31 October 2011

Apple Cafe trade mark dispute in Germany

Today's free Metro newspaper has a brief entry about a trade mark dispute in Germany. Christin Römer has been told by the company that she is infringing a trade mark owned by Apple.

In 1996 Apple registered the trade mark given below in the national German trade mark system.

Apple Cafe German trade mark

These are the details on it from the national register, which says it covers Nice Class 43 for snack bars and the like. There are 45 classes for different areas of business, so that the same words or logos can co-exist.

In April 2011 Christin Römer succeeded in registering in the same system the trade mark given below in 13 different classes, with goods and services described in German in the official details. Class 43 is one of them. Apparently she runs a cafe, though her ambitions are broad if she's registered it for so many classes.

Apfelkind German trade mark
"Apfelkind" means "Apple child". So, are there grounds for claiming that the public are being confused or deceived ? Will they be reminded of Apple's logo when they see the Apfelkind logo ? Is Apple claiming a monopoly on the concept of an apple in brands, one wonders. Perhaps the problem is where the child's head interrupts the skin of the apple, suggesting for some the familiar logo.

Here is one posting on the subject on the Tech.Blorge site. It's not quite the same, but this case reminds me of the Tea Box dispute, where the appearance of a teapot was the problem. I posted on it back in 2009.

28 October 2011

Rufus Roo®, innovation of the Year

I was pleased to hear that a company helped by us has become Innovation of the Year in the North Devon Journal Business Awards. This is Rufus Roo®, a travel jacket with large, strong pockets so that you can take up to 10 kilogrammes onto a low-cost flight, and avoid paying to put a suitcase in the aircraft's hold.

I posted about them back in July. The cheeky product continues to enjoy strong sales. I liked the comment in the company's page that Ryanair had said that they were not going to ban the jacket or impose a "Roo tax".

Apparently a New Zealander designed it for them, hence the "down under" name of the product. A strong brand identity is always a good idea to make a product stand out, and they have that with the trade mark, but a distinctive look can be important too.

Therefore the site mentions that they have secured Community Design 001817099. Below is the main drawing.

EU design 001817099_0001_1

19 October 2011

The UK IPO's IPSUM database for patent correspondence

The UK IPO has recently launched the IPSUM database, which records data on the status of GB or EP (UK) patents as well as the correspondence between the IPO and applicants and their agents.

Potentially, a lot of valuable information is available. An example is the data on GB2443127. The status is given as "awaiting applicant's response", as on the 19 May an office decision, O/170/11, was made where an examiner refused Halliburton's application on the grounds that it was on an unpatentable subject. The status sounds odd, as the decision states that any appeal must be made within 28 days. It's now been five months.

The decision itself and other items of correspondence (but not, it seems, internal memos etc.) can be found by clicking on Documents on the right hand side of the results page. There are links to the patent specification above the status data, in this case to the British A document on Espacenet (which is one page, explaining that it is based on a PCT document) and also to the PCT specification itself on the Patentscope database.

The new database usefully supplements the British status data already available on the Patent Status Enquiry database. In this particular case, that database only tells us that an examination was requested in 2008.

However, as the database is so new the coverage seems to be mainly limited to recent applications. There is information explaining about this -- for example, third party observations on patentability is only available if put on the file after the 1 July 2011.

The file of documents -- "file wrapper" in the USA -- is very useful for those looking for information on what's happening with other people's patent applications. I suspect, though, that if cases go to the law courts that the file will simply end, and ideally information explaining that a dispute is now in civil litigation arena would be very helpful. There is similar data (status plus correspondence) in the European Patent Office with its European Patent Register, while the USA has Public PAIR.

More details are available from a useful posting on IPSUM and Public PAIR on the Intellogist blog.

By the way it is important to remember to enter either GB or EP before the patent number when using IPSUM.

17 October 2011

Inventions for Halloween

Halloween is the subject of numerous inventions. I've posted before on the subject in 2007 and in 2008.

Since then there have been quite a few, including the Halloween portable container by Linda Acosta of Illinois, with one of its drawings shown below.

Halloween portable container patent image
There's also Halloween greeting system by Barry Shuman of California, illustrated below, where children are prompted by an audio player to say "trick or treat" and "thank you".

Halloween greeting system patent drawing

This is a list of American patent specifications on the Espacenet database which have the word "Halloween" in their abstract (summary).

I'll leave the last word to Eduardo Villasenor of California and his Halloween candy sign.  

11 October 2011

Berkeley Bionics' exoskeleton eLEGS

Berkeley Bionics, a California company, will be showcasing their exoskeleton for wheelchair users, eLEGS, at a London exhibition. It will be at the London International Technology Show at ExCel, 21-23 October.

Their latest World patent application was published a year ago as Wearable material handling system, with the University of California as co-applicant. The main drawing is shown below.

Berkeley Bionics exoskeleton patent drawing 
Based on their own work on HULC, a load-carrying device for use by the army, eLEGS enables paraplegics to walk slowly although, judging from the videos, while continuing to use crutches. There are a number of videos such as this one which can be watched. I certainly like the drama of the drawing shown.

The patent application talks about lifting loads, and I suspect it's aimed at the army need, as the document says it was financed by defense and science contracts. The drawing is, however, similar to the device used in the videos. The application talks of "an exoskeleton device which provides a user with the means to manipulate a frontal payload and reduce the energy required to manipulate and transfer the payload".

I always like looking at search reports for mentions of forerunners, and the one at the end of the patent specification which is cited as most significant is the Powered exoskeletal apparatus which was applied for as long ago as 1966 by Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory. It was a "Man amplifier", which was intended to increase several times the ability of the user to do physical tasks. This was some years before The Six Million Dollar Man series -- maybe it inspired it.

This is a list of the World patent applications by the company.

05 October 2011

The Patent Blog, Live: a fun event !

Last night we had The Patent Blog, Live, a new kind of event where readers of this blog could meet me and ask questions. This was the posting advertising it.

Unfortunately Nigel Hanley of the UK IPO was unable to make it, so it was left to me to field questions on a variety of topics, which was followed by networking over wine. There were many questions and comments on marketing and developing your product, the role of patent attorneys, the different kinds of intellectual property, and confidentiality agreements.

Questions included, was it worthwhile worthwhile patenting a product ? Not necessarily, I suggested -- it may not be worth the cost and effort of getting a patent. First-mover advantage and/ or trade secrets may be best, especially for a novel product where you plan to get out in say six months.

I also suggested that trade marks are often the most valuable possession of an entrepreneur. Someone asked if you could register an image as a trade mark. Yes, I replied, but in my opinion it is best to use words as well or instead, as words and not images are easily searched for on Google (or asked for on the phone). Sometimes a domain name is best, especially if the brand you want describes the product or service, and you want to drive customers to your website (trade marks cannot purely describe the product or service). Think of the companies you see on TV whose sole intent is that you remember their website.

Obviously I couldn't give detailed answers in many cases. Just the same it was clear that those attending found it a fun and stimulating event. I certainly did, as I was kept busy all evening.

Something that was appreciated in the networking  was our offer of free "one to one" meetings where anyone can meet with one of our staff to discuss their ideas. The relevant intellectual property is explained, and suggestions made for their business plan (I always emphasis the value of business plans, including financial projections). This is meant for early-stage businesses only. Requests can be made through our information clinics page.