30 November 2011

New research into patenting and innovation

WIPO has just published its 2011 World Intellectual Property Report: the changing face of innovation.

Its 184 pages packs in a huge number of tables giving data about research and development, technology transfer, patent pools, innovation by universities and the like. It looks like a very useful reference for anyone interested in such topics.

The report's arguments as summarised in the Executive Summary are that the geography of innovation is changing, although "high-income countries" still dominate R & D; it is more international; it is more collaborative and open; IP ownership has become more central to business thinking; knowledge markets based on IP products are becoming more important; patent portfolio races complicate cumulative innovation processes; patents facilitate specialization and learning; and so on. It also says that market forces do not always lead to "desirable levels" of collaboration, and that academia is doing more now in patenting and commercialising their research.

Also recently published are two UK-focused reports.

The first report is Patenting in the UK by Dr Victor Zhiromirsky of PatAnalyse Limited and Mick McLean and Jeremy Klein of Technologia Limited.

They suggest that each patent is equivalent to about £2 million in R & D expenditure. Their analysis also suggests that about 44% of UK-origin patents are by companies filing 5 patents or more annually; 40% from those that file fewer than 5; 8% from universities, and 8% by private inventors. Some inventors form a company and then file, of course, and some universities sell or license their inventions to others who then appear as the applicants in the patents.

Tables in the report are also used to show "clustering" within technical sectors by companies.

The second report is UK patent attorneys by the same Dr Zhiromirsky.

Based on the same format, it has some fascinating statistics about individual patent attorney firms and their activities in the UK and abroad. The report suggests that 58% of UK-origin patents are handled by patent attorney firms; 25% by non-attorneys (mostly by the inventors themselves ?); and 17% by in-house patent attorneys working for industrial companies.

The report also discusses the loss of business at the European Patent Office to Munich-based attorneys.

29 November 2011

Jottify, a website for writers

Jottify is a website where writers can "share, read and sell". I was told about it by its founder a few days ago, when he was explaining it at one of our free meetings where new entrepreneurs can discuss their business ventures.

He mentioned that BBC's Click was going to mention him on their TV broadcast at the weekend. It did indeed, about 20 minutes and 30 seconds into it -- with comments like "nice" and "homely feel". Here is the episode (UK users only). It is easy to navigate, and its interactivity encourages comment and voting on favourite pieces of writing. I can see if becoming a popular site for those who love writing.

We normally see those wanting to set up a business at an earlier stage -- the site has been live for months -- so we discussed ideas for the future.

So who is the founder ? He is a pleasant and enthusiastic man, who has extensive experience of building websites to encourage writers. He's a bit shy on the site, but you can find his picture if you click on "About" on the bottom left of the home page -- the "founder, developer and designer": Jack Lenox.

28 November 2011

Football goal line technology inventions

We may be getting closer to using technology to determine goal line decisions in football -- did the ball cross the line or not ?

It has been announced that an independent authority commissioned by FIFA is currently testing nine different systems, and will report in July 2012. FA General Secretary Alex Horne says that the accepted technology could be in place as early as the 2012/2013 season.

It's hard to make a definitive list of relevant inventions, but here is a stab at it, patents on goal line technology which is based on ECLA class A63B71/06B, which is for "decision makers and devices using detection means facilitating arbitration" in sports.

These include a Taiwan origin invention where both the ball and the boundaries of the field are equipped with RFIDs.

The best known contender is probably Hawkeye®, which comes from Roke Manor Research, in Romsey, Hampshire. These are the published patent specifications based on their technology. The image below shows how its triangulation method using multiple viewpoints could be used in cricket. This is the system currently used in tennis and snooker as well as in cricket.

Hawkeye technology image

There is also for example Goalminder, invented by two Bolton Wanderers fans after their team was not allowed a goal, which resulted in the team being relegated, and Cairos GLT, a German system.

17 November 2011

BP and its patent applications for silicon solar cells

MIT's Technology Review has an interesting article called "How BP Blew its Chance to Spearhead a Solar Innovation". BP had published in 2007 details of a process for transforming raw silicon into large cubes of crystalline silicon, which would be very useful in constructing solar panels, but they dropped the concept -- and the Chinese have learnt from the patent documents.

The cubes that are made can be sliced into wafers for use in solar panels. Every manufacturer is trying to cut costs, and this is especially important in renewable energy, where efforts are made to achieve parity at least with the costs of conventional power sources. The article implies that the new technology would mean an 8% efficiency gain in manufacture.

BP demonstrated the technology in 2006 at a trade show and then published two patent applications.

One was published as an American application in 2007, Methods and apparatuses for manufacturing geometric multicrystalline cast silicon and geometric multicrystalline cast silicon bodies for photovoltaics.

The other was published at the same time and a few weeks ago was republished as a granted US patent, Methods and apparatuses for manufacturing monocrystalline cast silicon and monocrystalline cast silicon bodies for photovoltaics. Below is its main drawing.

BP silicon patent image
BP continued to test the technology and then in March 2010 closed its operation and stopped developing the technology. They later sold the rights to Dutch company AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group, who are making some sales but in a difficult market due to the world recession and, sometimes, the withdrawal of subsidies.

Meanwhile, it seemed that several Chinese companies were working on the same technology. One of these was Suntech, the largest solar cell manufacturer in the world. They have now begun selling solar cells based on the concept.

Roger Clark, who at the time was part of BP's research effort, is quoted as saying that BP was very conservative and wanted to ensure that the resulting wafers were very stable.

Suntech's Chief Technology Officer, Stuart Wenham, says that Suntech got the ideas from an inventor called Fred Schmid whose patents were about to expire. He had formed a company called Crystal Systems and was working on making crystals out of sapphire, and had tried applying the technology to silicon. This is the Frederick Schmid who has a number of US patent documents.

The inventor in BP's applications, Nathan Stoddard, also says he learned from Schmid's work -- from a former employee at Crystal Systems.

It just shows that the old patents can often be a valuable source of information and inspiration, even if the technology sometimes needs to be adapted.

16 November 2011

Toy and game inventions from Chicago

Saturday's Telegraph magazine had a delightful article by Eric Clark on private inventors and companies in the USA submitting concepts to the big players in toys and games, Adventures in Toyland.

In most business sectors new ideas tend to come from in-house teams, the article says. In the toy and game industry, with a constant turnover of offered products, many of the best-sellers come from outside inventors and companies. Mattel and Hasbro both get offered about 3,000 ideas annually.

Big Monster Toys, a Chicago company, was strongly featured. It sounds like a fun place to work in, with CEO Don Rosenwinkel, in shorts and a t-shirt, saying that management "tends to run a very loose ship". Here is a list of patents by the company, which include Apparatus and method for gyroscopic steering, illustrated below.

Gyroscopic steering patent image by Big Monster Toys

That company (and others) came out of now defunct Marvin Glass and Associates, another Chicago firm. The company was responsible for many hits, all made by the big companies (but, uniquely, with their own logo featured on them). Their output was phenomenal, with over 300 utility patents from 1964 to 1975 alone, listed here.

Those titles include Squirting cigarette lighter and a Driver training apparatus for children. The drawings (and ideas) are often very vivid, manic perhaps (huge novelty glasses, anyone ?).

More famous is the Game with action producing components, manufactured as the Mousetrap®, with its main drawing shown below.

Mousetrap board game patent image

And what about their Game utilizing electric probe ? The equally well-loved Operation®.

Life at Marvin Glass and Associates was just as creative as at Big Monster Toys but was not as pleasant, it sounds. Marvin Glass himself was a chain-smoker who worked 16 hour days who expected the same commitment from his staff. He was obsessed with security, with everything locked away at night in vaults, no windows in his office, and paper stuck over windows in the offices. CCTV, highly unusual in the 1960s, was routinely used.

A tribute to Chicago's toy inventors has been made at Elmhurst Historical Museum, the exhibition Toys in the 'Hood. Here's a video about it.


The Telegraph article quotes Glass as saying that it helps with a good toy designer if he is emotionally retarded, and certainly hitting things and the like features a lot in these toys. It does bring the kid out in me, as well as a lot of nostalgia, as I grew up in New York in the 1960s.

14 November 2011

Inventions for 3D measuring for clothing

The Sunday Times yesterday had an interesting article by Kevin Dowling titled "Virtual tailor sizes you up for buying clothes online." It's about German company UPcload and its invention to enable "trying on" clothes on a 3D image of yourself, which could be used by online retailers.

The article says that customers browsing in a shop are ten times more likely to buy than if they use an online retailer. The aim is to improve those figures. If they are effective and don't take too much time they would certainly remove a big barrier in the trade. Perhaps they would be free to the user, in which case it would add costs for the retailer.

I haven't traced a published patent application by the company, but there are a number of patent specifications for using 3D methods to remotely assess the sizes of people for clothing purposes.

An example is System and method for displaying selected garments on a computer-simulated mannequin which is by now fewer than 12 inventors on behalf of Canadian company My Virtual Model Inc.

Computer simulated mannequin for garments patent image
The subject area is a bit tricky to research but here is a list of mostly relevant patent specifications on the same topic.

UPcload hopes to launch the product in the UK in the summer of 2012 following trials in Germany and a trial, just launched, in the USA with North Face.

11 November 2011

Hidden Heroes: exhibition on everyday objects

London's Science Museum has opened an exhibition called Hidden Heroes: the genius of everyday things. It celebrates 36 ordinary objects that many take for granted, most of which were patented.

I haven't seen it yet, but apparently pages from patent specifications and from advertisements of the time are included.

I like the idea of showing that even simple, taken for granted things all had to be designed and manufactured. I hope it sparks off ideas in many who come to see it. The exhibition includes the clothes pin or peg, the paperclip, the wire coat hanger, the safety match and the humble egg carton. And also the Rawlplug®, with its original patent GB22680/1911, illustrated below. A great name to give to a for a plug you put in a wall to hold screws -- invented by someone called Rawlings, so just a lucky coincidence.

Rawlplug patent drawings

The exhibition is on until the 5 June 2012 and costs £6. It is a travelling exhibition by the Vitra Design Museum. There is a video by the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones where he talks about some of the inventions in the show.


10 November 2011

Lonnie Johnson's Super Soaker® invention

Lonnie Johnson is an inventor who has made millions with an invention distant from his job as an aerospace engineer. He invented the Super Soaker®, the first pressurised water pistol or squirt gun.

He was working on ideas for a heat pump in his bathroom when he suddenly received a blast of water. He realised he could make a toy out of the effect he had come across. The video below tells the story.

The comment in the video that the product was a lot more expensive than the normal water pistol but that it sold because of its advantages was interesting.   

His Pinch trigger pump water gun patent was published in 1991. A combination of air pressure and arm pumping is needed for its truly effective blast of water. Here is the main drawing.

Johnson water gun patent image 5074437
Johnson has worked mostly with Bruce D'Andrade (who evidently contributed the trigger mechanism) on developing the idea, and Larami (later Hasbro) is the company that markets the toy. Here is a list of American patents by him in the subject area of spraying (there are others, it is too difficult to make a single list).

The earlier model was superseded by the Double tank pinch trigger pump water gun, with its main illustration given below. The separate tank meant that gamers could refill at any time (and not just when empty, I take it).

Double tank super soaker patent drawing

I am pleased that he has made, evidently, millions from his idea, and that he has invested some of it in building his own lab.

There's more detail on its evolution in the History of the Super Soaker page. It is unusual for a toy to have so much technical information about it.

09 November 2011

James Dyson Award: world winner 2011, Airdrop

The world winner of the James Dyson Award has been announced. It's Edward Linacre and his Airdrop irrigation concept.

In response to drought conditions in much of Australia, Edward has devised a system that uses water as effectively as possible. Moisture in the air is harvested and is then taken underground by pipes where it cools and condenses to water the roots of the plants. More details are given on the site.

Edward is a student at Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology. He explains in a video on the site linked to above that he made a simple, small version and put it in his mother's garden and it produced a litre of water in a day. Even in very dry climates, he says, there is some moisture in the air.

There were over 500 contestants. Edward will receive £10,000 and the same amount goes to his university. All the projects can be viewed on the site.


07 November 2011

Intrapace's "gastric pacemaker" device

Intrapace, a Californian company, has been working for years on a "gastric pacemaker", Abiliti®, to help obese people to eat smaller meals.

An implant in the stomach sends messages to the vagus nerve which controls feelings of hunger. When eating occurs the stomach distends and produces hormones and enzymes. The vagus nerve sends a message to the brain to say that these things have occurred. A signal back makes the stomach feel full and the person stops eating. In many obese people this message doesn't get through, and eating continues. 

The device uses a sensor to detect when food enters the stomach. This fact is relayed to a stimulator embedded in the stomach wall close to the vagus nerve. The nerve is excited and feelings of fullness are created.

The clever bit is that there is a timer so that the stimulator is switched off at set mealtimes. There is 20 minutes for breakfast, for example. It does mean a disciplined approach to mealtimes.

Following formal approval for use in Europe, a woman is set to be the first patient to undergo the operation this Wednesday, at Spire Southampton Hospital, a private hospital. Trials in Spain and Germany with 200 people resulted in an average loss of 30% of weight in a year. It is not available at present in the USA. There is more information on the Intrapace company website.

Below is a drawing from the company's Detection of food and drink comsumption in order to control therapy or provide diagnostics World patent application.

Intrapace gastric pacemaker patent drawing
And here is a list of World patent applications by the company in the subject.

Usefully, the implant includes the ability to send information about the patient's diet and exercise habits to a smartphone or a PC for patients or medical staff to use. Perhaps this treatment will replace gastric bands in the future.