16 December 2011

Google's patent for a self-driving car

Google was granted on the 13 December a US patent for a driverless car, titled Transitioning a mixed-mode vehicle to autonomous mode.

The BBC has an intereting story about the features of the invention. The patent was applied for in May and so took only 7 months to get granted, which is amazingly fast (3 or 4 years would be fairly quick). It is a strange field for the company to be working in.

The list of documents in the file wrapper for this patent, from Public PAIRS, shows that on the 5 November Google stated that they were not intending to secure a patent in a foreign country that published applications 18 months from the original filing. This means -- provided that the technology is really new -- that Google has surrendered monopoly rights over the technology in the patent outside the USA.

Anyone looking for similar technology can see the list of 31 patents cited against it as relevant prior art.

15 December 2011

Electrolux Design Lab 2012 competition on home appliances

Electrolux, the Swedish home appliances manufacturer, has launched its Design Lab 2012 competition with the theme "Design Experience".

Entrants, who must be undergraduates or recent graduates in industrial design anywhere in the world, are asked to design a home appliance that "provides a fuller sensory experience". Electrolux's annual competitions each have a different, futuristic theme.

Entries have to be in by the 1 June 2012. Top prize is 5000 Euros and a six month paid internship at an Electrolux design centre, with second and third prizes of 3000 and 2000 Euros. The eight finalists would have presented their concepts at an event held in the Autumn of 2012 in a European city.

The 2011 theme was intelligent mobility within home appliances. Adrian Makovecký was the winner with his portable spot cleaner. This is a short video about the 2011 competition, the final being in London.


The presentations by the 2011 finalists is also available.

07 December 2011

New College: a trade mark dispute

There is a dispute about who has the rights to the name "New College" in the mechandising of goods and services in the UK.

On the 9 May the London-based New College of the Humanities applied for a UK trade mark for that name for specified goods or services in four classes as listed in application 2580647. The classes are so that applicants can register in different areas as generally trade marks can co-exist in different business areas.

On the 21 July New College, Oxford, applied for New College Oxford for 12 classes as listed in application 2588652. The four classes of the earlier application are among those 12, so there is conflict.

Normally the first to apply for registration wins, but under common law arguments could be made about confusing or deceiving the public.

The BBC site has an article on the subject, New College Oxford wants trademark protection for name by Sean Coughlan, an education correspondent (In fact in the UK the term is trade mark rather than trademark, the US term). It points out that New College by itself would be too vague to be registered, and speculates that New College of the Humanities is similarly not specific enough. The defence in such cases is to find cases where this did in fact happen.

Both trade marks are awaiting registration or refusal, although the earlier one has been "examined", which probably means that "absolute grounds" -- does it past a test set by the UK IPO -- present an objection such as too generic and so on. This is different from "relative grounds", where following a search for similar registered trade marks the owners are notified and can object -- as can others, such as New College Oxford in this case.

Incidentally, a correspondent to today's Daily Telegraph, who alerted me to the story, talks of "copyright". This is a common error. Brand names are trade marks, while artistic and literary works such as books, films, artworks, photography and so on receive the weaker protection of copyright, which is a right against deliberate copying. The letter does make good reading.


06 December 2011

Tobii Technology: eye tracking for wheelchair users

Today's Metro newspaper has an article about the concept of wheelchair users being able to control the wheelchair by using the movement of their eyes.

Swedish company Tobii Technology have been working on the idea of people who cannot use their limbs having infrared light shone on their eyes, and what they look at is captured by infrared cameras. 

The company has published 10 World patent applications, including Eye detection unit using sequential data flow, illustrated below.

Tobii Technology patent image

Eye tracking is the only technical area that the company works in.

The article also talks about Aldo Faisal of Imperial College, London, who is working on a different approach. After a "user interface" suggests a particular route, the wheelchair user blinks twice to agree and the wheelchair moves off. Faisal, who is a lecturer in neurotechnology, is quoted as saying that the idea came from "a crazy side project that actually worked".

I have not traced a published patent specification in the name of Faisal.

02 December 2011

The UK IPO's patent data mining reports

The UK IPO has recently launched a new page called Patent Informatics: using patent data to mine, reveal, and inform, for government and for industry.

At present there are eight reports available to read, on subjects such as recycling; energy from waste; regenerative medicine; graphene; and nanotechnology.

There is also a report on patent thickets, when numerous patents are found in a fast growing technical area impeding attempts to launch products. It includes initial attempts at automated detection of such thickets. The term thickets was used in the recent Hargreaves Review.

The reports look useful for anyone wanting to analyse patterns in technology in these areas.

01 December 2011

The sinking of the Titanic and patented inventions

Publicity is building up towards the centenary next April 15 of the sinking of the SS Titanic on her maiden voyage. This posting is about the patent applications made following her sinking.

Most patent systems number their patents as they are published, but British patents until 1915 were numbered as they were handed in at the Patent Office. Using data from the subject divisions of illustrated summaries (available on the open shelves of our Business & IP Centre), I compiled the following table showing how applications spiked for two classes in 1912:

Year of application

Class 77, Lifesaving

Class 113 (II), Ships
















Lifesaving included deck furniture that could be thrown into the sea as floats, while the Ships class included lifeboats and collapsible boats. April and May saw a surge in applications for these and related topics from around the world.

The 1912 annual report of the Patent Office states:

The loss of the "Titanic" in the early part of the year was followed by a remarkable number of inventions relating to the general problem of saving life at sea. Mechanical devices for effecting the speedy and safe lowering of boats from ships received considerable attention, as also did ship-fittings designed to be readily detached and used as rafts in case of emergency and bouyant fittings for personal wear. Means for preventing collisions at sea attracted many inventors, more particularly for detecting the near presence of ice at night or in a fog; while others devoted themselves to arrangements for enabling a wireless distress signal to be received even though the operator is off duty.

I carried out a full text search for 1912-13 to see if any published patents mentioned the Titanic. I only found two.

William Monroe White of Milwaukee with his American patent, filed the 22 April 1912, for a Life-saving device discussed the loss of life and attributed it to the lack of lifeboats. His solution, illustrated below, was to use detachable floating double-skinned funnels or stacks (the four on the Titanic, one in real life a dummy to look more impressive, are shown). He estimated that each could hold 700 people.

US patent 1061209

White mentions the "enormous loss of human life" in the disaster.

The other patent was by James Stevenson of Londonderry, engineer, who filed on the 17 May 1912 for his Improvements in or connected with ships or vessels. He spoke of the "terrible disaster".

Another example of a patent that was apparently inspired by the disaster is the delightful Improvements in life saving devices, applied for by John Schwab of Winnipeg, Canada, boilermaker, on the 8 June 1912. The illustration shown here speaks for itself.

British patent 191213481
Then there was another intriguing idea by two Danish applicants (one a manufacturer, the other a wholesale dealer), made on the 21 May 1912, the Improvements in or relating to ships or the like.

British patent 191212081

Illustrated above, the concept was that the stern would be designed to separate and float off -- the stern, as it was less likely to be involved in a collision, they said. It would carry a boat and would include  wireless, a post office, storerooms for provisions, and strong rooms for valuables.