12 March 2013

International Patent Forum 2013: a London conference

I will be attending the International Patent Forum 2013, which will be held in London on the 16-17 April.

I normally deal with patent searching and documentation. It will be a change to listen to fourteen talks about changes in patent law, or about case law and other developments (and patent filing strategies), in specific regions or countries (including each of the BRICs). The emphasis is on how it all affects companies and their corporate strategy. This is of great importance to modern economies, of course.

I’m particularly looking forward to the talk on the new unitary patent and unified court for Europe, and the talk on the impact of the US patent reforms. I feel I'm not quite up to speed on both topics. The talks on the pharmaceutical sector, and on the smart phone wars, ought to be interesting too. I remember last time I attended coming away with lots of notes which I later followed up.

The conference will be run by the Managing Intellectual Property journal.

15 February 2013

Blue screen film pioneer and inventor Petro Vlahos

The inventor of the “blue screen” film technique as it is used today, Petro Vlahos, has died at the age of 96. This posting is based on the interesting BBC tribute to him. I am glad to say the article links to Google versions of two of his patents (this is unusual).

A blue screen is used in filming where actors are combined in film editing with action or other backgrounds to give a seamless effect. A not very good version was available when Vlahos was asked to see if he could improve the process. Some objects would appear to glow, and that was clearly annoying and hardly realistic. Vlahos later said that he spent six months thinking about it, much of it looking out at Hollywood Boulevard.

He came up with a technique that involved a matte which is transparent whenever the blue screen is used but is opaque in other sequences in the film. The blue, green and red parts are separated and then combined in a certain order. It seems that rather than the actors being superimposed on a background, which I'd assumed, it’s the other way round, which sounds mysterious to me (I do love the magic of the “movies” after all).

His Composite color photography patent was applied for in 1959 and the technique was first used in Ben Hur.

A more complicated variation was also patented as Composite photography utilizing sodium vapor illumination.

Both patents were assigned to the Motion Picture Research Council but the article states that this second technique was developed for Disney. Actors were filmed against a white background with sodium lamps which made a yellow glow bounce off the background.

The camera filmed two separate images (or “film stock”) simultaneously. A prism on the camera would cause one film stock to split the yellow light from other colours and send it to a black and white film stock to create a matte.

The other film stock would record in normal colour without any yellow glow. This produced a very clean effect, and was typically used when actors were apparently interacting with cartoon characters as in Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Vlahos later formed a company, Ultimatte, to develop more techniques.

This is a list of Vlahos’ patents

01 February 2013

The Smart Search format in the Espacenet patent database

For some time the free Espacenet patent database has automatically opened at the Smart Search page, which I find slightly irritating as I normally want the Advanced search format.

I have used the Smart Search for entering patent numbers – this can be in the form 700000 or 70000 for example, or 190520000, and any relevant records will be retrieved. Filing numbers can also be requested. Using country codes such as US or GB is not required but is of course useful if many records are expected (such as lowish numbers). This ability to use numbers without codes used to be available in the Number Search format but this has been incorporated into Smart Search.

Another ability in Smart Search is the ability to use logical operators. This is the name for the ability to say things like “x must be present within 5 words of y”, so that there is a high chance that the words are closely related. Keyword searches would be in the title or the abstract (summary) area.

For example, suppose you are interested in the concept of an umbrella hat. One example is the rather striking drawing given below, by Friedrich Wielandt of Switzerland whose British patent 747154 was published in 1956.

 Rain protective head gear rain hat patent image

If you ask for “umbrella hat” you get 31 hits. If you ask for the words to be no more than 5 words apart you get 284. These would, admittedly, include some “false drops” such as the unwanted phrase “umbrella fabric is arranged between the hat body” which is from a Chinese specification

You can try reducing the 5 word rule to 3 (I personally would never make it less) which in this case would cut the number found to 262, a small loss. Simply using the words in the title or abstract field in the Advanced search, linked by “and”, gives 369 hits.

Results would presumably vary from one subject area to another, and would also depend on the ways words could relate to each other – “light” for example means illumination but also an absence of weight, and there would be odd results in many cases if that word was used. 

Greater precision nearly always means a loss of relevant material, and tools are never a substitute for using your judgment, which in turn depends on what you or a client wants and expects.

Smart Search uses codes to express these operators. The formula used above is:

umbrella prox/distance<5 hat

There is also this looser, but in a way more specific as it ties the words to use within the same sentence, code:

umbrella prox/unit=sentence hat

You could also add a country code such as “and pn=us” if you wanted the search limited to US publications. It is a pity that these codes are hardly intuitive and must be remembered or written down.

It is also a good idea to add truncation symbols: # means one extra character must be present, ? no character or one character (used for most plurals), while * indicates that any number of characters can follow (used, generally, for verbs).

My impression is that most if not all of the other possibilities in Smart Search are already catered for by using Boolean operators such as OR, AND, NOT, or by string searching with words included within quotes to show that they must be found in the same order.

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.

03 January 2013

The No!No! ® hair removal invention

There has been a lot of TV advertising for an electrical hair removal device with the unusual name of no!no!®.

It uses heated wires to sever body hair, and the claim is that it is virtually painless -- unlike, so I hear, waxing. One thing that puzzled me was that in my hit list on Google’s UK search engine I got at the top of the list for the query “no no”...

NO NO Hair® Official Site

This suggests that the trade mark is No No Hair. Not true – No!No! was registered as a European trade mark in 2008 by Radiancy, Inc., an American company, for Class 3, including “hair lotions; dentifrices; creams and lotions” and also, separately, for Class 8 including “depilatory appliances”. There are 45 Nice Classes, and any applications will be for specified products or services within one or more class.

There are similar registrations in the US such as for “Thermodynamic heat conduction based electric hair shavers for aesthetic purposes”.

In fact the ® icon is not used on the No!No! website I found, something that is highly advisable as it might be thought to imply that they are using an unregistered trade mark (TM), a much weaker right.

Radiancy, Inc. is based in Orangeburg, S.C. The Orbis database, which our Business & IP Centre subscribes to, tells me that the “global ultimate owner” is PhotoMedex, Inc. which is in Pennsylvania and which describes itself as a “Global Skin Health Solutions company”.

In 2011 Radiancy, Inc. had $1.2 million in revenue (no profit figures were given) and 10 employees. A quick check on Google Product Search UK, a free price comparison site for products available on the Internet, suggests a price of £164 or more for it.

According to a press release from November 2012 on the BusinessWire website, the product has been on sale since 2007 and has sold 3.5 million units to date. As in the UK, home shopping TV channels seem to be the main format used to sell the product, cutting out retailers and hence enhancing profits.

So, what about patents ? There seem to be quite a few, starting with publications in 1999 and with other improvements or changes following (I think those from 2003 relate to the device). The inventors are two Israelis, Pinchas Shalev and Zion Azar.

This is a list of “World” patent applications by them inventors in the same field. These include Improved electric shaver, with the drawing shown below.

 No!No! patent drawing

While it seems to be a very successful (if expensive) product, the Internet does have a number of critical comments on it by unhappy customers.

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.

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.”

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.

29 November 2012

Catchup on the proposed European Union patent

This is a followup to my post back in April on the subject.  Sorry for the delay in reporting back !

In June 2012, 25 EU member states agreed on provisions for the European Union Patent. Only Spain and Italy did not participate, annoyed that the only languages permitted in the scheme were English, German and French.

Some people assume that the European Patent Convention (EPC) already offers patents with EU-wide effect. It's certainly not the same thing. A granted EPC patent, which can be in English, German or French, is really a bundle of national patents, where after an initial opposition period the patent can lapse from protection in individual countries due to a failure to pay national renewal fees, or because of national revocation proceedings. Similarly it could be amended nationally.

There is no requirement to list all EU member states when applying for patent protection through the EPC. So e.g. Belgium might be omitted.

Switzerland is in the EPC but not in the EU, so membership is not limited to EU states. New EU member states are required to join the EPC, and all currently do.

The European Union Patent would involve having patents granted through the existing European Patent Office in Munich, which already deals with the EPC patents. All EU states must be included in such grants. The patents stand or fall as a result of centralised patent litigation, and lapse as a whole as well.

The main stumbling blocks in a struggle which has been going on since 1973 has been the language used in the patents and in the law courts, plus where the law courts would be.

The following provisions have been agreed on:

The patent specification can be in English, German, or French.

There will be a single renewal fee for the entire EU.

The Unified Patent Court will deal with infringement and revocation proceedings. It will have a court of first instance and a court of appeal. The court would have its seat, registry and central division in Paris. Litigation is in the same language as the patent.

The central division would have thematic branches in London (chemistry cases, including pharmaceuticals) and Munich (mechanical engineering cases), each expected to take about 30% of the case load. 

The choice of Paris is distinctly odd, as far more patents are published through the EPC in English or German, and London has much more IP law talent than Paris. Local courts can also be set up by individual countries.

There will be a transitional period of seven years during which either national or the Unified Patent Court can be chosen for litigation (if the latter, that choice cannot be changed).

Originally the court was to be mainly in Paris and partly in Munich, but David Cameron, the UK's PM,  protested.

Patent costs will be greatly reduced as a result of the deal. The European Union estimates that costs will fall from 32000 Euros to 6500 Euros, a saving mainly from translation costs. This does mean that some patents with force in the UK will as a result be in German or French, which will cause problems for researchers, librarians, industry and lawyers. Machine translations only go so far.

The position of Spain and Italy as to possible involvement is still unclear, as are various technical issues. Also unclear is how the new courts will be funded.

It is uncertain when all this will take effect. There is a detailed Wikipedia article on the subject.

[The European Parlaiment passed the legislation, see my later post. Ed.]