29 June 2012

Finding the patents of famous inventions

Many want to find the patents for famous inventions so that they can find out more. I have been told about a site which lists close to 500 inventions, mostly patented (the numbers are prominently given), and enables simple searches and sorting, Compare Inventors from FindtheData.

This listing is very useful, and they are accompanied by interesting comments and biographical details. An academic might ask for more such as the ability to sort by level or type of education, or by company. I have in my time been asked many strange questions by academics, but my lips are sealed as they were asked in confidence.

Also useful, and covering many more inventions (but only sometimes giving the patent number), is About.com's Famous Inventions site.

The site I have traditionally used is the National Inventors Hall of Fame site, which consistently gives patent numbers. As the emphasis here is on the inventor rather than the invention you get what may seem odd attributions for, for example, penicillin and television.

All three only give American patent numbers only. All three sites are worth researching but the problems are a lack of source material (many inventions are disputed, such as the light bulb and electronic television) and the frequent lack of a patent number to refer to.

18 June 2012

My talk on patents at Newcastle Library

I’ll be visiting Newcastle upon Tyne on the 4 July in a free event at its Business & IP Centre, In Conversation with the patent and IP expert, from 4 to 6 pm.

It’s going to be very informal, my talking but also answering questions and joining in discussion about the role of, and importance of, patents and IP. I’ve been in the business since 1987 but as a librarian rather than a patent attorney, which is a slightly unusual approach to the subject. For a number of years we have been emphasising how IP protection has to be backed up by commercialisation by using business information, and we've had lots and lots of visitors and enquiries.

It’s an approach that Newcastle has also developed, particularly since the launch last September of its Business & IP Centre.

Like the British Library, they are working with partners to provide a range of services and activities to help innovators and business people. Since the launch, their librarians have delivered nearly 130 hours of advice on IP to clients, while partners have delivered 123 sessions on topics such as marketing, branding and tax relief. Nearly 1450 people have attended 53 events. It now means that there is a single venue for information and help in IP, as well as business, for the Northeast.

It all sounds terrific, and I’m actually going to see it for myself. I haven't been to Newcastle for many years. I’m looking forward to the evening, and hope that many sign up for this free event.

15 June 2012

The Central Saint Martins' degree show 2012

I’ve just visited the degree show at Central Saint Martins’, close to King’s Cross, and wished I had longer than an hour and a half.

There was a vast amount to see, as well as exploring the building, which only opened last Autumn in converted buildings linked or roofed by huge amounts of glass, next to the Regent’s Canal, as part of a huge regeneration project. It has several thousand students who all study art.

I paid particular attention to the product design exhibitions, of which there was lots, but the jewellery, ceramics, graphics – well, the whole place was full of exciting and stimulating work. I was delighted that a lot of the work seemed to come from working with industry to design products to meet specifications, which is a great way to learn. Many were based on saving space in our shrinking houses by using compact furniture.

Among the dozens of possibilities I’ll just pick out a few that caught my eye. Today, at least, the designer was often standing next to the exhibit to talk to.

Edouard Burgeat, the tetra project for creating miniature vertical gardens quickly out of discarded drinks containers.

Sangkeun Yu, with his hanging partition to cushion the noises that resonate around so many restaurants (something I also hate, modern restaurants seem to be designed to be noisy as they usually lack soft furnishings).

Alix Bizet, with a cupboard with a front that opens up and comes down to form a table, with the support neatly folding back to the front and looking decorative.

Thomas Radwanski’s Neptune dining table, a proposal for the John Lewis store, a transparent table that has wooden supports with a centre piece that rises when the end pieces are pulled apart, revealing for the first time metal. The transparency is deliberate to show off the bones, as it were, of the table.

Fanny Nilsson, the sound station for Urbanmiix which is a handheld wireless speaker that can be stuck onto a docking station to enhance sound and also recharge it.

Tahiya Mueen, with her multitasking bag to help mothers transport in an easy and convenient way the things they need for the baby.

Perhaps my favourite – Yifei Chai’s collapsible table that folds up out of sight like origami.

The last day of the show is the 21 June – look at their website for exact days and times.

14 June 2012

Ying EDS and their enhanced depth solution technology

Yesterday's Evening Standard had an article called A TV revolution made in London ? about Ying EDS, a company that offers an "enhanced depth solution" (EDS) to TV and film to increase the viewer's enjoyment.

The immersive feeling is only slightly inferior to 3D systems requiring the use of special glasses, and is a post-production technique rather than requiring special cameras and other equipment when filming. It costs £21,000 per hour for television footage, while 3D for television is more like £70,000 per hour.

The article includes clips of footage to see what it's like. EDS uses conventional 2D video frames and alters them, and -- says the article -- "works on the brain - persuading viewers that they are seeing a deeper picture than they are - rather than creating an optical illusion, circumventing another complaint made about conventional 3D: that it can give viewers a headache."

The article also says "the patented technology they have been developing in London for over a decade could now change the face of TV worldwide."

A patent ? Gosh, that would mean lots of technical details. I had a look, and could not find a published patent application by Ying EDS, which means that unless they used another name that the technology is not in fact published, yet alone patented.

What I did find -- and which can be found by doing a Google search for Ying EDS plus the word "patent", where for me at least the relevant entry was sixth in the hit list -- is the fact that on the 9 May 2012 Ying EDS filed for a British patent for "Improvements in motion pictures", with the reference GB1205141.3.

I wonder how many people finding that entry would understand that this means that the patent application will be published 18 months from that date, with a granted patent to follow if it is thought to be new. Protection in other countries is potentially available by filing abroad within 12 months of the 9 May, who also publish at 18 months from the 9 May.

It is rare for journalists to cite the actual patent when discussing a patented technology. Film and book critics, I notice, do mention the names of the films and books that they review to assist the reader who wants to know more. In this case, of course, an incorrect statement was made.

11 June 2012

Early inventions in the London Gazette

The rapidly increasing amount of scanned material has opened up fresh fields of academic research. A favourite of mine for this purpose is the London Gazette, an official government journal, which is available from its beginning in 1665.

I had a look to see if I could find mentions of early inventions in its pages, and found quite a few, mainly if not entirely as advertisements. I have added in below the present patent number (which were only allocated in the 1850s as a single numerical sequence) as links to the London Gazette page.

GB531/1731, the feeding of swine.

GB663/1751, for pot ashes and pearl ashes. One of the inventors was from Georgia, and, unusually, the English patent was also valid in America and West Indies. On the same page is GB690/1754 for pine varnish.

GB766/1761, an anti-venereal potion. The advertisement calls it an “Imperial lotion” and gives the date of the patent so it is possible to identify the inventor as Thomas Jackson, who, unusually, is not named in the gazette.

GB878/1767, Bowen's patent sago powder. This is a testimonial to the product by the famous Captain James Cook, writing from Mile End on the 7 May 1776, who had used it in "two Voyages round the World". You wonder how much he was paid for it. Samuel Bowen was from Georgia, and the patent is for making sago and similar products from American plants equal in goodness to those from the East Indies.

GB2798/1804, manufacture of soap. By Baron von Doornick, who states in the advertisement that he has ceased its manufacture at his London address and that the “exclusive right of manufacturing the patent soap” has been licensed to Taylor and Lorkin, of a Whitechapel address.

Warnings of counterfeiting and where to purchase the invention are common. These are merely indications of the sort of material that can be found, and I leave it to others to carry out detailed research.

The use of the words patentee and invention while good but rather restrictive, while “King’s patent” is also useful. The former has 18 hits for 1750-1799, the latter 75 hits. I had the impression that medicines were particularly common.

Newspapers can similarly be scanned, such as in the British Newspaper Archive.

The English patents that these refer to are not available online, and printed copies such as here in the British Library must be referred to see the full text.

09 June 2012

James Dyson Award 2012 for inventors

The James Dyson Award for 2012 is open for entries.  

The competition is open to design or engineering university students (or the same within four years of graduation) in any of 18 countries. The brief is, "Design something that solves a problem."

The International Prize wins £10,000 and the same amount goes to the university, and there are national winners as well. The closing date is the 2nd August.

There are already 15 (anonymous) entries which can be viewed on the Projects page. They are interesting to read, as they often describe the nature of the problem before giving a solution.

Entrants so far include a special needs tricycle, a helmet light for cyclists, a power assist device for manual wheelchair users, and the "Shark" spanner.

04 June 2012

The craft of making tea

The art and craft of tea making is a very British obsession and tea is very big business.

According to Euromonitor’s GMID database (available in the BL Business and IP Centre) we drank our way through no less than 112 million tonnes of tea in 2011. The importance of the industry is also reflected in the intellectual property it generates.

Exploring the British Library’s intellectual property collection reveals the enormous range of IP assets which have been built up over the years by demand for our national drink. Goblin devised the Teasmade® (a registered trade mark for “Time controlled electric apparatus for making tea”) back in the 1930s. You can see a detailed description of the machine in the patent Apparatus for making hot beverages. This charming illustration is among the drawings.

Teasmade patent drawing

It also refers back to an earlier version of the Teasmade® by the same inventor, William Thornton.

The Teasmade brand is of course now famous and, after disappearing for a while, the device is back on the shelves again. Apparently the first name put forward by the chairman of the Goblin board was “Cheerywake”. Fortunately he was outvoted!

As trade marks are not supposed to describe the product or service “Tea’s made” might have had a problem – but by now long familiarity with the name would make any challenge difficult to mount. Goblin Teasmade was registered in 1938 (now just Teasmade®).

Trade marks and registered designs have been used to protect the “concept” behind some familiar marketing campaigns for tea . The “tea folk” depicted below, much used as cartoon characters in TV advertising, were registered by Tetley in 1991. Each has a specific role – Morris is the (all important!) inventor.

Tetley tea folk trade mark

More recently, Unilever has been promoting its PG Tips brand with a series of TV advertisements featuring comedian Johnny Vegas and a monkey (voiced by Ben Miller). “Monkey” is the subject of a British registered design (shown below) which is owned, surprisingly, by Comic Relief .

Comic Relief image of monkey

Unilever also introduced the triangular, “Pyramid” teabag for its PG tips brand back in 1996. Their publicity describes it as “revolutionary”, and states that “with more space inside it acts like a miniature teapot, giving the leaves more room to move.”

Molins, a Midlands company that specialises in machinery for preparing food or tobacco, devised technology for filling the triangular sachets described in their European patent application Apparatus and methods for producing packets.The drawing below is one of eight illustrating the process of putting the “filling material” (tea leaves, presumably) into the packaging.

Molins tea packing patent drawing

It is interesting that tea experts claim triangular bags do not mean a better cup of tea, just a quicker one.

Even the box in which the same tea bags are sold is an IP assest protected in this case by British design 2035706, as shown below. Clearly, when it comes to tea, intellectual property has it covered from every angle. Pyramid tea bags package