29 February 2012

The Common Citation Document for patent search reports

In the complicated world of patent searching a new tool is available to help analyse data in patent search reports.

When patent specifications are published many countries publish search reports listing earlier documents or “prior art”, mostly patents, that are of some similarity. This information is vital to the applicant, of course, as it will determine if the invention will be allowed.

Others will find the search reports of interest. Many countries publish this data on the first, A document rather than the later granted B document. This means that if an application is published there is a ready source of information on possibly damaging prior art to help those wanting to stop the patent or simply interested in new technology.

The normal approach is to look at each patent authority’s document for the same invention in turn. Now the Trilateral Offices (the USA, Japan and the European Patent Office) have put up a free tool, the Common Citation Document site.

You can enter a patent number and see different reports listed one after the other on the same screen. Look for example for US7479949, widely regarded as the main patent for the iPhone®.

It occurs to me that it would be useful to have a method to highlight, perhaps as an optional page, those citations that turn up the most times – so that if a patent is cited by say three patent offices it suggests that they are likely to be of special relevance.  

What I found really fascinating at the site is the “Inspector”, where on the right hand side of the page the classifications allocated by the different offices appear one after the other. Classifying patent documents must be very difficult, and sometimes offices allocate different classes to those by other offices.  

Take for example EP2015321, which is for magnetic cores. The European Patent Office, China and Japan all gave the same 5 International Patent Classification (IPC) classes.

The USA, on the other hand, gave 4 classes, only one of which was included within the 5. This may be related to the fact that at present the US office allocates the IPC by using a computerised concordance from their own classification scheme.

In addition there is EC (European Classification) data. This is independently applied by staff at the European Patent Classification to the invention, often with special, detailed subsets of the IPC. There are 8 EC classes for the invention – only 2 of which fall within the same classes as found by the offices (both being in the EPO/China/Japan listings).

Or take EP2097145, for a toy vehicle. The US gives a different, more specific class from the other offices’ class, while Canada adds a second class to the others. EC gives 3 classes – all different from those 3 different classes. You could, admittedly, use the broad A63H17/00 and ask for everything within it which in this case would work, but it would pick up a lot, and classification is meant to narrow down what is found.

These two examples were chosen entirely at random, and give food for thought. Maybe a large sample should be analysed ? Each search, at least in unfamiliar subject areas, should include carefully checking how the classes have been used by the offices.

These results may not be typical, and I do appreciate the great problems in classifying in a pressurised work environment. Nevertheless they do show that patent searching is a complex art and not, as some think, a simple, automated procedure.

28 February 2012

Create, innovate, protect at the British Library

Last night the British Library hosted a free event, "Create, innovate, protect" where the UK IPO hosted an explanation of the importance of intellectual property rights to business.

There were four talks in the auditorium followed by networking at the stands outside. The first was by  Dave Hopkins, of the UK IPO, who explained the different types of protection. Particularly memorable was his story about the much advertised George Foreman® Grill. Apparently it wasn't selling very well and the company asked George Foreman, the boxer, if he would give his name to the product. He agreed, and began receiving millions of dollars in royalties as sales took off.

The invention itself is apparently based on George Boehm's Electrical cooker patent. Here is the main drawing.

George Foreman grill patent image
The point of the Foreman story is adding value by using brands. It's hard to compete on price with the big boys -- so why not add value such as a popular brand (and the man himself advertising "his" grill on TV, as well) ? In this case instead of building up brand recognition they began with the name of a well known person.

Dave was followed by Jan Vleck of patent attorneys Reddie & Grose, explaining the role of attorneys in not just writing the patent document but giving advice and support in working out an IP strategy.

Then there was our very own Neil Infield, Manager of our Business & IP Centre, who has his own blog, In through the outfield, talking about what the British Library has to offer.

Stefan Knox of Bang Creations, a product designer company, rounded off the session. He used his experiences in improving and modifying designs to tell fascinating (well, very interesting!) anecdotes about what really happened in cables to secure laptops, sun loungers, a seating invention of his own design...

Afterwards the crowds went out into the foyer and were able to ask questions at the stands. I'm glad to say that we were all besieged. I talked to lots of people, giving what advice I could and suggesting our free one to one meetings about business ideas. The problem as always is giving useful information to people without being too broad and sweeping, as problems often can't be solved (let alone explained, or analysed) quickly.

27 February 2012

The UK Government's Foresight Programme

The British Government has since 1994 sponsored a Foresight Programme which, under the banner of the Business department, examines future issues such as manufacturing and science priorities (though its remit is broader).

It recently published a Technology and innovation futures: UK growth opportunities for the 2020s report which is packed with interesting reading.

Pages 25-34 lists “technology clusters” such as a smart electricity grid and plastic electronics where the UK is considered to have promise in developing new products. This section lists “annex sections” of topics within such clusters. These annexes are explained in detail in the Technology Annex which amounts to nearly 200 pages.

The Programme is currently working on the closely related Future of Manufacturing project, which does not report until the Autumn of 2013.

24 February 2012

Make it in Great Britain

The British Government has launched a Make it in Great Britain website. It is a "campaign aiming to transform outdated opinions of modern manufacturing and dispel the myth that Britain ‘doesn’t make anything anymore’."

It is a competition looking for entries in six categories. It is a requirement that the product is to be manufactured in the UK. The deadline for submitting entries is the 5 April, and shortlisted entries will be showcased in a rolling exhibition at the Science Museum during July to September.

Visitors each week will vote on their favourites, and the winners will be announced in September.

The categories are:

 Make it…Stronger
 Make it…Smarter;
 Make it…Sustainable;
 Make it…Life changing; and
 Make it…Breakthrough (for 16-21 year old entrants only)

There is no actual prize as such other than a lot of publicity for successful entrants.

This sounds like an exciting and ambitious competition and should attract a lot of interest.

23 February 2012

Early US patent coverage in the Espacenet database

The free Espacenet database has recently expanded its coverage of US patents before 1920. It has been possible for a long time to search from 1836 by patent number, but now options by class, title or name may be possible.

The sheet explaining US holdings is not in my opinion quite accurate (or easy to follow), and I've experimented, giving me the impression that, with gaps, coverage is good from about 1870 by ECLA class, and from about 1900 by title word or by name of inventor or applicant (assignee).

Previously information was only comprehensive, or pretty much so, from 1920 for these fields. Summary and a representative drawing are available from about 1972 only.

These changes mean that a lot of material is available for those interested in historical technology.

For those unfamiliar with it, the ECLA classes can be searched for by using the Classification tab in the Advanced format, and keyword searching. You can also move around within the classes by clicking on other classes or on broader classes (always given above the class you are looking at). When you find a class that interests you, tick the little box next to it and then click on Copy. The class is transferred to a new search page where US can be entered in the publication number field.

For example I searched for "stirrups" and got a list of possibilities. Clicking on either that word or the class, B68C3 gives me the contents of that class. I selected "one-legged stirrup". I added in the limit US in the publication number field and got 29 hits, of which 9 were before 1920 (starting with 1903, suspiciously late). 

It would be helpful if the database allowed searching by date range for all its collection, as I find that often doing this (in the publication date field in the format 1940:1950 for 1940-50) finds nothing for a given search even though the data is actually there. An algorithm based on each country's publication numbers ought to do it. This may have caused problems with finding pre 1903 material in the example given above.

22 February 2012

The folding electrical plug

Last Saturday's Daily Telegraph had an article announcing that "Britain's first folding plug" was going on sale that day, Folding 'Mu' plug launches in Britain.

We are used to electrical devices getting smaller, slimmer and of course more mobile. One thing that hasn't changed is the familiar electrical plug -- it's still bulky, causing size problems (and scratches) when it's bundled with a device carried in a small pouch or in a pocket. The answer was to make a new kind of plug that folded up, as explained in the article and in more detail in the patent, or less technically, shown in the video below. 


Four inventors are credited, led by Min-Kyu Choi, a Korean designer who is a graduate of the Royal College of Art. Choi is quoted in the article as saying that he was "frustrated by the dimensions of the traditional plug, and felt that the existing unit, which dates back to 1947, was out of touch and incongrous with modern design."

International protection was requested and there is already a granted British patent, Electrical plug, with its main drawing shown below.

Folding electrical plug patent image
Mu is a UK registered trade mark, no. 2592224. It's good to see it properly used with the ® symbol on the Made in Mind website for the company formed to exploit the invention. The price ? £25.

21 February 2012

Apple's slide to unlock patent for phones

Recently Apple defeated Motorola Mobility in a Munich court in a dispute over Apple's European patent for the "slide to unlock" feature on mobile phones and other computer devices.

There is an American patent, granted February 2010 for Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image, but the dispute was for the rights in European Patent 1964022 , granted rights in March 2010. Below is the main drawing.

Slide to unlock patent image
The BBC has a news story about it. It is the first time Apple has defeated Motorola in any of its disputes.

While the ruling only affects German rights (European patents become bundles of national patents after an opposition period which follows grant), it could provide ammunition for Apple taking Android phone makers to court for providing similar features on their phones.

14 February 2012

The intellectual property of dead celebrities' images and names

The Daily Telegraph on the 4 February had an interesting article, "Selling the dead", by Alix Kirsta, about disputes over the rights to use images or names of dead celebrities.

In most jurisdictions the right of control over the image or names of famous people ends on their deaths, but California permits such rights (at present for those who died after January 1938, for 70 years), and New York is thinking of doing so. Any such changes have enormous implications: a potential goldmine for many, and a hindrance for others in trade. Some have called the idea an attack on free speech.

In Britain these rights do not exist, says the story. In 2000 the estate of Princess Diana took the Franklin Mint, of Philadelphia, to court for marketing Princess Diana memorabilia. The case was heard in California because of their law. The judge ruled that she had not died a resident of California and therefore the law did not apply (and if it did, presumably only to sales in that state). In fact the original law only covered post 1985 deaths, and it took a dispute over photographs of Marilyn Monroe to cause a new law to extend the protection further back in time.

The UK IPO has a database of trade mark decisions by themselves which do not act as precedents but which are useful as evidence of how they interpret trade marks. They are for trade marks rejected by the IPO or where parties in dispute agree to go to the IPO rather than the Royal Court of Justice. Names given to products or services are of course only one aspect of the images of people.

I have noticed among them the following.

Einstein for clothing, opposed by Hebrew University of Jerusalem, O/059/06 and O/068/07

Jane Austen for toiletries, opposed by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, O/198/99

In the UK civil courts, there have been cases involving Elvis Presley, Anne Frank and Princess Diana. They do not necessarily involve the right to prevent the use of a name as a trade mark, or its use by others.

The database has a lot more for living people or bands, clubs and so on (and can be searched). Who does have a right to their name -- it's not always clear cut, as sometimes more than one person or group can lay claim to it. For example, O/009/07 has the band Queen opposing the registration of the trade mark Queen for a Day -- and winning. 

09 February 2012

Information sources in patents, a book review

The third edition of Stephen Adams' Information sources in patents has been published by De Gruyter Saur, ISBN 9783110235111.

Stephen is a well-known professional in the patent information world. This book is meant for the serious researcher who needs to know details such as Brazilian patent numeration, or what databases cover Russia. For those less involved in that area, it is still a very useful reference. Minor quibbles are that I would have liked the index to indicate for example which of the 6 mentions of India was for what subject, and I found the index citations to tables of data rather than to the actual pages awkward. With such a comprehensive book more space is needed for the index.

At over 300 pages there does not seem to be a relevant point that is not covered and discussed. The book begins with principles of patenting. As patent systems vary in their publication methods and content and in their numeration (if only historically), four major systems are discussed in great detail (Europe, USA, Japan and the PCT), then over 10 in less but still considerable detail. These include the BRIC countries (a special feature of the new edition) as well as the Far East.

Part II then discusses the different ways to get at the information in those documents. Numerous databases are not just explained but also discussed. As Stephen has a chemical background this subject is of course very well covered here.

I would have liked to see more on public sites, since these are used so much for accessing specific patent documents, and would like to suggest that this forms a "common search type" besides the three given (alerting; patentability and freedom-to-operate; and portfolio and legal proceedings) as obtaining copies is not always straightforward. Filing numbers can be taken to mean published numbers, and US Re-issues are a particular problem, as it is easy to think that a conventional US patent number is the correct text when it may have been replaced by a Re-issue with a new number. Both Espacenet and the official US database do not warn the user that the original patent has been replaced.

Other subjects in the book include legal status searching and classification. Someone new to the trade would probably find it useful to look carefully through the lists of 27 figures and 72 tables to see which ones illuminate problems or display useful data.

In short, this book is packed with detailed information and advice and is indispensable for anyone working in the field, or hoping to do so. It is very easy to construct a bad search or to misinterpret what has been found. Stephen's book helps make mistakes less likely (the searcher still needs to have ability !). The book can be examined through the publisher's website. It is certainly taking a place next to my PC at work.

02 February 2012

SolarLite road studs and Cats Eyes®

Cats Eyes® reflective road studs have been around since the 1930s, but SolarLite road studs use solar power to improve on them by providing permanent lights, and not reflected light.

The story goes that Percy Shaw of Halifax, Yorkshire was driving one foggy night and was prevented from going off the unlit road by seeing his headlights reflected in a cat's eyes. Actually there's another story -- only the gleam of the tram rails helped him. In 1935 he applied for his Improvements relating to blocks for road surface marking patent, with its main drawings shown below.

Cats Eyes road studs
Two transparent marbles are placed underneath a raised stud so that they reflect headlights, providing a gleaming path for drivers at night. Technically, they form a bi-convex lense. These make the headlight beams converge, while the light is bounced back as a single beam to the driver by a concave aluminium backing behind the marbles.

Ingeniously, the design means that the occasional driver who goes over the stud presses the marbles down, so that any rainwater that has gathered beneath clean the marbles as they come in contact with a stationary wiper.

According to an article in the Manchester Guardian (14 February, 1958) they were placed 12 yards apart, 4 yards in dangerous areas such as curves or hillsides, and cost £180 a mile. The casing of metal and hardened rubber weighted 10 lb. (about 4 kg.). The Wikipedia article on Percy Shaw says that the wartime blackout greatly boosted their usage. 

Cats Eyes® continue to be widely used in the UK. With the growing interest in reducing the use of street lights -- and their absence in many countryside roads -- a British company has introduced SolarLite road studs, where solar power is used to make a continuous beam. Astucia is part of the Clearview Traffic Group and is based at Bicester, Oxfordshire. The company claims that they provide ten times as much light as Cats Eyes® and usage cuts nighttime accidents by 70%. The video below shows how it would work.


More details are given at the Astucia website, including a link to a map of where they have already been installed in the UK and Ireland. It reminds me of the growing trend in putting solar panels on "street furniture" to power or light them. The company provides a variant for use on footpaths or cycle paths.

Astucia/ Clearview's World patent applications on road studs and the like are listed here.