20 December 2012

Launch of the Cooperative Patent Classification

The much anticipated Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) is now live on the free Espacenet database as a more detailed version of the International Patent Classification (IPC). It replaces the old ECLA classes in that role.

On that database, asking for “Classification” takes you to the CPC schedules, which can be used in its own search box on the database. The alternative is using the IPC in its own search box.

I have already posted about the concepts behind the CPC.

What is essential now is that anyone running current awareness searches, or who is used to searching a particular subject area, check to see if the classification has changed or if new classes are available. 250000 classes replace the old 160000 ECLA classes, a 56% increase.

Even your searching did not include any of the old ECLA classes, there may be new classes available because of the incorporation of concepts from the US classification – in software, for example. Always have a look, you never know what you may find.

The way the CPC can be used from the schedules is somewhat different from the old ECLA.

There is a single search box in which you enter either keywords or a class, or you can drill down through the A to H sequence. For keywords, a list of possibilities is offered in order of preference. Clicking on the box next to the class moves the class to a search box on the left hand side. This will include “low”, which means that any subordinate classes to the chosen class will also be included in the search (click it to alter to exact class).

You can then either click on “Find patents” to run a search or, if additional fields are to be used such as date spans or keywords or selected patent offices, click on “Copy to search form”. A new search mask appears and the additional requests can be made.

Above the schedules are little icons. These allow extra functions, such as “toggle tree”, where the classes that are subdivided are perhaps show more clearly, and the useful green “CPC” icon. Clicking on this means that any CPC as opposed to IPC material is given in green. If an entire entry describing a class is green it means it is CPC only and is not used by the IPC. Other classes may have additional notes or references in green. To the right of the schedules is a little “S” icon, which converts the selected class to PDF format.

Within the Y classes, for interesting material relevant to climate change (but not used by themselves as they are additional classes to the main ones), the number of subclasses has also been dramatically increased.

Those who want to know if a topic has many entries in the CPC which are not in the IPC will benefit by clicking the green CPC icon plus the toggle tree icon. This can show dramatic differences, as in e-commerce in the G06Q30 area, where most of the entries appear in green and are, I suspect, newly added to the what was ECLA.

19 December 2012

Automated storage and retrieval of retail stock: inventions

Retailers depend on increasingly complex machinery and software to store and retrieve stock when they receive orders, something which is happening on a huge scale, of course, this close to Christmas.

I was reminded of this when reading the very interesting BBC story Logistics: rise of the warehouse robots

An example of what the systems can look like is given in the drawing shown below, which is from the (German language) Storage and picking system.  

Warehouse robot picking patent image

The systems are expensive, but they do mean that the right items can be correctly and quickly identified and retrieved. Storing them in an optimal way so that the most highly requested items are quicker to retrieve is often part of the system as well. Using staff would take much longer and would occasionally involve errors. It is easy to take all this for granted.

Autostore was mentioned in the BBC story. This Norwegian company has a system where instead of retrieval being based in aisles between high stacking, robotic units move around above a huge cube containing the retrieval system. They have an American patent on the topic, Method for organizing the storage of different units, which dates back to 1997.

A list of those World patent applications in B65G1/137D, the ECLA for such equipment designed to fulfil orders in warehouses, is given here.

Amazon went to the trouble of buying a company involved in the field, Kiva Systems, for $775 million. This is a list of World patent applications by Kiva Systems.

It’s not just retailers who find such systems useful. Pharmacies can use them as well, while the British Library is building a storage area for its paper copies of newspapers at Boston Spa, Yorkshire, which looks just as space age as any automated retail warehouse. The same principles apply. Automated shelving still needs to be installed before the newspapers are put there.

18 December 2012

The European Union’s new unitary patent

The European Parliament passed on the 11 December legislation for a single patent and its unitary court (UPC) for the European Union. The details of the concept are in my previous post.

The European Commission has estimated that the cost of obtaining patent protection for all EU countries is about 36000 Euros, of which 23000 is translation costs. By comparison, they say that the cost of an American patent is 1850 Euros (for private inventors and small companies). The cost of the new patent is estimated to be under 5000 Euros.

A press release by the European Patent Office, which will administer the patent, states “Request for unitary patents may be filed once the legal provisions for both the unitary patent and the UPC have entered into force. The agreement establishing the UPC is expected to be signed on 18 February 2013 and will enter into force once thirteen EU member states have ratified the package, including France, Germany and the UK. The EPO expects to validate the first unitary patent in 2014.”

14 December 2012

How the bar code was invented and developed

It has been announced that Norman Woodand, co-inventor of the bar code, has died. There is a BBC obituary with interesting facts about him and the invention. Bernard Silver, the other inventor, died in 1963. This post adds further information to the BBC story.

In 1948 Silver, a graduate student at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, overheard a conversation between a faculty member and a food store chain executive. The executive wanted the Institute to develop a system which would quickly and accurately capture product data at the check-out counter.

His friend Woodland first suggested ultraviolet light sensitive ink, but that did not work. Then he suggested adapting Morse Code – dots and dashes – by drawing them down to form thin and thick lines to represent binary information (zeroes and ones). The sand story, as told in the obituary (and new to me), came about when he was staying at his grandfather’s apartment in Florida.

Similarly the DeForest movie sound system, that used a sensitive tube to detect the projector light shining through the side of the film, was adapted. Light was converted into numbers rather than into sound. The patent advocates a shape like an archery target rather than our modern linear design, so that it could be scanned from any direction (both covered both formats). Its title was Classifying apparatus and method and it was filed for in 1949. Below is the main drawing.

Original bar code patent drawing

The concept was not feasible until computer power and cheap reliable machines based on lasers became available in the late 1960s. The now standard bar appearance is used, as the target design meant that the ink tended to “bleed”, making accurate reading difficult. The common usage of uniform barcodes had to be agreed by manufacturers in what is now the Universal Product Code, or UPC, and must have been a huge effort, as lots of items had to have codes printed on them before any scanning actually happened.

A bar of Wrigley’s® chewing gum was the first to be scanned, in an Ohio store in 1974.

13 December 2012

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings film series in trade marks

The first of the three Hobbit films, An unexpected journey, opens in the UK today on general release to an eager multitude of fans. It will be followed by The desolation of Smaug in 2013 and There and back again in 2014. All the titles of course to be preceded by “The Hobbit”.

The potential in merchandising is huge, and this is reflected by the sheer volume of trade marks taken out on names and words associated with the book, while others are related purely to The Lord of the Rings.

The money is not being made by the heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien. In 1968, Tolkien sold the film, stage and merchandising rights of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to United Artists for just over £100,000 plus royalties. That company sold the rights on to the Saul Zaentz Company in 1976. Saul Zaentz himself is a film producer and Middle-Earth Enterprises handles requests for licensing.

The Wikipedia article on that company lists some licensees for games and collectables, plus the film rights to New Line Cinema. As the first “Ring” film was only released in 2001 the value in what is in effect a complex brand took a long time coming out.  

I can only trace one registered design, applied for in 2006, and shown below. It is European Design 000482070-0001. Its title is “Clothing, jewellery” but in fact designs work so that it can be used across all product areas.

The Lord of the Rings European Design logo

Trade marks are far more prolific. Saul Zaentz has 180 applications or registrations listed in the European trade marks as found on the official database.

These include the titles of the three Hobbit films in French, German, Spanish and Italian as well as in English, and a few wordings in Dutch. Hence for example EL HOBBIT: UN VIAJE INESPERADO for the first film and LE HOBBIT: HISTOIRE D'UN ALLER ET RETOUR for the third film. For some reason the full title of the second film has not been applied for.

This EU-wide system was only used by the company from 2011 onwards, well after the “Ring” films began to come out. There are a number of British registration, the oldest being HOBBITS,  made in 1961 for knitted articles of clothing (and, curiously, originally in the name of Bear Brand Limited, a Liverpool manufacturer).

The EU marks include obvious wordings like GOLLUM, SARUMAN and GANDALF; also some of the dwarves; and numerous place names such as RIVENDELL, MORIA and GONDOR.

Various product areas are listed for them such as, for ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL, Classes 14 (jewellery), 16 (includes stationery), 20 (place mats), 25 (clothing) and 28 (toys and games). There are 45 classes in the Nice Classification and it is required that applicants both use them and list within them the goods and services for which they intend to use the mark – this can be fascinating reading ! The registration for SAURON for example includes Class 25 where the only use listed is "Costumes" -- interesting, as surely he's never really seen in the books and films ? 

There’s also THE LORD OF THE RINGS: MIDDLE-EARTH DEFENSE which I gather is a game that can be played on an app.

The trade mark show below was, however, withdrawn and not registered. Perhaps because of conflict with their earlier design registration ?

EU trade mark for Lord of the Rings logo

These EU trade marks can be found on the official database by asking for Zaentz as owner.

 Owners of rights often go to considerable lengths to defend what they consider to be their rights. In 2010 Saul Zaentz opposed the US registration of Mithril in Class 30, which includes jewellery, on the grounds that it was a word from the Tolkien books and that they had already registered it for other classes of products. The opposition was successful.

More controversially, the company has also asked a pub in Southampton, England to change their name from The Hobbit, and a website name incorporating the word “shire” was asked to stop doing so in 2004, although shire is a well known English phrase by itself and also occurs in Hampshire, Devonshire, etc.

12 December 2012

Christmas inventions

It's that time of year again and here's a roundup of some Christmas-related inventions.

There's the Christmas tree game patent application from the USA, which may sound an unusual topic for a game. The players roll the dice and fit branches onto a tree to form the Christmas tree. Below is the main drawing. Can't say it really excites me.

Christmas tree game patent drawing
The Christmas holiday access, indicator, and mementos key method and apparatus is meant to explain to children how Santa Claus gets into the house to deliver the presents.

Then there's the Artificial Christmas Tree and Antler Apparatus, where antlers are placed on the tree. "The antlers strength keeps the branches from drooping under the weight of the decorations, which leaves the Christmas tree aesthetically pleasing to the eye and particularly attractive for animal hunters and enthusiasts." Below is the main drawing.

Christmas tree and antlers patent drawing

More festive fun is in my 2007 posting on Christmas inventions and, a big favourite of mine, the posting I did once on the story behind the shaking Santas you see every Yuletide.

In that same theme, there is the Christmas ornament with selectable illumination and motion mechanisms featuring a novel reindeer, as illustrated below.

Christmas ornament patent drawing

I'll close with a festive contribution by ClearViewIP, an IP consultancy, who kindly sent me an analysis of patents relating to Christmas.

Enjoy the "holiday season" !

Christmas patents

07 December 2012

Translating Chinese patent documents into English on the Espacenet database

The European Patent Office has added Chinese to the list of languages available for machine translations on its free Espacenet database, which has a vast number of patent specifications.

“Patent translate” is a tool by which the text of either the descriptions or of the claims can be swiftly translated from or into many languages. Adding Chinese – so that you can either translate from Chinese into English or from English into Chinese – is a big step forward. While the translations are not exact, the vocabulary seems from a quick look to be accurate and you get a good idea about what the patent document is about.

However, this service is only available for the patent and utility model publications up to the end of 2010, judging from spot checking, so that there is a big gap.

This is important, as China is rapidly growing as a source of technical information it its patents, and Chinese patent literature is now part of the PCT Minimum Documentation that needs to be searched when so-called “World” patent applications are made. In October 2010 I wrote a post called Patents from China about the growing importance of Chinese patent literature.

Since then, in 2011 9,878 publications through the PCT scheme cited Chinese priorities, but this has risen to 11,744 in 2012 (and we’re not finished with 2012 yet). That’s an 18% rise !

To give an example of how the translation tool works. Suppose you are interested in solar power patents from China. In the advanced search format, you might ask for the simplistic

"solar power" or photovoltaic

...in the title field, plus CN in the publication number field, plus 2010 in the publication date field. There are 1,109 results. Click on one of the titles, then on Description or Claims (on the left) then on the red Patent Translate tab.

As this facility is not yet available for 2011 or 2012 documents it is a good idea to use the publication date range ability such as 2005:2010 to restrict the hits to publications in those years.

04 December 2012

Brand Beckham: designs and trade marks registered by David and Victoria

David and Victoria Beckham have in effect turned themselves into brands, and evidence for that can be found in designs and trade marks registered in their own names or by Beckham Brand Limited.

This is smart use of the intellectual property system to commercialise their images and names – they’ve spent plenty of time in the public eye getting known in the realms of music, football, advertising and fashion.

The latest accounts for Beckham Brand Limited give a turnover in 2010 of £5.6 million, with a profit of £3.5 million before tax, a useful margin. David and Victoria were both named as directors, their occupations being given as “pro footballer” and “musician” when appointed in 2004. Each own a third of the company, with XIX Management UK Limited having the remaining third.

I got this data from the Fame database, one of many accessible for free by British Library registered readers.

The earliest use of the intellectual system I can find by them is in 1999, when David Beckham applied for Smokey Beckham in the UK trade mark system for potato crisps. I like the pun on “bacon”.

Three other UK trade marks are registered in his name, and one by Beckham Brands Limited. There are none by Victoria Beckham (or Adams, her maiden name).

23 Community Trade Marks have been applied for “Beckham”, a mixture of the company or their own names, through the OHIM website since 2000 (not all are currently still registered). This is a cheap way to protect a brand across the entire EU. They include David Beckham’s own signature, as shown below:

David Beckham signature trade mark
 The names David Beckham and Victoria Beckham have both been registered for 11 of the possible 45 trade mark classes of business products and services. Another is a logo registered by Victoria Beckham, applied for in 2002:

VB and cat trade mark logo
Several of the marks relate to David Beckham’s football academy, but there is also Intimately Beckham, Intimately Yours and David Beckham Bodywear. If properly looked after these trade marks can be protected forever for those classes.

Turning to designs, for something’s look, in 2007 a series of 17 related designs were applied for as Community Design 00798467, also through the OHIM office. This included the design shown below, with the initial V between a d and a b, with presumably the d being the mirror image of the b representing the initials for Victoria Beckham. Or is d for David ?

DVB Victoria Beckham design logo
The series includes star logos and items (bags ?) with star logos or the logo shown above in different positions, or simply plain. The title for each one is simply “Ornamentation”, with no need to describe what products are involved, as the look covers all possible products. They may, perhaps, be available to see on the Victoria Beckham website. As designs, they have a limited life before being available to others (a maximum of 25 years).

Finally, seven trade marks have been applied for through the US federal system, a selection of those protected in Europe.

These include That extra half an inch, which initially puzzled me – it sounded very saucy – but it turns out that Victoria published a book called That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels and Everything in Between back in 2007. I must have missed its publication. The trade mark covers a vast number of products and services listed (as required) in great detail, such as “live fashion shows by a famous individual or professional entertainer”.

03 December 2012

Dragons’ Den: Boatbox®, the roofbox that converts to a boat

In the 3 December episode, last of the series, Mark Tilley had invented the Boatbox®, a vehicle roofbox that converted into a boat by removing it and turning it over. He was asking for £100,000 in return for 16% of equity. His company is called Boatbox.

He said that he had filed a patent application and that lawyers were doing the searches looking for prior art and they believed it to be the first product of its kind in the world.

I’m not sure if “product” meant a commercially available product or if it meant that nothing similar existed. A five minute search by me in the free Espacenet database found over half a dozen roofboxes that could convert into a boat, though they were somewhat different in their design. They all seemed to involve parts that had to be fitted together, or unfolded, instead of simply inverting the roofbox.

An example is Folding boat that converts to a car top carrier and storage container, with its main drawing shown below.

Folding boat converting to roof top carrier patent image

Tilley spoke of the price being £595 with the actual costs being £250. By investing in new machinery, £120 of that cost would be removed, leaving a better margin.

Theo Paphitis, a keen boater, was very tempted to make an offer but felt that the equity offered wasn’t good enough, and decided not to invest.