25 April 2012

Spelling errors in patents

The IPKat blog has reported on the appearance of an academic paper by three German authors, The impact of spelling errors on patent search. It is in fact about errors in giving the names of patent assignees/ applicants.

It was rather hard reading but seems to say that the number of errors in giving company names in US Patent Office records went down from 6.5% to 4.7% between 2001 and 2010 in a sample of 3100 company names. That means that at least one error occurred in those names. The main sufferers were Koninklijke Philips Electronics, 45 misspellings in 2008, and Centre national de la recherche scientifique, with 28 in 2009.

This suggests manual keying in to me, and the solution surely lies in electronic data supplied by the applicants, together ideally with a thesaurus of known names so that a computer prompts a check each time an unknown spelling is used.

Important as this is, my own interest is more in incorrect wordings in titles and the summaries. I had a look to see how often “gold club” is used when golf club is meant. As of the time of writing, the phrase “gold club(s)” appeared 90 times in titles in the free Espacenet database. Of these, 45 were from Japan, and 27 from the USA (2 being Design Patents).

Espacenet will only correct spellings if their version is different from the original. In other words, if the original patent misspelt it, it stays misspelt. Of the 3 British entries among those 90, there is indeed Gold club cart, which was published in 1985, but the other two are errors in transcription or scanning.

I would not blame Espacenet alone – the Free Patents Online database for example reported 1154 hits for “gold club(s)” among US applications and grants, which does include designs and the full text. Food for thought, certainly.

24 April 2012

The European Union Patent and Unitary Court

The discussions – arguments, if you like – over the European Union Patent and Unitary Court have been rumbling on for many years.

When I attended the International Patent Forum 2012 last week here in London I entered the conference hall in the middle of a discussion of the Unitary Patent. The complicated issues involved in this are explained in detail in the Wikipedia article but here is a brief summary of the issues.

Before 1978 those who wanted patent protection in Europe needed to apply to each country’s patent office. Each would decide separately if a patent would be allowed, and renewal or maintenance fees would be paid separately.

Since 1978 there has been the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich. Many countries have joined it over the years and it is now required that new states in the EU join it. With hindsight membership should, perhaps, have been confined to EU members, but Switzerland and Norway are members, for example. This means that it is not possible to suggest that its patents are converted to EU patents.

The EPO means that a single patent application covering most of Europe can be made, and the Office decides if a patent will be allowed. The patent specifications can be published in English, French or German, although the claims in the patent grant must always be in all three languages. After publication of the granted patent, there is an opposition period during which the patent can be attacked at the EPO’s own court. This may results in revocation or an amended patent if for example it lacks novelty.

After that, the EPO patent grant becomes a “bundle” of patents, which confuses many. Any further attempts to attack the patent must be in a national court and only affects rights in that country. Renewal fees can be paid in one state but not paid in another, when of course it loses protection in that country. Translations into local languages were in the past often required to ensure the patent was valid (see the Wikipedia article on the London Agreement for this complicated issue).

All this means that patent protection in Europe is both expensive and risky for innovators. The European Union patent idea, which has been around since 1975, was to create a single document for validity for the entire EU with a single court to decide litigation. The granting of its patents would be run by the EPO. Publication would again be in either English, German or French.

As far as I can figure it out there are two main obstacles.

The first is that Spain and Italy are opposed to the three language regime as they feel it discriminates against their nationals. They launched legal challenges in the EU’s Court of Justice. Machine translations have been suggested to get around this, but that does not sound at all satisfactory. Incidentally the text of the European Patent Convention is considered valid in all three languages, which has caused problems when for example the exact meaning of the word “species” is discussed in a court case.

The second obstacle is where to put the Unitary Court to decide on all litigation. While Munich itself has been suggested, the idea of separate courts for London, Paris and Munich to decide on cases in those languages has been suggested. There are also issues concerning how it would work, its funding, and whether the concept is legal within the EU framework.

After over 35 years it will be interesting – doubtful ? -- if a solution is quickly achieved.

23 April 2012

Open Innovation: an event at the British Library

The topic of open innovation -- how to facilitate ideas coming to a company or other organisation from outside so that it can be further developed -- has become one of great interest to many.

The British Library is hosting a free workshop on the topic on the 21 May in London, Preparing for Open Innovation. There will be four speakers, including Nigel Spencer of the British Library (my manager, as it happens), as the British Library is one of the partners in the Open Innovation Project. I intend to be there.

"Collaborate to innovate" is the motto of OpenInnovation, who have a useful list of links. Another useful site is 15inno.

The first academic book on the topic was Open innovation: researching a new paradigm, published in 2006 by OUP. Procter and Gamble were perhaps the first large company to use it in a big way to bring in ideas thought of or developed outside the company, often by private inventors or small companies. Formerly 10-15% of their new products originated from outside the company, and this is now over 50%, a figure which was in fact a goal -- after all, they reasoned, most engineers and scientists in the world don't work for P & G. Applications are welcomed through their Connect + Develop page.

Another company that actively welcomes new product ideas is Reckitt Benckiser, which also has many household products, through their RB-Idealink page.

20 April 2012

Searching the old patents: France

France has a database of its patent data from 1791 to 1844, and intends to add material to 1902, at Brevets français 19e siècle. It is entirely in French.

Those who want to search material before about 1850 have, really, only three good possibilities: the USA, England, and France. It is very useful to have the French data available in this way on a free database.

Content can be searched for by title word, applicant name, address, or profession. It contains for example four patents by Robert Fulton between 1798 and 1801. As many of the American patents before 1836 have been lost due to a fire this is potentially a useful way to trace such material.

In the hit list, if you "voir la notice" you get a printable summary of content, while if you click on "voir la dossier" you get a set of manuscript pages, which in the case of the first listed Fulton patent was 68 pages long. Even for those who know French these could be hard going.

The British Library has in storage a published set of volumes containing those French patents that were printed (which only applied if the first year's renewal or maintenance fee was paid), and the material covered so far in the database corresponds to our Série I "tomes", for 1791 to 1844. They are somewhat awkward to use as they are only roughly in date order, and the drawings are at the back, separate from the text. Each volume is indexed but we also have on the open shelves of our Business & IP Centre an index by subject to 1876 (compiled by the USPTO, and hence in English) and various name indexes.

13 April 2012

Eurovia's paving that absorbs air pollution

French company Eurovia will be installing paving slabs that absorb air pollution in Kendal, Cumbria, next month. The name for the product is NOxer®.

The technology seems to be covered by their granted European patent Coating composition for sound-absorbing and pollution-abating facings, which is in French (but the claims are in English and German as well as French, see pages 5-6).

In addition, the text of the description can be translated by asking for it (in the left hand column) and then clicking on the Patenttranslate button. The results are really rather good -- you can understand what the invention is about. This function is "powered by EPO and Google" and is free. This is a recent revision of the earlier machine translations and helps when, as in this case, there is not an English language equivalent document.

So how does it work ? The coating is a mixture of spruce wood, cement, water and titanium dioxide. When it receives ultraviolet sunlight, it is able to absorb nitrogen oxide, which is emitted by car exhausts. The pollutants become nitrate ions, which are either washed away by rain or absorbed harmlessly into the paving.

The new paving has already been used in many towns in Japan. Eurovia has a page about the product. It sounds like a very interesting development, though I'm not clear how much more expensive it is than normal paving, and how effective it is in reducing air pollution for the pedestrians.

12 April 2012

Rights to band names: One Direction

Today's free Metro newspaper had an article about US band One Direction complaining about British boy band One Direction. A lawsuit has been filed. The British group are in Simon Cowell's Syco label.

The US band formed in 2009 and are quoted as saying that they were the "first to file a patent and trademark application."

You can't patent a name or wording (a common error), but you can certainly register trade marks. In February 2011 the trade mark "One Direction" was filed for as a US trade mark, which is awaiting registration, for "Entertainment, namely, live performances by a musical band". Oddly, despite the claim to formation in 2009, it states that its first use in commerce was on the 2 October 2010.

There is also Bandname.com™ , a free registration site even if you only want to search for band names (why make life hard for bands ?) where new bands can list unique names to avoid possible conflict, although I am not sure of its legal standing.

The US group is asking for the British group to change their name and for one million dollars, as the British group has been successful in a US tour.  According to an InsideCounsel page, the lawsuit is based on trade mark infringement -- which is strange, as the US application for a trade mark is still awaiting registration.

[The IPKat blog has a very useful post which shows that the British group have applied for a US trade mark. Ed., 17 April]

11 April 2012

Terrafugia's "roadable aircraft" invention

Terrafugia has published patent specifications for a "roadable aircraft". It flew for the first time on the 23 March. The idea of an airplane that can then take to the roads has long been a dream.

Based in Massachusetts, and using MIT trained engineers, the company published in 2007 their PCT "World" application for a Roadable aircraft with folding wings and integrated bumpers and lighting. The main drawing is shown below.


Terrafugia road using aircraft patent image

The initial pages discuss the problems of an aircraft that can also be used as a road vehicle. How do you protect the propellers from damage from debris thrown up from the road, for example. The vehicle uses a "pusher" propeller, at the back, rather than the usual "puller" at the front to help with this problem. The drawings shows the vehicle with folded wings about to enter a garage after sending a signal to open the doors.

The USPTO published a patent based on this application, US 7938358. There were 84 patents cited against it as prior art, which included what the inventors thought to be the earliest forerunner, the wonderfully intriguing Combination vehicle. Felix Longobardi was an Italian living in Chicago when, in 1918, he applied for his patent for a vehicle that could go underwater as well.

In 2012 the company published improvements in its PCT application Roadable aircraft and related systems.

The company is clearly excited. A video of the vehicle in action is given below. 


The cost will be $279,000, so sadly not that affordable, but 95 people so far have made a deposit. The company hopes to sell 500 annually. Apparently the CEO has dreamt of the idea since he watched the 1960s TV cartoon The Jetsons, where George Jetson commuted in a flying car.

10 April 2012

International Patent Forum, London

As a mere librarian I’ve never been to a patent law conference before, so the International Patent Law Forum 2012 will be my first. The organisers, magazine Managing Intellectual Property, kindly offered me a free press ticket. Conveniently it’s also in London.

My involvement with the patent world is in how patents get published, indexed, or searched, and helping inventors or companies. I do try to be aware of the main issues but not in detail, as we leave the detailed advice to patent attorneys. It’s a great chance for me to learn more about topics such as law changes in Europe and the USA, with speeches from senior figures such as the head of the European Patent Office and the chief of staff of the USPTO. A lot is going on – the USA is harmonising more and more with the rest of the world and there is the knotty problem of software protection, apart from how to develop and form strategies in patenting.

The audience is almost as important as networking is so important (I keep telling people that !): there will be delegates such as patent owners, academics and patent attorneys to talk to and exchange views with.

I’m looking forward to it, and will report back.

Patent for Battleship game

There has been publicity over the new film Battleship, based on the game of that name. Back in 1933 Louis Coffin applied for a patent for the game.

It's the classic game where opponents try to “hit” enemy ships which are marked by pegs on each side of the same vertical board. A simpler way, that is thought to predate the patent, is using pen and paper -- according to a Wikipedia article on the Battleship game, Milton Bradley published a pad and pencil version in 1931, "Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy". Coffin in his Game board patent suggested calling it Battleships. Below is reproduced its page of drawings.

Battleship game patent image

04 April 2012

The London Olympics and intellectual property

The subject of the London Olympics and intellectual property is a complicated one and this posting merely mentions some interesting materials. Legal advice should always be used when thinking of using the Olympic name and symbols: if you don't have explicit permission, don't use the names or symbols.

The UK has the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act (2006) which sets out harsh penalties for anyone falsely implying a connection with the Olympics.

I like the 39 Olympic logos from 1924 to 2012 page on the Web Designer Depot site, which shows the evolution of design.

Many of these were registered as trade marks or designs. An interesting piece of retro is the 1948 London Olympics poster, which has recently been applied for as a European Trade Mark by the International Olympic Committee as E10575041. It is shown below.

1948 London Olympics logo

32 trade mark registrations have been made by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games through the UK system, such as no. 2551176, where a vast number of goods and services are spelt out, as registrations are for specific goods and services within any of 45 Nice Classification classes. Below is Mandeville, who with Weblock is the official mascot of the Games, as given in the registration -- "this is front" and "this is front/side" are obviously not meant to be part of the trade mark but in theory that is what they are.

UK TM 2551176
There are also registered designs, and the OHIM database for EU-wide protection lists 88 designs by the London Organising Committee.

These include typefaces, to my surprise; the appearance of web pages; and numerous variations such as by colour of the main logo of the Games, such as this one below.

EU design 00894522-0010

There is an official page called Using the brand about correct usage etc.