted to the right time to try to get pregnant. He and his product impressed the Boots buyers greatly. His company is Cambridge Temperature Concepts, founded by Cambridge academics like himself. His Temperature sensor structure patent application looks relevant.

And then there's Russ Leith of Bedfordshire with his "gravitational geometrical incline clamping" device, if I heard it right, which is a one-legged "ledge" that sits in a corner. His A shelf or stand device was applied for as a patent in 2001 (it now has UK and US patents), but not one has, he says, been sold. Here is the main drawing showing the concept.

Russ Leith ledge invention 

There's one final episode next Tuesday. At present UK residents can watch the first six episodes on iplayer (until the 31 May). They should be watched in sequence as people keep turning up in later episodes with news of their progressing in getting their product accepted (or not). 

18 May 2011

Publication of UK's "Digital Opportunity" review of IP

Digital opportunity, a review of intellectual property in the UK, has just been published.

I posted about the review last December. Professor Hargreaves was asked by the prime minister to investigate if intellectual property laws needed to be revised in our digital age. Are they fit for purpose ? Is business being hampered ?

The report looks very readable, although I've only had time to glance through it. Each chapter ends with recommendations. Broadly speaking, the review suggests changes are needed. For example, those carrying out research are being impeded in their work by copyright laws.

The chapter on patents mentions the problems of "patent thickets". New electronic products are often protected by many patents. That means that anyone wanting to improve or adapt such products has to be aware of them, even though many of the patents are "low level". The chapter also discusses business method patents -- software.

Numerous submissions suggesting changes to laws can also be read on the review's website, including 50 pages of comment by the British Library. There are numerous supporting documents, including EE, on the economic impact of the recommended changes.

The Government now has to respond to the recommendations in the review.

17 May 2011

JNDC, engineering and product consultants

I recently posted about attending the opening day of the Invention Centre at Norwood Junction, London. One of the stalls there was for JNDC, a company from Kingston which is an engineering design consultancy in product development, and which also makes prototypes of inventions.

Often an inventor or a company has an idea but it needs refining to make it simpler, more versatile, cheaper, more effective, whatever. Often this is not fully realised by the inventor, yet it can make the difference between success and failure. Product developers work to improve the product,

Dean Carran and Jan Niklewicz, who were formerly engineering lecturers at Kingston University, founded JNDC to provide such assistance.

In addition, they can be consulted on specific problems. The company has a strong interest in aerospace, and achieved the status of "Airbus approved supplier". This means that Airbus, the European airliner manufacturer, frequently ask them to come up with solutions. One was a fastener used to clip together parts for aircraft wings. It used to take two people to fasten them, now it only takes one. This solution was granted protection in the UK as GB2455635B.

Another solution for Airbus was published as a patent application, the Work mat for restricted access environments, illustrated here.

Work mat for restricted access environments patent drawing 

And another solution for Airbus was providing lighting when carrying out maintenance in dark parts of the aircraft. Head-worn torches only provided lighting in one direction, when all-round lighting was needed. Lineglow™ was JNDC's answer. It is a long, luminous coil using LEDs which is powered either by the mains or by batteries. Up to 8 metres can be coiled around the worker to provide suitable light. It is flexible and portable. The product has since been sold on, and is available from Lineglow, who are based in Farnborough.

13 May 2011

The Patent and Trade Mark Group for searchers

Last night I attended the AGM of the Patent and Trade Mark Group, a "special interest" group of CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

The group contains those who need to search patents, trade marks and designs for industry, business, patent attorneys and so on. I'm always saying to inventors that it's a good idea to join inventors' clubs to learn from fellow members how to commercialise and protect their ideas. In the same way, members of the group can learn a lot from each other -- "tips and tricks", if you like.

Searching for data, and then interpreting it, can be very difficult. We in the trade call ourselves "searchers", and that's the name of the magazine which goes out to members. Some of the issues are available to look at for free on the website. They include news about companies offering priced databases, and each issue contains a column by my colleague Philip Eagle (formerly I wrote it) explaining about new databases, or developments in them, in the subject area.

Other countries have similar networks, and these are listed in a links page.

I was asked to talk for 20 minutes about my books and other publicity work and that was fun -- I enjoy enthusing about inventions and about getting the word out to the public. Afterwards of course we went down to the pub to talk some more.

12 May 2011

Lukes Engineering's innovative products

I recently attended the opening of the Round Table of Inventors' Invention Centre at Norwood Junction, and posted about it. This is the first posting on one of the companies I came across in the exhibition.

Lukes Engineering is a small company based in Tatsfield, Kent which has some eye-catching products. This is a list of their published patent documents as shown on the Espacenet database.

Brian Lukes, who is clearly the engineer behind their innovations, explained a couple of their products. There was a Parking barrier which is impact resistant if bumped into -- it partly folds over -- while sounding an alarm while lights go on. A solar panel powers this ability.

Parking barrier patent drawing 

There was a Phantom® curtain motor, which fits beside a window and opens and closes the curtains at preset times to give the impression that a house is occupied. It can also be remote controlled.

The company is also interested in "up-and-over" garage doors. I was shown a device for manually opening such doors without it projecting outwards into the street -- I write from memory as a non-driver -- and there is also a retrofitting device for automatic usage, the Bow Arm Door Converter. In the  website's own words "It is impossible to fit an automatic garage door operator to a canopy type garage door without the use of a Bow Arm Door Converter."

I see inventors about their ideas on an almost daily basis. Sometimes I see prototypes, which are often, understandably, a little crude. That is good -- being shown manufactured products that fill a need is even better.