31 January 2013

Marks & Spencer alleged to have copied Nudo’s olive oil logo

There have been newspaper reports, such as an article in the Evening Standard, that Nudo, a small olive oil producer, is stating that Marks & Spencer are using a very similar olive tree logo to theirs on their olive oil range. Here are the contrasting logos.

Nudo and Marks and Spencer olive tree logos

Nudo was founded as a company by Jason Gibb and his partner Cathy Rogers in 2005. Her sister designed the logo. It is a premium Italian olive oil.

In 2011 Marks & Spencer launched their range, and it seems strange that the dispute has only just occurred. Mr Gibb is quoted as saying “I just want these big players to stop ripping off the small guy.”

M&S deny copying the logo and say that the olive tree theme is common in the sector “as customers instantly associate them with the product”.

While I am not a patent attorney or lawyer, I wonder if Nudo would be on stronger ground if they alleged not copyright infringement, which is what seems to be happening, and where copying must be proven, but rather trade mark infringement. The problem is that the olive tree logo has not been registered by Nudo. In fact they have not registered Nudo as a trade mark either. I checked all three systems that cover the UK: the national, European and Madrid Agreement Protocol.

It would have cost just £170 to register a UK trade mark via the Web at the UK IPO for activities in Class 29, which includes olive oil. It is possible that they would have been asked to add the word Nudo to the logo to make it more distinctive, which in turn would admittedly weaken any claim to trade mark infringement. There are several registered trade marks that include the word Nudo, and one covers Class 29:

Nudo sushi box trade mark logo

Trade marks can co-exist in the same class if no conflict arises: few would associate sushi with olive oil, I suggest.

As so often, one for the lawyers to sort out.

30 January 2013

The LumiPotti® night-time toilet for children

I recently came across the LumiPotti toilet to help children use a toilet at night. I have written on the topic of toilets with aids for children before, in my post Toilet training aids for children.

The LumiPotti website says that two mothers, Rachael and Kerry, thought of the idea over “coffee morning banter”. The site announces that they have received a granted UK patent, Childs pot. Its main drawing is given below.

 LumiPotti nightime training aid for children patent image

It involves a “potty” (child’s toilet) with a removable lamp which has a motion detector with a timer to switch off after an interval. As often happens, the title had changed since the patent application, when it was called Motion detector lamp for potty. Rachael Louise Forder is given as the inventor, and the applicant was Small Ideas Limited, of Southsea, Hampshire. Both women are named as the directors of that company.

The website says that the recent grant of the patent “is a big step in the security of LumiPotti and means that we are now officially the world’s first and only ‘night-light child’s pot’ for night toilet.”

I’m sorry but that isn’t quite true. It may indeed be the only toilet that switches a light on when used in darkness, but having a granted patent for a method of doing so (there may be more than one way of doing this, which can also be patented) does not make the invention “official”. The UK IPO themselves found 8 patent specifications which had a certain similarity which are listed here.

I would also suggest that the owners add the ® symbol to the end of LumiPotti on their website and in other usage as this makes it clear that the brand name is a UK registered trade mark, as it was registered last September as no. 2623533

While it is not essential, it is a good idea to use the symbol in a consistent fashion as it shows that the mark is registered, which gives it stronger rights over non-registered usage, and that the owners are serious about their intellectual property.

The product is not yet available for sale. I wish the owners well with the product in the future.

29 January 2013

Consultation on patent law harmonisation

The UK IPO is inviting interested parties to complete a detailed questionnaire (36 pages including notes) as part of a consultation on patent law harmonization.

It is called the Tegernsee Experts Group – Informal Consultation on International Patent Law Harmonisation and replies are requested by the 1 March 2013.

It is part of an international effort to sort out and harmonise four aspects of patent law and procedure. These are

 Grace periods. Should it be permitted to have a “grace period” during which disclosure of an invention is allowed before filing a patent, which establishes the novelty “priority” filing. The USA for one allows domestic applicants to use the grace period.

 Publication at 18 months. At present most countries publish patent applications 18 months after the same priority date. Applicants have the right to file for foreign rights within 12 months of the priority date. Is this timing correct or should the timescale be altered.

 Treatment of conflicting applications. Because publication occurs 18 months after the priority filing, sometimes an application is anticipated by another application made months before, that neither the patent office nor the later applicant knew about. What should be allowed.

 Prior user rights. This is about the right to continue to use an invention if that was being done before someone else filed a patent for the invention. Has there been actual use or only preparations for use.

This looks like a very interesting amd important consultation and I would encourage interested parties to reply.

24 January 2013

The Patent Box: tax breaks for UK innovation

From the 1 April 2013 UK companies will be able to claim a corporation tax break on profits from patents in what is called the “Patent Box” scheme. HM Revenue and Customs have a page explaining how it works. 

Here is my summary of the main provisions. It is vital that anyone interested reads the full details to check if they are eligible.

The companies must either own the patents or have exclusive licenses for their use; must have worked on their development (or a related company must have done so); and must be making a profit from the patents.

The relief will be phased in over several years to achieve a tax rate of 10% on profits from patents. At present UK corporation tax is 24%, coming down to 23% this year. The details are quite complicated, with the following formula and notes being quoted in the website:

RP × FY% × ((MR - IPR) ÷ MR)

In the formula:

•RP is the profits of a company's trade relevant to Patent Box

•FY% is the appropriate percentage for each financial year

•MR is the main rate of Corporation Tax

•IPR is the reduced rate of 10 per cent

A couple of examples are given on the website of how it might work out.

The article The new Patent Box regime and corporate tax reform in the UK, published in International Tax Journal, September-October 2012, pages 51-58, gives many details and suggests that pharmaceutical and biotech companies in particular would find the scheme attractive (as so much of the value in their products depends on patents). I found it in the database Business Source Complete, which we subscribe to for the use of our readers in the Business & IP Centre.

21 January 2013

Web in Feb: events to advance your business via the Web

The British Library has a number of events in February as part of its Web in Feb month to help you advance your business by using the Internet.

They include search engine optimization, social media and crowdfunding and are held here in our London base. These events are always stimulating and interesting for me and even more so, obviously, for those for whom it will move their business or innovation forward.

I have noticed that of the meetings I have with inventors, perhaps a third are related to the Web -- apps, mobile phones, social media sites and so on. Another third are fashion-related.

18 January 2013

Patented ! An exhibition of unusual inventions

Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science is hosting what they describe as “An exhibition of quirky patented devices with unusual uses, from musical board games to seemingly unbreakable padlocks.” It ends on the 10 March, and is free.

They come from the collection of Fletcher Wallis, who has curated the exhibition. Here is an image of the introduction to the exhibition.

Patented ! exhibition image

And here is an image of the display about a corkscrew invention by Sir Edward Thomason.

Corkscrew patent information image

It all sounds great fun, and I am sorry that it is unlikely that I will be able to get up to Oxford to see it. From my experience I am only too well aware that while most patents are for useful if sometimes dull improvements, some are – well, distinctly strange. I am sure that a visit to see the exhibition, and indeed the museum (which I have never visited), would be very enjoyable.

17 January 2013

Facebook and its published patent specs for searching

Facebook announced on the 15 January its Social Graph Search capability which uses Bing to find data within Facebook entries itself.

This is a list of Facebook patent applications mentioning search which may include relevant material, but it must be remembered that it takes 18 months for a filed application to be published as an A document (which isn't a B, granted patent).

It's interesting that their US patent application Providing context relevant search for a user based on location and social information was published just a few days earlier, on the 10th, but my impression is that it's not the same. Here's the main drawing from it.

Facebook searching technique patent drawing

16 January 2013

The Compare the Meerkat campaign as a trade mark

For four years British TV has had an advertising campaign for comparethemarket.com where there are constant jokes about a comparethemeerkat.com website that is confusing the public (and for which a fake website has been set up, and which has a clear link to the real site).

The cute little animals, who talk in the adverts, have certainly helped the financial website, which helps customers compare costs in insurance and other products, build up its market share.

I had a look for trade marks, where Class 36 includes insurance. In December 2008 there was a British trade mark application for comparethemeerkat.com and also for Aleksandr the Meerkat and they have also registered Orlov, Simples, and several along these lines:

Meerkat trade mark logo

Believe it or not, that is UK trade mark 2560681A, for Class 28 (games etc.) It is Alexsandr Orlov in his usual dressing gown, who keeps on saying “simples”. Compare the Meerkat was only applied for 8 months later but for many other classes. The campaign had begun in early 2009 so the first trade marks predated it.

These are all in the name of BGL Group, who own the comparison website. The FAME database, which the British Library subscribes to, tells me that it is a private limited company which in 2012 had a turnover of £418 million and a profit before tax of £85 million, a useful 20% margin. There were 3,703 employees. There was only one shareholder, Budget Holdings Limited, a Guernsey company.

You are not supposed to have a trade mark that describes what the business is – you can’t register “Lettuce” if you grow lettuce, or “Hotels in London” if you are about London hotels – and “compare the market” is surely within this category. That is why descriptive domain names can be more valuable than trade marks if your advertising is intended to drive people to the website. BGL apparently, tried to get around that problem by registering in 2007, before the meerkat campaign, a series of marks such as this one:

 Compare the Market trade mark logo
Three other closely related ones include the strapline “for cheaper insurance, nothing else compares”.

Possible objections along these lines form part of what is called absolute grounds, with other exclusions including using generic phrases used in the business, praising the product (surely nothing else compares qualifies ?) and blasphemy.

This is distinct from relative grounds, where a trade mark application might be rejected because it is confusingly similar to a registered mark.

Recently there have been new advertisements where a well-known comic explains to his perplexed assistant that there is no possibility of confusion between the wording compare the market and compare the meerkat. They could have been on difficult ground if someone applied for compare the meerkat, but they had already, shrewdly, registered that phrase.

According to an amusing (and informative) article in the American journal Advertising Age (28 September 2009), How did a meerkat bowl over Brits ? It’s simples, the campaign, by advertising agency Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, was devised to avoid the high cost-per-click of the word ‘market’ as people come to the site via priced advertising on Google. It cost $8 per click for the word “market”, but only 8 cents for the word “meerkat”. Their twelve month target was reached in just nine weeks, and their market share went up 76%, so that Go Compare felt forced to respond with a campaign about an opera singer annoying people. Fascinating stuff !

Jason Lonsdale of Saatchi and Saatchi was quoted as saying “They’ve done something unexpected and a bit bonkers, and it's paid off. A campaign based on talking animals and a pun sounds like a terrible idea, but it works.” There has also been extensive use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

How did I find the article ? By carrying out a search on Business Source Complete, another database we subscribe to. Not everying is available for free on the Web.

The adverts keep coming, with more than 30 so far. Most can be seen on Youtube.

15 January 2013

Graphene patents: the new wonder material

BBC TV news today had a report on the importance of graphene, a single layer (one atom thick)“honeycomb” form of carbon which has useful properties, and which was discovered in Manchester in 2004 by two Russian scientists (who later received a Nobel Prize). The report mentioned that the discovery hadn’t been patented.

Their website has an interesting article, Graphene: patent surge reveals global race which shows that the UK is a long way behind China, the USA and South Korea. This is from quotes from an apparently priced report by CambridgeIP including there being over 7000 published patent specifications for the new material.

The reason why there are so many patent documents is that graphene can be used for many different purposes. It can be used for example for delivering medicines, as in this list (as it has such a high surface area).

It is also one hundred times stronger than steel. Its use as a flexible, electrically conductive material means that it can be used in solar cells and in the touchscreens of mobile phones. 

Identifying such patents sounds hard, though.

Bytesize Science has an interesting video called Graphene: the next wonder material ? which suggests that new phone touchscreens will be the first significant use of graphene.


10 January 2013

Transport for London and patents, designs and trade marks

This post is about intellectual property by Transport for London and its predecessors and marks 150 years today of the London Underground. Congratulations !

From 1908 onwards there was a conscious attempt to provide what would nowadays be called a corporate identity, using initially what became this famous icon for the Underground


and this was reinforced as more lines were added. By using it as a trade mark, numerous items can be sold, as in a European trade mark registration in 2004 for named goods and services in numerous classes, some rather surprising (see Class 03 for example).

Some early attempts at the logo are still protected, as opposed to having been allowed to lapse, possibly because they are still selling souvenirs, and possibly to prevent others from using the logos. An example is British trade mark 548799, applied for in 1934, and shown below.

 1934 London transport trade mark

British trade mark 2103551 sounds rather unusual – the registration of Pantone 485 as “the predominant colour of the coloured surface of a passenger transport bus.” The famous red, that is – registered in Class 39 for, specifically, transporting bus passengers in London.

Turning to designs, there are three British designs currently registered for the appearances of buses and all for “Structure for use as a commercial outlet”, according to the title. These can be found here. Click on the logos and then on the Formal Reps to see the detailed drawings.

I suspect that the old Harry Beck maps may have been registered as designs but a long search through the National Archives design holdings would have been needed. Does anyone know the answer ?

And then there are patents. In 1984 London Underground applied for a Fare collection system which was a customer operated ticket machine. Page 68 shows the way the system worked – coins in, tickets out, etc. Provision was made for data to be collected centrally. I am guessing this is the basically the method used today.

Most patents relating to the Underground or buses are probably in the name of the manufacturers and hence harder to find. There are just five patents in the name of London Underground, from 1984 onwards.

Of course, private individuals can always join in. In 1920 Fountaine Burrell, an electrical engineer from Sydenham, London, applied for British patent 176163, which is specially marked dominoes to play a game based on the London Underground map – read it to find how it works. Perhaps he worked in the system itself. Two of the drawings are shown below.

Dominoes based on London Underground game
Something that could be protected as copyright would be the look of the floors and the seating on trains and buses. For a long time the seats have been in a variety of colours, while the train floors consist of sealed grey material mixed with scraps of yellow and white paper. I am told the reason is that if staining occurs it is much less noticeable than if the surface was a uniform colour.