Friday, November 28, 2008

Snow Bike Hits Slopes

Skiers and snowboarders may see something different on the slopes this winter... Two entrepreneurs from Vancouver Island hope to launch the next winter sports craze with their snow bike, a winter version of a mountain bike. Called the Ktrak, the bike is equipped with a ski in the place of the front wheel and a rubber track around the back wheel. Kyle Reeves, the inventor of the bike, has applied for patents in the US and Canada. He received a US patent on the rear drive assembly in 2007 (US7232130) and has a pending Canadian application (CA2497365A1) . Another pending CA application is for the front ski (CA2496740A1).

Betty James, Wife of Slinky Inventor Arnold James , Dies at 90

Betty James, wife of Richard James, the naval engineer who invented the world-famous Slinky spring toy in 1945, has passed away at the age of 90. Her obit is in the New York Times. Mrs. James named the toy 'Slinky'. The Slinky is one of the great toy invention success stories of the 20th century. In December 1945 Richard sold the first 400 Slinkys at Gimbels in Philadelphia in 90 minutes. Since then more 300 million Slinkys have been sold worldwide. Mrs. James took over as president of the business in 1960 when her husband abandoned the family and moved to Bolivia to join a religious cult. She served as president until 1998.

The patent (US2415012) on the Slinky is an excellent example of how vague patent descriptions can be. The title of the patent is 'Toy and Process of Use'. The text describes the Slinky as a 'helical spring toy,' referring to its coil-like shape. The name Slinky does not appear at all, since the original application was filed on November 1, 1945, probably before Mrs. James had selected the name. Patent Office rules discourage inventors from including trademarks and product names in the applications. For such a simply object, the patent has a surprising number of very detailed claims, 19 in total. The specification includes the dimensions of the original design and a detailed discussion of the mechanics of springs. It would be a useful teaching example for first-year engineering students.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the States and in a few hours millions of Americans will be sitting down to a traditional turkey dinner. In honour of that noble and self-sacrificing bird, here are a few turkey-related patents. Of course, few people today actually hunt and kill their own turkey. But for those that do, there is this patented animated turkey decoy, US5289654, for luring reluctant gobblers into the open. If you prefer to have your bird and eat it too, there is this turkey trophy mounting kit, US5064725, for displaying the tail fan, beard and feet and an eye-catching "full strut" turkey plaque, USD566614. This attractive turkey figurine, USD314357, is the perfect center piece for any Thanksgiving table. And don't forget to bast your turkey using this turkey-shaped baster, USD390070.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Canada Dry Ginger Ale at 100

A little over one hundred years ago, John James McLaughlin, a Toronto pharmacist, created one of the world's most famous carbonated beverages, Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale, the "champagne of ginger ales." McLaughlin started in 1890 manufacturing soda water and eventually decided to create a beverage with a little more pizazz. He experimented with more than 100 different formulas until he perfected his sparkling beverage in 1907. McLaughlin also invented and patented several machines for bottling his popular beverage. These include an apparatus for dispensing carbonated liquids (US736000 and CA83850) and a bottle washing machine (CA88234). He also acquired the rights to at least one patent for siphon filler (US678502). Canada Dry is now owned by Cadbury Beverages.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Patents and Biotech - a Broken System? Fixed by Information

A couple of months ago a Montreal-based non-profit IP consulting firm called The Innovation Partnership issued an interesting report calling for changes in the way biotechnology IP is created, disseminated and protected. In recent years there has been much debate in academic and research circles about whether the prolific patenting and licensing of biotechnology IP inhibits pure research and information sharing. The full report is available at:

Toward a New Era of Intellectual Property: From Confrontation to Negotiation - A Report from the International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property

What struck me most about the report was the number of recommendations linked to the dissemination of patent information to the public. Specifically, the authors of the report argue that... "As custodians of the patent system, patent offices around the world should...

... build publicly-available databases of patent information that can be used to better track the impact and effectiveness of not only the IP system, but of particular methods of dissemination.

... should collect patent-related information in a standard form and make this available to the public for free. Data should include information that will assist in assessing patent landscapes in targeted areas of technology, such as essential medicines. Patent databases should be linked so that a user can identify not only the patents in one country but related patents in other countries. These databases should also be easily searchable.

...should collect data on the type and major terms of licence agreements. A pilot project at the Japanese Patent Office on creating such a database should be expanded and spread to patent offices around the world.

...To better enable patent offices to respond to the needs of the public sector, these offices
should establish policy branches that would investigate ways to make data more available, assist in patent landscaping and disseminate information about the patent system.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

USPTO Annual Report FY2008 - 495,095 new applications!

The USPTO released its annual report for FY2008 and the numbers are staggering.

According to preliminary statistics, inventors filed a record-breaking 495,095 applications from Oct. 1, 2007-Sept. 30, 2008. This is a 5.7 percent increase over FY2007. Interestingly, there was a 33.7 percent increase in plant patent applications from 1,002 to 1,340. Design and utility applications increased about 5 percent. There basically no change in the number of reissue applications.

The number of applications pending has increased to 1,208,076, an 8.6 percent increase from last year. Pendency for UPR applications is 32.2 months. The highest pendency is 43.6 months in the Communications Technology Centre.

Issued patents dropped slightly to 182,556, keeping in line with the USPTO's drive to improve patent quality through more rigorous examination practices. Published applications increased to 309,194, a 2.2 percent increase. There was a big jump (25 precent) in the number of abandoned applications, suggesting perhaps that applicants are giving up on weaker applications. A total of 208,610 applications were abandoned as opposed to 166,000 last year.

The USPTO also hired another 600 patent examiners in FY2008. The total number of examiners is now 6,055. In 2004, the Patent Examing Corps numbered 3,753.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

USPTO Issues 68 New Secrecy Orders in 2008

A blog posting at the New Scientist magazine claims that the USPTO issued secrecy orders on 68 new patent applications and rescinded 47 older orders in the year ending Sept. 30. A total of 5,023 secrecy orders are still in effect. The USPTO reports the number of secret cases in condition for allowance in its annual report, which is usually released in November. The annual report for 2006-2007 states that there were 3,081 such cases as of Sept. 2007.

End in Sight for IP Australia's PatSearch System

IP Australia has announced that it will update Patsearch, its legacy patent search system, weekly on Mondays starting Nov. 22, 2008. The system will be decommissioned in February 2009. AusPat, the new patent search system, was launched in April 2008 and contains bibliographic data from about 1970 forward and full text from 1998 forward. Australian patent documents are also available in esp@cenet and PatentLens (1998+). The Australian Patent Office was established in 1904. IP Australia has a long-term project to scan and make searchable all patent specifications back to this date.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Patent Offices Agree on Work Sharing Initiative

Joff Wild at IAM Magazine reports that the EPO, JPO, USPTO, SIPO and KIPO have just reached an agreement on a major work-sharing initiative that will reduce duplication and enhance patent examination. Part of the agreement includes the creation of 10 "Foundation Projects". The projects (as described in an EPO press release) that could have the most impact on public users of patent information include:

A) Common documentation database (lead: EPO)
Aim: To bring together a common set of relevant patent and non-patent literature from around the world to assist patent examiners in their prior art searches.

B) Common approach to hybrid classification (lead: EPO)
Aim: To enable joint and efficient updating of patent classification and facilitate the reuse of work among the patent offices.

C) Common Approach to Sharing and Documenting Search Strategies (lead: USPTO)
Aim: To promote reutilization by enabling the patent examiners of each office to understand each other's search strategy

D) Common Search and Examination Support Tools (lead: USPTO)
Aim: To establish a system of common search and examination tools to facilitate work-sharing

E) Common Access to Search and Examination Results (lead: JPO)
Aim: To enable examiners to find one-stop references in the dossier information of other offices, such as search and examination results.
To conduct the priority document exchange (PDX) to reduce the cost of ordering copies of priority documents for applicants and the administrative costs of electronic processing for offices.

F) Common Application Format (lead: JPO)
Aim: To facilitate the filing procedure of each office by using a Common Application Format; and by using electronic or digitized patent application filing (in XML format) and subsequent processing and publication in XML format.