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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

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'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.


Further reading:

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

Online newspapers and blogs:
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