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.

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.

23 May 2012

The invention of the television remote control

The BBC has an obituary of Eugene Polley, who has died at the age of 96, who it calls the inventor of the TV remote control.

His Flash-Matic invention is I believe the Control system patent, filed in 1955. Its main image is given below.

Polley TV remote control patent image

I must admit that I had thought the key patent was Robert Adler's patent, also called Control system, and also for Zenith Radio. It was filed in 1957. The main drawing is below.

Adler TV remote control patenr image

Unlike the Polley invention, which involved photocells, the Adler invention sent ultrasonic signals to turn the TV on or off, change channels, or turn the volume up or down.

In 1985 was filed the Universal remote control unit by NAP Consumer Electronics, which was apparently a big advance in the concept. It used infrared LEDs.

What was definitely not a useful idea was the Extensible television controls, filed in 1955 by the great industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who on this occasion had one of his less practicable ideas.

02 August 2011

Dragon's Den inventions and blogging

The UK IPO has started a blog where they will comment on the intellectual property issues in each episode of TV's Dragon's Den.

Comments on the first episode are already available. A blog worth keeping an eye on to learn more about intellectual property. Of course, a lot of relevant conversations between the dragons and those asking for their money have to be cut out, and these may cover things that apparently go unmentioned.

I have posted frequently in the past on patents and trade marks relevant to the discussions on the programme.

19 May 2011

The BBC's "Britain's next big thing" TV series

I've been watching the BBC TV series Britain's next big thing. It's about inventors and designers trying to get their ideas accepted as products by retailers.

The retailers are Liberty, the arts and crafts department store in London; Boots, the chemist retailer with thousands of outlets; and Habitat, a smallish home furnishings chain.

I enjoy programmes which show the real business world, and how tough it is. Naivety has no place -- making a realistic business plan, which should include analysing your strengths and weaknesses, is vital. Lots of good things came out of the interviews where pitches were made for potential products, including the "price point" problem -- a store might say that a product will only sell at a certain price, which might be below the actual cost to the designer.

Theo Paphitis, who is well known from Dragons' Den, is the presenter, and is himself heavily involved in retail. I liked his ordering boxes to be taken away in a warehouse to show how much of the money paid for a product has to be paid out in rent, business rates, to staff, etc. Little, typically, is left at the end as profit.

I also liked his saying that many people who are hoping that their ideas will be accepted don't know the product, don't know the market, and won't listen to feedback.

As usual I looked for published patent documents among the many people profiled.

There was for example Una Tucker of Brockley, London with her handheld massage device, the Massage device set, illustrated here.

Massage device set 

There was Shamus Husheer's DuoFertility, his method of recording tiny differences in a woman's body temperature so that she is alerted to the right time to try to get pregnant. He and his product impressed the Boots buyers greatly. His company is Cambridge Temperature Concepts, founded by Cambridge academics like himself. His Temperature sensor structure patent application looks relevant.

And then there's Russ Leith of Bedfordshire with his "gravitational geometrical incline clamping" device, if I heard it right, which is a one-legged "ledge" that sits in a corner. His A shelf or stand device was applied for as a patent in 2001 (it now has UK and US patents), but not one has, he says, been sold. Here is the main drawing showing the concept.

Russ Leith ledge invention 

There's one final episode next Tuesday. At present UK residents can watch the first six episodes on iplayer (until the 31 May). They should be watched in sequence as people keep turning up in later episodes with news of their progressing in getting their product accepted (or not). 

22 February 2011

Product placement inventions

The UK is about to introduce product placement on its television programmes. The concept is about trade marked products being prominently seen in many programmes in return for payment.

It will be permitted from the 28 February as explained in a notice from Ofcom, the official regulator, which explains the restrictions on it. Here is the logo that will be displayed for three seconds at the start and end of programmes and after advertising breaks.

Product Placement Logo 
When product placement was proposed by the previous government it was pointed out that the UK and Denmark were the only EU countries where it was not permitted, or about to be permitted. The idea is to support television companies with revenue, though it has been suggested that it will only amount to about £150 million, or 5% of television advertising revenue.

The move is controversial to say the least. Simon Hoggart of the Guardian described it as "a form of corruption by which elements of our favourite shows are covertly sold off to the highest bidder without our being told". Here, though, I am looking at some published patent applications with deliciously cynical titles.

There's for example Product placement for the masses, by Accenture, and Implicit product placement leveraging identified user ambitions, by Microsoft.

There's also Philips with its Automatic generation of trailers containing product placements, which says that television is a great way to promote products but that "many people see the commercials as a break for making sandwiches or going to the bathroom". It is to do with trailers being forced on people watching TV programmes on computers.

Many inventions are for ensuring that the user's interests are reflected in the content, as watched on media other than a television set. A computer can monitor what sort of interests a viewer has, such as sports, so that sports-oriented merchandise appears as product placement.

This is a list of some inventions on the subject.

18 February 2011

Batman and design patents

There are six American design patents (registered designs) by DC Comics relating to the Batman movies, applied for between 1989 and 1995. I was interested to see that some are by Anton Furst of London, UK. DC Comics of course created the original character.

Here they are, with the front page shown from Google Patents, and links to the documents. Many do not realise what a rich source of data on toys the designs can be, though admittedly the titles rarely give away what they are based on.

USD311882, "Car or similar vehicle".

Car or similar vehicle design patent 

USD321732, "Aerial toy".

Aerial toy design patent 
USD329321, "Head dress".

Head dress design patent 
USD370884, "Boat".

 Boat design patent

USD375704, "Vehicle".

Vehicle design patent 
USD389111, "Set of rear fins for a vehicle".

Set of rear fins for a vehicle design patent 

There is of course the original Batmobile used in the Batman television series that premiered in 1966. The actual car was the subject of USD205998, by George Barris. He was asked to make a car for the series and bought a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car from Ford for one dollar. He then spent $30,000, and three weeks with his crew of mechanics, creating the car seen on television. Now that's nostalgia.

Batmobile design patent drawing 

04 November 2010

Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention: nature inspiring invention

The first of six half hour episodes in a new series on inventions was shown on BBC last night, Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention.

There will also be a (free) road show to encourage interest in inventing, from the 6 November to the 12 December, at six shopping centre locations: Bristol, Bluewater (Kent), Glasgow, Milton Keynes, Manchester and Derby. There is of course a Home page for the series.

This first episode was about nature inspiring invention, something often called biomimicry.  We heard about termite mounds inspiring self-cooling buildings and artificial gills and so on. Incidentally I've found an interesting blog on that subject, the (anonymous) Biomimicry and Remote Sensing Inventions site.

The show did not mention my three favourites in the area. There's Velcro®, the most successful product based on copying nature. Swiss inventor George De Mestral had noticed burrs stuck on his dog's hair. This was published in the USA as Velvet type tape and method of producing same.

I also like Kevlar®, though there the principle may not be deliberate mimicry. Conventional bullet-proof vests consist of layers of materials which try to absorb the shock of the bullet. Kevlar® is more like a spider's web, where the shock is dissipated across the vest, in the same way a web trembles if touched. Hence the stress at the point of impact is much less. Du Pont's invention has the patent title Process for the production of a highly orientable, crystallizable, filamentforming polyamide.

Then there's Lotus-Effect®, where German academic Wilhelm Barthlott investigated the way water rolled off large lotus leaves. They do this by having vast numbers of tiny peaks on their surface. The principle has been used to make among other things exterior wall paint that never gets dirty (if exposed to rainwater). His Self-cleaning surfaces of objects and process for producing same explains.

i have already posted about trade marks for the Wallace and Gromit characters themselves.

25 August 2010

The Kymera Magic Wand

Yesterday the biggest ever investment on TV's Dragons' Den was made -- £200,000 from Duncan Bannatyne.

The offer was for the Kymera Magic Wand. Inventors Chris Barnardo and Richard Blakesley of the Wand Company, based at Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, made the pitch. Their web site resembles something out of Hogwarts, and the product certainly sounds like a merger of wizardry and electronics. Their pitch emphasized the appeal of Harry Potter and other fantasy films.

Here is a video about it, which shows the careful attention to detail made to create an attractive product.


The wand can be used to make up to thirteen different gestures to emulate commands to the television. The wand is "taught" that a gesture corresponds to a command on a standard hand-held remote control by pressing it. Besides televisions, it could control music centres, DVD players and laptops. There is a detailed article about it in the Daily Mail.

All five dragons offered money, but it was Bannatyne's money, for 30% of the company on a sliding scale down to 10% if they made £1.2 million, that was accepted. UK residents can watch their presentation here. There was quite a bidding war, as the dragons were keen on a product with great sales potential that cost £10 to make and which was being sold direct to consumers for £50, or to retailers for an average of £31.

The patent application for the invention was published in May 2010 as Remote control device, in particular a wand. Here is the main drawing.

Kymera Magic Wand patent drawing

That document is 33 pages long, with lots of detail about motion sensors and the like. Clearly a lot of ideas in it are similar to the Nintendo Wii®, but others are of course different. Page 31 of the patent document list two forerunners which the patent examiner thought relevant. These are Mitsubishi's Continuously variable control of animated on-screen characters, where specific hand movements are learnt (main drawing shown here), and Outland Research's

Mitsubishi handheld remote control patent drawing

Method and apparatus for a verbo-manual gesture interface, which involves using a wand. The point of this search report is to enable patent offices to decide which of the "claims" made by the patent application should be accepted as new and valid. In some cases the entire application is rejected. It is valuable information for anyone wondering if an application is truly new.

The Kymera Magic Wand was launched in September 2009 and has sold 20,000 so far. The standard retail price is £49.95. I am unlikely to buy it, as I would forget which command meant what. Maybe that is an attraction -- different waves of the wand would mean different commands for each person's wand, making it a truly personalised remote control. 

13 July 2010

3D television and patents

3D television is creating a lot of interest. There is an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph about a British family trying it out, raising a number of issues. 

The basic idea, of course, is to create a 3D or stereoscopic effect by using special glasses. Obviously the glasses are not enough. The technology is beyond me, but for those interested there is a detailed breakdown in the ECLA patent classification. You use it by selecting the area of interest by clicking the little white box next to the class, and then clicking Copy above the details of the classes. It is then transferred to a search page.

ECLA is limited to the PCT (the "World Patent"), the USA, and European countries, but most inventions in the field are likely to be published in one of those systems, despite largely coming from Korea or Japan. More significant is the fact that there is often a delay in the patents being classified by ECLA, which can be a year on some occasions.

An example of a patent specification in the field is Samsung's Method and apparatus for displaying stereoscopic image, whose main drawing is shown below.

Stereoscopic television
This is a list of the 313 patent specifications published in H04N13, stereoscopic television, since January 2009 in the PCT system.