30 June 2011

Out of this world: invisibility cloaks

Following the theme of our free Out of this world science fiction exhibition, what about invisibility cloaks, as in the Harry Potter books, or Star Trek.

The University of Pennsylvania has applied for a Cloaked sensor patent application, which "renders a sensor essentially undetectable in a predetermined spectrum without degrading the detection capability of the sensor."

Even more intriguing is one by Ray Alden of Raleigh, North Carolina. His Three dimensional cloaking process and apparatus was applied for in 2001 and was granted protection in the USA as US7206131 -- but with a very different title. The main drawing is shown below -- read through the patent documents to understand how the eye is meant to be fooled.

Three dimensional cloaking patent drawing 

Then there's Lucent Technologies' Cloaking device detection system, to detect objects that are using stealth technology.

And speaking of stealth, there is an interesting page on the Urban Ghosts site about patented stealth aircraft.

Of course, we have to wait for patent specifications to be published (18 months from the date of application) to see what they have to tell us. In February 2011 the University of Birmingham showed how using crystals can make paperclips vanish, as reported in an article in the Guardian.  Maybe there will be a patent application, but in the meantime mentions of academic papers on the subject can be found in Google Scholar.

29 June 2011

Patent classifications for green technologies

Identifying patented inventions in a certain technical field can be very challenging if title words are relied on. An alternative approach is to use the International Patent Classification (IPC) printed on the patent specifications.

UN agency WIPO has now created an IPC Green Inventory to help when the interest is in green technologies. Clicking on the + signs open up subdivisions. Clicking on a class in the left hand column of the table then provides details of subdivisions within that class.

Hence it can be used simply to identify the right classifications to use in databases such as Espacenet. Alternatively, it can be used to find patent applications published in the PCT or "World" patent system, which is favoured by nearly all major, and many medium-sized, companies, as found on the Patentscope® database. A PCT does not give the applicant a granted patent, but does simplify and cheapen the process for getting patents granted for an invention across many countries. WIPO administers the PCT scheme.

Clicking on the class in the right hand column opens a table which tells you which are the leading companies publishing through the PCT route. Summaries of the applications appear below. An example is "Charging batteries", H02J 7/35, where the PCT specifications are listed here.

It is a pity that main drawings are not included, but the database is nevertheless a useful resource for anyone looking for information on green technology. These sites are all free, of course.

22 June 2011

Nanotechnology inventions and patents

The International Patent Classification (IPC) has introduced a new class for specific uses of nanotechnology structures. This will be a great help in tracing such inventions as published patent specifications.

The Wikipedia article on nanotechnology defines it as the "study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale" -- they are so tiny that odd and interesting effects often appear.

Previously any patent documents relating to nanotechnology were placed in Y01N. This was an ECLA class, not IPC, the differences being that ECLAs are not printed on published patent specifications and that they only index the USA, the PCT "World" patent system, the European Patent Convention system, and some European countries. Use of ECLA has been extended to patents back to the nineteenth century is some cases (it varies, but goes back at least to 1920). It often takes months or longer to add the ECLA classes to newly published patent specifications.

Now B82Y has joined the usual A to H sequence in the IPC so that any patent office can use them when issuing patent documents.

Class B82Y at present contains 10 subclasses, and is for "Specific uses or applications of nano-structures; measurement or analysis of nano-structures; manufacture or treatment of nano-structures".

Clicking on the little hollow box next to a class number and then on Copy transfers that class to a search mask on the free Espacenet database. Other filters such as by keyword or company name can be added, otherwise clicking on Search will run that class looking for it when used as an ECLA. Moving the class to the IPC box is best when searching for new material, as it looks for it as used when published (it's a bit more complicated than that, actually).

Over 100,000 turn up if B82Y is treated as an ECLA, but only 963 at the time of writing if it is treated as an IPC. Except for two these 963 were all published from January 2011 onwards, when the new class was in theory introduced, making this a valuable way to check for new innovations in nanotechnology by companies or academia.

For example, the University of California is responsible for 17 of those 963. A slightly crude analysis can be made by country by asking for the two letter country code in the priority date field (where it was first applied for as a patent). The US accounts for 509 or 52%, while perhaps surprisingly China (CN) is second (15%) and Japan (JP) is third with 8%. Britain (GB), Germany (DE) and France (FR) together amount to only 9.5%.

Additionally, there is B82B which only has a few classes and I suspect is likely to have more classes in the future. It is for "Nano-structures formed by manipulation of individual atoms, molecules, or limited collections of atoms or molecules as discrete units; manufacture or treatment thereof".

20 June 2011

Innoventique, magazine for innovation

Innoventique is the name of a free, quarterly magazine, with its aim being "how to make money from innovation".

It is the successor to Inventique, and is available on the Innoventique: from innovation to marketplace website. It focuses on the UK scene, and I found it an interesting read, with a mixture of factual items and features. Back issues are available as well.

The website belongs to Innoventique Communications, a not-for-profit-company, with Frank Landamore of the Wessex Round Table of Inventors as its editor. The Round Table is based in Southampton, Hampshire, and is one of the many regional or local groups that encourage, inform and generally help inventors or small companies.

Also helpful is nearby Portsmouth Public Library, who run one of the UK's Patlib centres assisting those interested in researching and protecting their innovations.

16 June 2011

A better mousetrap blog and book

Back in February I posted about My favourite patent and invention blogs. I've just discovered a new one: A Better Mousetrap.

The blog is packed with interesting material, voiced frustration at the problems involved in getting a new product to market, and not a little humour. In their own words, "We use our blog mainly to vent spleen and tilt at windmills." I'll certainly come back regularly to read new postings.

A Better Mousetrap is also the name of a book by Graham Barker and Peter Bissell which is available from the site. It explains in great detail what is involved in, again, getting a new product to market. I remember how pleased I was on seeing the first edition, quite a few years ago -- later editions were a lot bigger in content.

They also offer a consultancy service. Based in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, they "help inventors with affordable invention evaluation and advice services". Their about page gives more information.

14 June 2011

Generic trademarks

Many trademarks / trade marks have been in danger of becoming "generic" by being used as nouns or verbs in usage, and court cases sometimes confirm that they are no longer trade marks. Trade marks is the British term, trademarks the American (and trade-marks the Canadian).

Wikipedia has a useful List of generic and genericized trademarks. A list of former trade marks that have become generic (generally in the USA, I suspect, as it is there that legal challenges tend to occur) is followed by a list of registered trade marks that are commonly (and incorrectly) used as generics.

I was reminded of this by an interesting article in The Independent by Rhodri Morgan on "Genericide". Thanks to my fellow BL blogger Neil Infield for telling me about it. 

10 June 2011

Chris Roller and his Godly powers patent application

In 2005 Christopher Roller of Minnesota applied for a US patent with his Godly powers specification. It was published in 2007.

In it he states that "Christopher Anthony Roller wants exclusive right to the ethical use and financial gain in the use of godly powers on planet Earth", even though the scope of an American patent is limited to its territory.

The USPTO must have had problems classifying the subject matter. It received International Patent Classification codes G06Q10/00, which is for resource management, and G06Q99/00, which is for "Subject matter not provided for in other groups of this class", that is, in date processing systems or methods. I checked to see what had happened to the patent application, and its status was given as "Abandoned -- Failure to Respond to an Office Action", the action in fact being a rejection. The "Image file wrapper" for publication 20070035812 on the official Public PAIR site makes interesting reading, and shows that the USPTO cited the Marvin Glass patent Magic game as prior art, where "the object is to amass the greatest amount of wealth in the form of simulated money." Its main drawing is shown below.

Magic game patent drawing 
Back in 2005 Roller begain taking court action against infringers of his (pending) patent application in his Minnesota courts. 

Documents on the Web make very good reading. In 2005 the defendant's lawyers rejected his arguments in litigation against David Copperfield the magician, which was a labor dispute, although he never worked for Copperfield. In 2007 the defendants' lawyers rejected his arguments in a fresh bid against Copperfield. They said his claim "was beyond the jurisdiction of this court or any court of this Earth".

Here is a video about the Copperfield dispute.


I am not familiar with US legal procedure but it seems that Judge Jeanne Graham in her 2007 recommendation threw out the second bid, on the grounds that no patent had been issued, and therefore Copperfield could not be infringing a patent by using godly powers. So no proof of his ability was apparently required.

Roller also took legal action against James Randi, another magician (who pointed out that he had no presence in Minnesota), as well as a church. There were other defendants, apparently, including David Blaine, another magician, and the George Bush presidential administration.

According to an article in today's Metro, Roller is a former US Navy nuclear engineer. 

This is, of course, a very unusual patent application, which is probably why it has attracted attention. It was only at the end of my brief research that I found a delightful posting on the patent application by the Intellogist blog. The blogger read the entire file on the PAIRS site, and found that it includes the statement "The specification has not described how one of ordinary skill in the art could make or use the claimed godly powers.” So it failed at the first hurdle: providing an adequate description.

08 June 2011

Laurence Rook and his doorbell / phone invention

There's been a lot of publicity for 13-year old Laurence Rook of Whyteleafe, Surrey and his invention of a doorbell which automatically calls the householder if nobody answers the door.

The idea presumably is that if someone calls with a package the occupant, if out, can ask that the package can be left with a neighbour, or rearrange the delivery. Sound is added to give the impression that an intercom is being used -- though the person doing the delivery may be baffled why the householder doesn't simply open the door.

UK News Gateway has a page which states that he will make £250,000 and that orders have been placed, and that the invention has been "patented as the Smart Bell technology". Other articles credit family friend Paula Ward, also an inventor, with helping with the design and with getting prototypes made.

Full credit to Laurence for thinking of the idea, but you cannot use a technical idea if it is already covered by granted patents, and I wonder if a search was carried out. Despite the statement in the article, I cannot find any published patent documents in the name of either Rook or Ward. Nor do you patent a product in a certain name, which is the realm of trade marks.

After checking the Searchable Patents Journal, which includes records of newly filed British patent applications, I did find on the Patents Status Enquiry site two applications made by Paula Ward on the 9 December 2008, GB0822379, "Always answer the door", and GB0822380, "See who's at your door", both of which terminated before publication. There were none in the name of Laurence Rook.

There are in fact quite a few patent documents out there for the idea of a doorbell activating a call to a telephone. The idea is graphically represented by the illustration given below, which is from Denis Hunter's British patent application Entry communication system pre-programmed to call a remote landline/mobile telephone. It was published in 2003.

Doorbell ringing a mobile phone patent drawing 
It didn't get patented, as there was "prior art" -- anticipations of the concept as shown in earlier patent documents -- as listed on the final page.

The many patents on the subject are rather scattered, but the prior art list for Ben Cornelius' British patent application Calling a remote telephone by doorbell activation and controlling entrance to a building from the remote telephone, published in 2007, and also not granted, is a useful starting point.

Prior art often invalidates the patenting of excellent ideas by showing that they are not in fact new. Sometimes they also show that a still current patent (they can last for 20 years) exists for the idea in a country where it is planned to sell or make the product. That means that besides not gaining a monopoly in the idea, which investors always want, you would be infringing a patent.

Generally speaking, it is not the idea itself but the precise solution which is patented, so different companies can patent different solutions to the same problem. A prior art search can also reveal a range of interesting solutions if only the problem, and not a possible solution, has been considered. Advice from a patent attorney should always be taken to decide on the course of action.

Prior art searches are hard to do on the Web without help, and I suggest asking for help at a patent library such as in Europe or in the USA, or else the local patent office.

03 June 2011

Bali Carty's photosensitive wristband, Sunband

Today's Metro had a short item on Bali Carty, a nursery owner from Birmingham, England, and her photosensitive wristband, Sunband. The darker colour warns youngsters to apply sun cream.

It's a nice idea, and I was interested in the statement "Bali Carty has gained a patent for Sunbands". I couldn't find any published patent documents on the free Espacenet database.

Then I looked at the Daily Mail's article on the invention. It quotes her as saying "It is the first product of its kind in the world". It also says that she developed it four months ago.

Patents take at best nearly two years to be granted protection, and must be new when applied for. There is no sign of an applied for patent in the Searchable Patents Journal, which occurs in the UK several weeks after application.

One visitor to the Daily Mail article site states that a similar device was on sale in Australia years ago, while another person wrote that she had received a free wristband with suncream where you applied cream on the wristband, and when it changed colour it showed that more suncream was needed. An advance on the concept ? This seems to be the product that my colleague Maria Lampert pointed out to me, UVSunSense™.

A quick look showed a different, more complicated device, meant to be attached to a wristband like a watch, American patent application UV detection devices and methods, illustrated below.

Portable UV protection apparatus patent drawing 
It is always advisable to carry out a patent search at an early stage even if, as I am often confidently told, it hasn't been seen in the shops. The Birmingham Patlib library, for example, would have been happy to help. Looking on the Web is a good idea as well.

Even if an invention is new, it is vital that the invention is kept confidential by not publicising it until after the patent application has been filed.  

01 June 2011

Patents for computer software, Peer to Patent

Today the UK IPO has launched its trial database of Peer to Patent, where anyone can comment on applications for software patents.

Traditionally patent office examiners research the old patents to see if a patent application is genuinely new. Software is a problem here for two reasons: they are often not patentable under existing legislation in Europe, and much "prior art" is not in the patents.

Peer to Patent means that anyone can point out that an idea has been done before. It's the "crowd sourcing" idea that the mass of people will know more than a single individual, as they will have specialist skills and interests.

There are similar projects elsewhere, such as the USA and Australia. The British content differs as it includes the search report by the patent examiner, where X (broadly speaking, done before) and Y (obvious improvements) citations of earlier patents refer to the affected claims within the patent application. This shows what is already known by the IPO.

Anyone interested can comment within 90 days, including commenting on the significance of suggested prior art, after which a report is prepared by the IPO to decide whether or not to grant a patent.

20 applications, which were originally sent in in December 2008, are already on the database and it is anticipated that 10 more will join them every week.

More information, including a blog, is available on the Peer to Patent home page. It sounds like a very interesting project, and I hope that it is considered worthwhile and is continued.