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Thursday, 10 December 2009

Checking Your Trademark Application Status

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Most people wonder at what stage their trademark application has reached. It is normal to wonder. Recently, however, I have come across this particular page whereby users can check the latest Government Gazettes to see if their trademark application has already been approved.

There are three ways for conducting a search. The first assumes that you already have a certain issue of the Government Gazette in mind. The second assumes that you know the exact trademark application number. Finally, one can also search by class.

CLICK HERE FOR THE LINK
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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Better Mousetrap Fallacy

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Katie Konrath, blogging at the Brazen Careerist, writes about the fallacies of imagining that if you manage to invent a better mousetrap, consumers will beat a pathway to your door. (Ref: The Brazen Careerist, 31st March 2009. It's Not Enough To Build A Better Mousetrap) She quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson's words: "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Then she points out, that many people have invented better mousetraps, and yet the most popular model is the spring loaded model which was patented in the late 1900's.

William C Hooker

The first spring-loaded mousetrap was patented on 6/11/1894 by William C Hooker. You can access patent No. 528671 at this page.

William C Hooker invented the said mousetrap with two objectives:

(a) "... to provide, for catching mice and rats, a simple, inexpensive and efficient trap adapted not to excite the suspicion of an animal, and capable of bring arranged close to a rat-hole, and of being sprung by the animal passing over it when not attracted by the bait."

(b) "... to provide a sensitive trap which may be readily set, and which will be instantly sprung at the slightest attempt of an animal to obtain the bait."

There are no references to prior art in the patent, the patent drafter referring instead to "the construction and novel combination and arrangement of parts hereinafter more fully described ..."

Describing the preferred embodiment of the patent, the patent drafter declares that "the particular construction of the catch forms a very sensitive trap ... the slightest pressure on the trigger will cause the springing of the trap."

William C Hooker's patent has been referenced by two patents, at least. The first is US patent no. 4306369 (patented on 22nd December 1981) and the second is US patent no. 7117631 (patented on 10th October 2006). From the prior art cited in both these patents, it becomes clear that the spring-loaded principle in William C Hooker's patent has been utilized again and again. Examples can be found in:

(a) Patent no. 2598205 (patented May 1952)
(b) Patent no. 2188696 (patented Jan 1940)

Definition in 2006

By 2006, US patent no. 7117631 would refer to the William C Hooker mousetrap as
"a mechanically actuated trap", in the following words:

a snap trap constructed and arranged for mechanically trapping a rodent therein, said snap trap comprising:
a base member having a spring activated bail secured to said base member for movement between a loaded position and an unloaded position, wherein said spring activated bail is biased to said unloaded position and is constructed and arranged to mechanically retain said rodent while in said unloaded position;
a trigger mounted to said base, said trigger having a bait receiving portion constructed and arranged to receive said non-perishable bait thereon;
a locking bar constructed and arranged to restrain said spring activated bail in said loaded position until said trigger is actuated;
wherein said rodent is attracted to said non-perishable bait attached to said snap trap, actuation of said trigger by said rodent releases said spring activated bail to said unloaded position, and said snap trap is adapted to mechanically retain said rodent therein.

Enduring Popularity

The question to be asked is different from the one posed by Katie Konrath. Rather than asking why new mousetrap inventions have not been commercially successful, it may be more appropriate to ask why the invention by William C Hooker has been so enduring. The popularity of its design and the existence of many designs based on it show that it is widely accepted. Perhaps it is the snapping action that so effectively kills pests -- and leads to its popularity.

US Patent no. 4127958 (patented 5th December 1978) perhaps sheds some light in its discussion on prior art:

Mouse traps have been designed in numerous ways throughout the years but by far the most popular mouse trap, at least from a commercial standpoint, is the mouse trap which has a base plate upon which is mounted a spring biased striker arm whichcan be moved from a released position to a cocked position and releasably held in the cocked position by a wire bale and a baited trigger arm which cooperate in releasing the striker arm to deliver a lethal blow to a mouse or the like when the mousetouches the trigger arm. This type of mouse trap has proved to be adequately reliable but very crude and distasteful to housewives who have the chore of removing the mouse trap or in disposing of the trap and the mouse as a whole.

New Mousetrap?

In the news very recently is a different sort of a mousetrap -- an organic mousetrap. A pitcher plant was very recently discovered to be carnivorous in nature, and capable of digesting small rodents and insects. It was named Nepenthes attenboroughii, for Sir David Attenborough, reknowned British naturist / botanist. Click here for the article (Mail Online, 18th August 2009. The Mousetrap: The carnivorous plant that eats rodents for lunch - named after Sir David Attenborough).

Obviously, this mousetrap will not become popular anytime soon. First, it survives in tropical weather -- the opportunities for commercial expansion into Western countries is just not there. Second, it looks gross. Compare with the sleek design of the spring-loaded mousetrap. Third, how effective will it be at controlling mice and rats? Plants like this survive only when there is an abundance of insects and little rodents. In other words it means that if the plant does its job (of killing mice), it ultimately withers away due to lack of food.

The Way Forward

It seems that building a better mousetrap does not necessarily guarantee instant riches in terms of a sudden surge in consumer demand for the new invention. Some products work best the way they are: Witness, in a world of speedy delivery of products and services, where fast food outlets reign, the survival and increasing popularity of "slow food restaurants" that boast "Food Just The Way Mom Cooked It" or "Home Cooked Food".

Sometimes, in the face of on-going innovation and change, the right strategy is to fall back to basics and to offer the wholesome essence of whatever it was, that made the product successful in the first place. If food is the product, make it wholesome and delicious. Make it an experience instead of just another meal to get by on. It may also be that your product or service can offer an aspect that may otherwise be neglected by other products, or service providers. Emphasizing a basic point, i.e. amplification to the point that it becomes a whole range of products, may in fact open up the market.

Perhaps if one is not seeking to deliver anything new -- technologically -- but is focussed with delivering high quality products, the product will become attractive. A person doing a job again and again, is bound to see the weaknesses in the process, and will be able to make improvements. It is from these improvements that innovations spring, which in turn give birth to patents.

In a future article, I hope to look at products that did not necessarily fit the idea of "a better mousetrap", yet were very successful as inventions.
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Friday, 17 July 2009

Peer Review of Patents

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An interesting idea has taken place in the US. Imagine what would happen if your patents were examined by members of the patent community? Imagine what time would be saved in terms of search for prior art? That would indeed save the patent examiners a lot of time. In terms of return on investment, those applicants whose patents are submitted for evaluation will either (1) obtain the registration sooner, or (2) obtain the rejection sooner. Not all bad news is bad, and obtaining a rejection sooner (than later) will enable the applicant to (a) appeal against the rejection, (b) cut losses, and perhaps (c) redesign the invention in light of the grounds stated in the rejection so that it is patentable. The plus point is that everybody gets the good news sooner rather than later.

From the official website, the Peer to Patent Programme is as follows:

On June 15, 2007, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) opened the patent examination process for online public participation for the first time. With the consent of the inventor, the Peer-to-Patent: Community Patent Review pilot, developed by the New York Law School Institute for Information Law and Policy in cooperation with the USPTO, enables the public to submit prior art and commentary relevant to the claims of pending patent applications in Computer Architecture, Software, and Information Security (TC2100). This historic initiative connects an open network of community input to the legal decision-making process.

A summary of the first year's results is available in our Anniversary Report, available for download at http://dotank.nyls.edu/communitypatent/P2Panniversaryreport.pdf.

UPDATE: The USPTO announced the extension of Peer-to-Patent on July 17, 2008. The program will now run through June 15, 2009. In addition, eligible applications have been expanded to include Technology Center 3600 (Class 705). Up to 400 applications will be reviewed.

Peer-to-Patent involves 1) review and discussion of posted patent applications, 2) research to locate prior art references 3) uploading prior art references relevant to the claims, 4) annotating and evaluating submitted prior art, and 5) top ten references, along with commentary, forwarded to the USPTO. The goal of this pilot is to prove that organized public participation can improve the quality of issued patents.

Anyone in the public can participate as a reviewer, a patent application facilitator, and by sharing information about the pilot with others. Inventors can submit a qualified patent application for open review. Public participation is crucial to demonstrating the value of openness and making the case for greater USPTO accountability to the technical community. A successful pilot will also make a case for expanding to other subject matter.


Unfortunately the time for participation in this project is past. Perhaps it will be extended.

Perhaps Malaysia would do well to make data pertaining to patent applications (both being processed and granted) online. As it is, the PANTAS web portal is a window of opportunity that can be expanded upon -- to extend into a full featured search engine for patents / trademarks. However, that day isn't likely to come soon. It seems likely that MyIPO is going to stick with the present pay-per-view operating model. That isn't likely to help the development of the local patent-ing scene.

Incidentally, I stumbled across the Peer to Patent project while reading an article on NY Times: Obama, inviting ideas online, finds a few on the fringe. Not that it's groundbreaking, but it's refreshing to see a President open himself up to the citizens and their discussions.
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Monday, 13 July 2009

Designing for People: Social Inventions

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Designing a product is of necessity, a process which requires that a need be met. Naturally, a product must be viable -- economically, socially -- before it makes any sense to spend money on researching it and designing a solution which embodies the invention. But when such products do see the light of day, society is benefitted, mankind is benefitted, the businessman is benefitted, the manufacturer is benefitted, and -- sometimes -- the inventor is benefitted.

Designing for People

Inventions for people, inventions which solve problems faced by society, are inventions which will potentially be celebrated over time. We are surrounded by examples of such great inventions, even to this very day:
  • The lightbulb by Thomas Edison
  • The telephone by Alexander Graham Bell
  • The paper clip by Johan Vaaler (although there is some dispute)

Postpartum Anti-Shock Device

More recently I came across an article, where it was reported that Pathfinder International, a charitable organisation, has invented a suit to treat postpartum shock. From the article at Women's eNews:

In eight states in Nigeria and eight states in India, Pathfinder researchers are not only employing these technologies, but lobbying for their widespread use. They are training medical providers to supervise a woman while she is in the garment and to remove it slowly to prevent excess blood loss.

It can be seen that socially inventors, like Pathfinder International, care less about the commercial aspect of getting renumerated and more of spreading the goodness of what they have invented. On the other hand, if licence to manufacture is not granted to manufacturers, whether non-profit or for-profit, it means that the inventor still holds the patent ransom and stands to make money out of it.

Filtered Straw For Drinking River Water

In 2006, I read an article about a new straw -- fitted with filters and a chamber for iodine -- which would revolutionize drinking water for communities in Africa. Dubbed the LifeStraw, and created by a Danish inventor, Torben Vestergaard Frandsen, it was supposed to prevent thousands of people from dying in developing countries, due to infections by water borne diseases. It was supposed to be marketed at USD3.50, but critics called it expensive (bearing in mind the target crowd was the developing countries of the world). Obviously, in order for such an invention to be successful (and meet its goals), the whole concept of financing its continued manufacture and distribution should first be answered.

An Open Source Approach to Designing for People

In speaking of inventing for people, I came across a toolkit for Human Centered Design, generously made available by IDEO, a design consultancy based in America, with offices in Europe and Asia. The toolkit is divided into four booklets:

  1. Intro Guide
  2. Hear Guide
  3. Create Guide
  4. Deliver Guide

Under the Hear Guide, there are also supplementary booklets, namely:

  1. Field Guide
  2. Aspiration Cards

IDEO must have something good going on. On its catalogue of "featured" work, it boasts over 1,000 patents since 1978, and over 350 awards since 1991. It has worked with the Mayo Clinic, Nokia, Samsung, Shimano (bicycle parts), the American Red Cross, BASF, and countless others. It has a robust database of articles, which are constantly updated.

I came across IDEO's Human Centred Design open sourced toolkit at FastCompany.com's blog on sustainable design. From the article, it is clear that this toolkit emerged as a collaboration between several organisations, and these are also worth checking out:

A Last Word

As many people know, Nikola Tesla did not see the fruition of his dreams of wireless transmission of electricity. His invention of wireless transmission of electricity would have revolutionized the conveyance of electricity to the ordinary man, and had he succeeded, there would have been no need to rely on electric cables and copper wires. Electricity could be produced from a central source, and the world's communities share the electricity by using the Earth's atmosphere as a giant conductor. According to this article, Tesla did not see his dream come true because:

According to his biography "Tesla: Man Out of Time" by Margaret Cheney, he conducted several successful tests at the turn of the last century in his Colorado Springs laboratory. There, he used Earth's upper atmosphere as a giant conductor. In theory, a person anywhere on Earth could access the electricity with the proper equipment. Imagine one generating station or a few dozen for the entire planet! Apparently, he did.

Unfortunately, Tesla kept some key figures out of his notes due to the fact that several of his patents at the time were already being infringed upon. On top of that, he ran out of money and investors before his experimental Wardenclyffe Tower, which was to be the first commercial wireless tower, could be completed.

Indeed, this invention could have shaped our world into one where power lines and burning fuels would be as old a concept as catapults and steam engines. Even cars, trains, and planes could have run from this wireless electricity. But, once infrastructure stabilizes and people get comfortable, it becomes difficult to change, and this would have been the second time in his life that Tesla would have completely revolutionized the world.

Clearly, Nikola Tesla faced numerous problems, which would be inventors must take cognizance of. These are:

  • Infringement of patents, and
  • Lack of funding, whether in the pre-commercialization stage or halfway through it

These can be solved, by:

  • Filing for a patent at the earliest possible stage, and
  • Securing funding, whether through venture capitalists or strategic business partners

Another option is establishing a company for the purpose of commercializing the said invention. In time, this may split into two companies: one for manufacture, and one for distribution/marketing.

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Sunday, 5 July 2009

Michael Jackson's Patented Shoes

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As the world mourns the loss of Michael Jackson, proclaimed by some to be the King of Pop, I was enthralled to learn that the singer and consummate performer had a secret to his Smooth Criminal move: the classic leaning move, where the dancers (and the singer himself) leaned about 45 degrees to the front. This illusion was created by a combination of a peg, which rose from the ground as needed, and a cavity in the shoe's heel, which allowed the peg to "latch on" to. This combination was eventually patented.

From the abstract:
A system for allowing a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface. The shoes have a specially designed heel slot which can be detachably engaged with the hitch member by simply sliding the shoe wearer's foot forward, thereby engaging with the hitch member.


US_Patent_5,255,452

Further reading:

A YouTube video of the invention, by CBS television network, is available here.

Online newspapers and blogs:
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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Surprise!

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While searching the files at the trademark office recently, I was surprised to see that the YouTube mark has had some problems with the trademark office.

youtube trademark
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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Maerogel: Malaysian Aerogel from Rice Husks

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Today I came upon some literature that I had taken from an exhibition some time ago. Of interest was a product known as "Maerogel" produced by Prof. Dr. Halimaton Hamdan, of the Dept of Chemistry at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. She had patented a method of creating aerogel from rice husks at a fraction of the normal cost. Features of the product are:
  • Lightest solid - 3 times the density of air.
  • Consists of 96% air
  • Space-Age nanomaterial
  • Gel filled with air
  • Porous amorphous solid with pore diameter of 1 - 30 nm
  • Large surface area - 600 to 900 m2 per g
  • Dialectic material - thermal, electrical and acoustic insulator
I felt intrigued. Naturally I had to see the patent. Google Patents has the patent no. 10578774 filed under PCT on 9th April 2007. The original patent was filed in Malaysia in 2004. From the abstract of the patent:

This invention relates to silica aerogels and to a method for their preparation from rice husk. Rice husk is very rich in silica, and its ash can contain up to 92-97% of amorphous silica. The rice husk ash is prepared by burning the rice husk on a heating plate with excess air until the white ash is obtained. Silica from rice husk ash is in a very active form and has been found to be a very potential starting material for silica aerogels.


Other notable posts on the web on this invention worth reading include:
  • IHT, Malaysian scientist turns rice husk into high tech insulator that could cut electric bills. 29th February 2008. URL: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/02/29/asia/AS-FEA-GEN-Malaysia-Super-Insulator.php
  • Treehugger, Architectural Innovation and Energy Savings Could Result from Super-Insulator Breakthrough. 7th March 2008. URL: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/breakthrough-architectural-energy-savings.php
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Saturday, 17 January 2009

WIPO Awards King Bhumibol Adulyadej the WIPO Global Leaders Award

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The Nation reported on 15th January 2009 that WIPO has awarded His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the WIPO Global Leaders Award. It is a great honour for the Thai peoples and for fellow ASEAN member nations. It shows that the Thai monarch is more than a mere figurehead, actively participating in finding ways to better the livelihood of his subjects.

His Majesty the King is said to be the owner of 20 patents and 19 trademarks. He studied science and engineering at Switzerland before switching to law and politics. The Royal Projects have initiated over 4,000 projects dedicated to improving the lives and wellbeing of subjects of the Thai monarch.

The more well known achievements of His Majesty include:

  • Royal Rain project, related to the causation of artificial rain;
  • Chaipattana Aerator, an effective and inexpensive waste water treatment system;
  • Water purification devices;
  • Techniques for making acidic soil arable;
  • Technique for conversion of palm oil into palm diesel.

References:

  1. The Nation, 15 January 2009. His Majesty The King As Innovator and Inventor. URL: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2009/01/15/opinion/opinion_30093252.php. Accessed: 17 January 2009.
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