Friday, February 26, 2010

Bird Airbags?

Last year a large wind farm went up on an island near Kingston, Ontario, where I live. The installation consists of 86 turbines scattered around the island, dozens of which are visible from the city’s waterfront. The decision to build the farm was controversial. Although everyone likes the idea of clean renewable energy, many people feared the impact of the farm on the natural landscape, human health and wildlife habitat. Kingston sits astride a major North American migration route and some residents expressed concerns that untold numbers of migrating birds, as well as local bats and birds, would perish on the rotating blades. This has been a problem for wind farms all over the world.

One Californian inventor has come up with a uniquely novel solution: airbags for birds. In May 2008, John Silwa of Los Altos Hills filed an application for a "Method and Apparatus for Reducing Bird and Fish Injuries and Deaths at Wind and Water-Turbine Power-Generation Sites” (US 2008/0298962). The invention consists of airbags installed on turbine blades that would be activated by a motion-sensing or proximity sensing system. In theory, birds approaching the blades would trigger the airbags and bounce off unharmed or with “temporary stunning, blackout or non-critical injury.” It’s hard to believe that an airbag mounted on a spinning turbine weighing several tons would save a tiny bird.

Other inventors have taken more conventional approaches. Dr. William Hodos, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Maryland, patented a system of painted patterns on turbine blades that make them more visible to birds (US 6,623,243). Melvin Kreithen of the University of Pittsburgh proposed using pulses of microwave energy to scare birds away from turbines and other structures (US 5,774,088). A published application filed by Keith Lima of Massachusetts discloses a system of ultrasonic or sonic wave generators that would deter birds from flying into wind turbines (US 2005/0162978). Canadian Angus Tocher has patented a “habitat friendly” wind energy extraction system based on small turbines encased in shrouds (CA 2,501,025 and US 7,220,096). German inventor H. Schlueter proposes mounting an ultrasonic sound producing device on rotor blades to warn bats (DE 102007025314).

The interdisciplinary nature of this problem makes it an interesting patent search challenge. The obvious starting point would be IPC class F03D, which covers wind motors and turbines. One possible search strategy is:

IPC = F03D AND Title/Abstract Keyword = (birds or bats or animals or fowl)

Other appropriate IPC codes include A01M29, which covers devices for scaring animals and birds, and H04B1 for electric signaling systems and G08B3 for audible signaling devices that could be used to frighten or warn animals.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Patent Database Review

There were a lot of developments in patent information last year. Below are some of the highlights from my favorite public patent databases and related websites.

Canadian Patents Database (CIPO)

The Canadian Patents Database, which is maintained by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, contains more than two million Canadian patents and published applications from 1869 to the present. Full-text images are available from 1920 forward. Recent improvements include a few aesthetic changes to the search interface and the inclusion of a representative drawing (if available) displayed in the bibliographic record. In addition, as of January 29, 2010, abstracts in both English and French are available for applications filed under the PCT. (Approximately 75 percent of patent applications received by the CIPO are filed via the PCT system.)

PatentScope (WIPO)

PatentScope is the public database of record for PCT international patent applications published by the World Intellectual Property Organization. It contains approximately 1.7 million international applications published from 1978 forward. In 2009, WIPO extended PatentScope to include national patent collections from the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, Cuba, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. The largest of these are Korea (1.3 million documents from 1973-2007), Mexico (180,000 documents from 1991-2009) and Israel (144,000 documents from 1900-1999). WIPO also introduced a new search interface with simple, structured and browse functions, and the option to display search results as tables or graphs. The “classic” PatentScope search interface is still available for searching PCT international applications.

Esp@cenet (EPO)

Esp@cenet is a collection of free international and national patent databases hosted by the European Patent Office (EPO). The worldwide database contains approximately 60 million patent documents from more than 80 countries and over one million non-patent literature references.

Early in the year, the EPO extended esp@cenet’s coverage of Latin American countries, adding several thousand patent documents from Chile (2005-2008), Ecuador (2005-2006), Nicaragua (2006-2008) and Panama (1999-2006). During the summer, more than six million U.S. patent assignment records dating back to 1981 were reloaded. Legal status data was added or reloaded for Russian patent and utility models, Polish patents, and Chinese patents and utility models dating back to October 1985.

At the end of the year, the EPO announced a number of enhancements that were implemented in early 2010. These include highlighted search terms in titles, abstracts and full-text; full-text searching for EP and WO documents in all three official languages; and the ability to sort search results by date, inventor, applicant and ECLA code. Users can now enter more search terms in any one field (the previous limit was four).

In related news, the French National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) replaced its old fee-based patent and trademark search systems with free web-based services. These include legal status information for granted French patents (B documents) and European patents designating France. (French patents are not available in the esp@cenet worldwide database but may be accessed via the French esp@cenet gateway.) Other services include databases of French designs and models from 1910 forward and international designs and models from 1979 forward.


The USPTO hosts several public databases, including the two main patent databases, PatFT, containing issued patents from 1976 forward and AppFT, covering published applications from 2001 forward. Other databases include the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) system and the Patent Assignment Database, which contains recorded patent assignment information from 1980 to present. The USPTO website underwent a major reorganization in mid-2009 but there were no significant changes to the patent databases.

U.S. patent documents reached several notable milestones in 2009. In February, the USPTO published the two millionth application. The USPTO published the first application (A document) on March 15, 2001. Prior to that date, applications remained confidential until a patent issued. On March 3rd, patent no. 7,500,000 was issued and on May 19th plant patent no. 20,000 was granted.

President Obama’s new initiative to expand public access to government information and data could have a big impact on the USPTO. In September, the USPTO posted an RFI called the USPTO’s Data Dissemination Solution. The proposal seeks input from public or private sector parties interested in helping the USPTO make virtually all its public information freely accessible on the internet. The USPTO estimates that all of its data sets total about two petabytes. In exchange, the parties will be able to retain and use the data for their own purposes. It will be interesting to see if the USPTO can find any partners willing to accept these terms.

Last fall, David Kappos, the new Director of the USPTO, launched a blog called the Director’s Forum. In a recent post he expressed a desire to update the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP), the USPTO’s handbook of patent rules and regulations. He described the current system used to produce the MPEP as an embarrassment. It takes too long to update and is cumbersome to produce. There are good document management systems that could solve these problems. Kappos also suggested that a reengineered MPEP could include wiki-style content contributed by patent professionals.

Patent Lens

Patent Lens is a free full-text patent database maintained by Cambia, an independent, non-profit research institute based in Australia. It contains approximately 10 million full-text patent documents published by the Australian patent office (1998+), USPTO (1976+), EPO (1978+) and WIPO (1978+). One of its unique features is the ability to search for gene sequences in patent documents using NCBI’s Blast software. Recent improvements to Patent Lens include a new patent search interface in Chinese and French and the ability to search PCT applications in the language of filing or publication, e.g. Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Spanish. Patent family trees now include a key explaining the family member colour-coding system.


FreePatentsOnline (FPO) is a free full-text patent database launched in 2005 by James Ryley. It covers full-text patent documents published by the EPO, USPTO and WIPO, and Japanese patent abstracts. Early in 2009, FPO added titles for patents cited on the front page of U.S. patent documents. (The actual printed patent lists only the number, date and inventor name.) Around mid-year, FPO launched a spin-off site called LocalPatents that maps U.S. patent data to geographic location. Patent clusters display on a map of the U.S. Users can zoom from the state level down to individual towns and cities and retrieve patents granted to residents of that location.

Boliven Patents

In January 2009, Boliven, a small start-up based in NYC, launched a website designed for professional entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers and patent attorneys. One of the resources offered was a patent database that covered U.S. patents from 1976 forward, EP documents from 1978 forward, PCT applications from 1989 forward and Japanese patent abstracts. Korean patents and INPADOC data were added later. The search interface included several innovative features, including a “Quick Flip” display option for rapidly viewing patent documents, faceted filtering and analytical tools for displaying search results as charts and graphs. Registered users could save searches, create search alerts and download data. Although the search engine performed well for keyword searches, it struggled with USPC and IPC classifications, producing results that were unreliable and inaccurate.

From January to April 2009, access to the patent database was free. On May 5, Boliven’s management announced that it would begin charging users $60 per month. Within a few weeks, however, it changed course and announced that the patent database, among other services, would remain free and that it would attempt to generate revenue from other services. Additional collections of public documents and records were added over the course of the year. However, the website’s future is uncertain. On January 15, 2010, Boliven’s management suddenly announced that it would cease operations as of January 22, citing its failure to meet operational and financial goals. As of February 23, the website and patent database are still online, although no new patent data appears to have been loaded since December.


PatSnap is a new fee-based patent search and analytics service launched in 2009 by a Singapore-based company. It covers full-text patent documents from the U.S. (1971+), Europe (1978+) and PCT (1978+) and Chinese patent abstracts from 1985 forward. A free trial was offered to members of ELD. Users can register for a free basic account that includes searching and viewing documents from the U.S., European and PCT collections. A day pass costs $39 and includes Chinese patent abstracts, basic analysis, 100 PDF downloads and 500 bibliographic data exports per day. The full plan costs $199 per month. PatSnap has a well-designed user interface, good search options and powerful analytic tools. Keyword searches performed well compared with other public patent databases, but classification searches did not produce the expected results.

Related News & Websites

Intellogist is a new website and online community for professional patent searchers. It is sponsored by Landon IP, a firm located in Alexandria, Virginia specializing in patent and trademark searches and patent analytics, and supported in part by advertisements. Both novice and experienced patent searchers will find it very useful. Resources include profiles of commercial and public patent databases, comparisons of patent search system capabilities, national patent coverage, best practices in prior art searching and a glossary. Registered users can contribute and revise content.

International Patent Classification (IPC)

There are major changes afoot for the IPC in 2010. The division between core and advanced levels, which was introduced in 2006, will be removed. Patent offices currently classifying documents using the core level will now use the main groups instead. New versions of the IPC will be published once a year in electronic format only. The integration of local classification systems (USPC, ECLA and JPO FI/F Term) will be accelerated.

IP5 Initiatives

The world’s five major patent offices (USPTO, EPO, JPO, SIPO and KIPO) known as the IP5 moved forward on series of joint projects announced at the end of 2008. The EPO is the lead office tasked with developing a common documentation database and common approach to patent classification. The USPTO is leading the development of a common approach to sharing and document search strategies and common search and examination support tools. The JPO will develop a common application format and access to search and examination results. KIPO is responsible for training policy and mutual machine translation. And the SIPO is working on a common set of rules for examination practice and quality control.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Converting CO2 into Fuel?

Most people believe that the only solution to global climate change is government-imposed regulations to curb the amount of CO2 spewing into the atmosphere. But perhaps there is a market based alternative? Neil Reynolds in the Globe & Mail recently mentioned an intriguing new technology developed by Carbon Sciences, Inc. that converts CO2 into gasoline and other fuels.

Carbon Sciences, which is based in Santa Barbara, provides technical info on its website, but the idea still sounds a little like alchemy to me. So I went looking for the company's patents but found only one published application, US2008277319, for a "Fine Particle CO2 Transformation and Sequestration." The inventor is Michael Wyrsta. Interestingly, Wyrsta is an inventor on several other patents assigned to another Santa Barbara company called GRT or Gas Reaction Technologies. GRT's patent portfolio includes several patents that describe technology for converting gases into hydrocarbons. Could there be a connection between both companies? GRT has a website, but it doesn't look like it's been updated in several years. The USPTO assignment database has no record of GRT assigning its patents to Carbon Sciences. This example illustrates how difficult it is to establish the provence of a technology.

World Intellectual Property Day - 10th Anniversary

The theme of World Intellectual Property Day, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is "Innovation - Linking the World." There are many innovations that have brought the world closer together. Here is my top ten list of representative technologies and the decades in which they emerged.
  • Telegraph (1840s)
  • Industrial papermaking & automated presses (1880s)
  • Telephone (1890s)
  • Radio (1910s)
  • Television (1950s)
  • Networked mainframe computers (1960s)
  • Digital photocomposition (1970s)
  • Internet & e-mail (1980s)
  • World Wide Web (1990s)
  • Cell phone networks (1990s)
  • Web 2.0 & social networks (2000s)