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Valentine’s Day Patents

Valentines Day Patent

Valentine’s Day has a long and complicated history. It began as a feast day in the Catholic Church. There were, in fact, more than one saint called Valentinus, but the one that’s THE Saint Valentine was born in about 176. His story is that he spent most of the time preaching and converting pagan Romans. Valentine eventually came to the attention of the Roman Emperor Claudius II, and both men got on until Valentine tried to convert him, whereupon the Emperor condemned him to death. While under arrest one Judge Asterius, Valentine’s jailer, challenged Valentine to prove the validity of his faith, so in response he performed a miracle and restored the sight of the Judge’s adopted blind daughter.

The traditional date of his death and simultaneous martyrdom is 14 February in the year 269, 270 or 273.

According to medieval tradition, birds hook up in February and it seems to be on this flimsy pretext that somehow Saint Valentine came to be associated with love. The writer Geoffrey Chaucer was a big fan, as was the French King Charles the IV, who was the first head of state to officially recognize St. Valentine’s Day. Centuries later the Victorians were exchanging Valentine’s day love notes and gifts. In 1835, two years before Victoria became queen, 60 000 Valentine’s Day cards were posted and by 1840 that number had increased to 400 000.

“Valentine’s Day” is now BIG business. In the UK alone in 2015 almost 2 billion pounds worth of cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts were exchanged. In the USA, the average annual spend on Valentine’s Day is around $150 per person.

It’s often said that “necessity is the mother of invention” but the lure of money helps a lot too. Given the potential market, it’s not surprising that inventors have been trying to cash in for decades.

US Patent 4993184 filed 13 August 1990 is for a method of growing two living plants into a “Heart-Shaped, Free Standing, Living Horticultural Plant”.

The result, as a work in progress, looks like this:

Heart-Shaped

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a risky invention, because if the plant dies it might be interpreted as a really bad sign about the quality of the love.

It’s well known that love can make you hungry. With this in mind William C. Arbaugh II came up with this design patent USD491338S1, filed 24 March 2003. It’s for a heart-shaped pepperoni slices.

Heart-Shaped

Not a man to be burdened with small ideas, Arbaugh also filed USD491711S1 on the same day for heart-shaped cheese slices.

Heart-Shaped

Now, if he had only filed a patent for a heart-shaped pizza pan he could have been really on to something.

Still hungry? Chocolate has become synonymous with Valentine’s Day food, and while you can’t patent chocolate itself, you can register  the design of your chocolates. Why? So that you can distinguish you chocolate commercially from that of your competitors. It’s all about branding in the multi-billion dollar chocolate game.

Tired of eating? How about a heart-shaped umbrella? Let USD592393S1 from 15 May 2008 show you how!

heart-shaped umbrella

And for that romantic gesture that takes full advantage of modern technology how about EP0555233B1 filed 27 August 1991. It allows you to have a card that records your greeting electronically – for that ultimate in personalization.

So now imagine that you’re an Australian inventor, and you have an idea for something that will give you an “in” into the multi-billion dollar Valentine’s Day industry. You may need to consider patent protection or a registered design in Australia. As it may involve a lot of work which you might not want to do or be suitably qualified to do, it is well worth approaching  an Australian patent attorney in Sydney to explain your options. Who knows, you might just have an idea that will give you a slice of that multi-billion dollar, heart-shaped, Valentine’s Day pie?

The Hidden Meanings in 3 Famous Logos and Trade marks

There was a time when people didn’t even know what a logo was. The word is actually short for “logotype” and derives, as so many of the fancier English words, from two ancient Greek word, “logos” meaning “word” and “tupein” meaning to “strike” or “to make an impression”. So … stretching the meaning just a little bit, a logo could be taken to mean a word that makes an impression – which is exactly what they’re made to do. Naturally, the evolution of the logo has meant that sometimes the word isn’t even a word anymore but just a symbol. The more recognizable that that symbol is, the more that it makes an impression, the more successful that symbol is.
Some logos have become more iconic (another Greek word!) than others. And some have hidden meanings that you might not guess just by looking at them. Here then, are a few interesting examples:

Toyota

Toyota Logo

The history of the Toyota name is detailed and interesting and worthy of its own blog post because it illustrates a lot of the thinking that goes into the creation of a powerful brand. Even the emblem has its story. In their own words from their website:

“There are three ovals in the new logo that are combined in a horizontally symmetrical configuration. The two perpendicular ovals inside the larger oval represent the heart of the customer and the heart of the company. They are overlapped to represent a mutually beneficial relationship and trust between each other.

The overlapping of the two perpendicular ovals inside the outer oval symbolize “T” for Toyota, as well as a steering wheel, representing the vehicle itself. The outer oval symbolizes the world embracing Toyota. Each oval is contoured with different stroke thicknesses, similar to the “brush” art known in Japanese culture.”

Apple

Apple_logo

What is arguably one of the most recognized logos in the world, renowned for its elegant simplicity, started off in 1976 as a much more complicated image with allusions to the Isaac Newton’s falling apple as the inspiration of genius. Another fascinating story worthy of longer treatment. The modern logo dates from 1976 and alludes to the apple from “The Tree of Knowledge”. The bite was put in so that people wouldn’t confuse the apple for a tomato!

 

BMW

BMW_logo

BayerischeMotorenWerke – Bavarian Motor Works or BMW to the rest of us has a logo that represents the origins of the company as a manufacturer of aircraft before they started making the cars that they are now much more famous for.

This logo relies on colour for it to work.

The white represents the blur of a turning propeller. The blue is the background sky peeking through. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it? If you’re planning to register a logo in Australia the applicable body is IP (Intellectual Property) Australia. But logos aren’t the only thing that can be trademarks. Company names, the names of specific inventions, products or services can also be trademarked. The value of devising names and logos is to distinguish yourself from your competition and to protect your brand. Trade marks and logos are business shorthand for – “When you see this word or symbol it stands for a particular quality of product or service. It stands for a particular experience.” Trademarks also tell the world – “If you try to pass off your brands and services with symbols and names that we own, you’re committing a type of fraud. You’re parasitizing our hard-won reputation and brand-building to pass your stuff off as ours and we won’t stand for it.” Companies are very protective of their logos for this reason. It can take decades and millions of dollars to build a brand so that members of the public can make instant associations between a symbol and what it stands for. If you’re planning to build a business and a brand, you should be equally protective of what you create. Like so much else in the world of commerce, making sure you’re covered can be a tricky business, full of traps for the naïve and the unwary. It’s a good idea to engage the services of an intellectual property specialist or lawyer to ensure that you’re legally covered in the right way, without overspending time of money and without inadvertently missing something that might seem minor, but might be very important later on.

Celebrity Patents—OR How Not to Let a Little Thing Like Fame Get in the Way of Being a Smart Inventor with Business Sense

Whether you’re living in Outer Mongolia or in Sydney Australia, every now and then inspiration hits somebody and they think, “Oh! An idea!” And for some reason this idea takes hold of an imagination and it gets developed into some sort of invention that somehow finds its way into a patent registry. A patentable idea can hit anyone at any time, and there’s no reason to believe that celebrities can’t come up with them too, just like everybody else. Strangely enough, among celebrities, it seems that musicians seem to come up with more patents than anyone else, often because the necessities of performance turn out to be the mothers of invention.
Rock star Eddie van Halen likes to strum his guitars using all ten fingers simultaneously, the trouble is that it’s tricky to do this and hold on to a fretboard at the same time (try it, it’s virtually impossible). So in 1985 he patented a device that attaches to the back of a guitar to give it more stability in a horizontal position, turning the guitar, almost, into some sort of zither.
The late Prince invented a keytar – a portable piano that you wear like a guitar and that looks like a saw.
Pop singer and dancer Paula Abdul patented a mike on a hemispherical concrete stand that looks like a cross between a pogo stick and the base of one of those inflatable clowns that you punch and then rights itself. The point being that you can hold the mike and swivel around without fear of falling over. It probably still takes some practice to use without looking like a complete idiot.
And a more famous singer known for his dance moves also got in on the patenting act. The late Michael Jackson (and two ghost co-inventors) patented specially designed shoes that could seamlessly click into the floor of a stage to allow the performer to lean at an impossible angle. You can see this effect, briefly, in the film clip for “Smooth Criminal” at the 7:04 mark.
But musicians don’t limit themselves to things that help their stage work. In 1953 old-school band leader Lawrence patented a design for an amazingly ugly ashtray in the shape of an accordion, although why he would bother is anyone’s guess. Neil Young patented a remote-control device to make his hobby of model trains even more fun.
Even amateur musicians have gotten in on the act. Drum enthusiast Marlon Brando held several patents for devices that improved drum playing.
But not all celebrity patents are frivolous. Some show considerable ingenuity and turned out to be actually useful.
Zeppo Marx, one of the non-funny Marx brothers, was a co-inventor of a cardiac pulse monitor, patented in 1969.
Also in 1969, Steve McQueen, who spent a lot of time in cars, patented an improved design for a bucket seat. And, staying on the theme of ergonomics, science popularizer Bill Nye has patented a design for ballet shoe designed to lessen the possibility of injury to dancers.
Jamie Leigh Curtis has also improved a classic design with her patent for a diaper with a pocket that holds baby wipes. But she has refused to license her 1987 design until diaper companies create biodegradable products.
Some patents even go into the realm of high tech. In 1989 James Cameron and his brother Mark patented an improved propeller-driven dolly for filming underwater sequences.
And challenging the stereotype that beautiful women can’t think, supermodel Christie Brinkley patented an educational toy in 1991 to help kids learn the alphabet.
Even more impressive, in 1942 screen siren and fashion icon Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil patented a remote-control device using carrier waves of different frequencies. The idea was so far ahead of its time that by the time the technology existed to make it work twenty years had passed and the patent had expired.
And, as a sort of reverse Lamarr, Albert Einstein, who held patents for inventions as wide-ranging as hearing aids and refrigerators, patented an “improved blouse” in 1936. Who would have thought it, Albert Einstein, fashionista!
There’s no shortage of ideas in the world. Most of them are bad, lots of them are unworkable, quite a few are underdeveloped. But there are also a minority of good ideas, that are workable and could be made into viable products and businesses that you can monetize – even if you aren’t a celebrity. These ideas are worth protecting, and the sensible way of protecting these ideas in Australia is with a patent, with the help of a qualified Australian intellectual property attorney. And, if you want to be extra-safe, you can register a trademark too, thus protecting not only the invention itself, but the marketing as well. After all, if registering a patent is sensible enough for Albert Einstein, it’s probably sensible enough for you too.

Cocaine and Cola Nuts—Trademarking a World Brand

How did a recipe largely comprised of caramel and carbonated sugar water became one of the most recognised and most valuable brands in the world? It’s no secret that the science of marketing is central to the success of the Coca-Cola story and the key image of that marketing is Coca-Cola’s distinctive (and vigorously protected) trade mark and logo.
Back in April 1865, 23-year old Lieutenant Colonel and Pharmacist John Pemberton, a native of Georgia in the US was fighting in the Confederate Army in the American Civil War when he sustained a sabre wound to his chest. To help the pain, he self-medicated with morphine and soon became addicted to it. Realising that an opiate addiction was unsustainable, Pemberton experimented with plant extracts native to various indigenous healing traditions and eventually came up with “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca”, which contained extracts of coca, kola nuts (a native of tropical Africa rich in caffeine, kolanin and theobromine, which are all effective stimulants) and damiana (a native American plant used to treat anxiety and to boost sexual potency). Settling in Atlanta, Pemberton started marketing his wine to fellow war veterans as a treatment for “neurasthenia” (which we’d probably describe nowadays as post-traumatic stress disorder) and to Southern women to treat “nervous exhaustion”.
Pemberton was doing well out of his French Wine, when, in 1886 Atlanta suddenly became “temperate” and he had to find a non-alcoholic alternative. With his colleague Willis E. Veneble, Pemberton ended up with a syrup to which soda water could be added. It was essentially the core ingredients of the previous wine, minus the alcohol and the damiana.
Frank Mason Robinson, who was working as a bookmaker for Pemberton came up with the name Coca-Cola “because it was euphonious”—it sounded good, which is as good a reason as any when coming up with a name that you’d want to be registering as a trade mark. In his other major act of inspirational genius Robinson also came up with writing the Coca-Cola in Spencerian script, which, although rare today, was the standard script for business correspondence in the US in the late 1800s.
The most recognisable parts of the script are the flowing lines and that the letters, especially the round letters, are built around a standard narrow oval. While Coca-Cola’s logo is probably the most famous example, the Ford Motor Company is also based on that script.
So, now, in May 1886, with the most basic elements of its corporate identity in place, Coca-Cola was ready to take over the world. Slow going at first, it only sold less than 100 litres of syrup in its first year, but by 1887 it sold almost 4000.
Shortly before he died in 1888 from stomach cancer, Penberton, broke and still addicted to morphine, sold shares in the formula to another Atlanta patent medicine seller, Asa Griggs Chandler for a sum equivalent today to about $600 000. The Pembertons didn’t really profit from Coca-Cola as six years later John’s only son Charles, also an opium addict, would be dead too at the age of 40.
So it was up to the Chandlers family to begin to turn Coca-Cola into a world brand. The key—a popular product pushed with aggressive marketing and spear-headed by a great trademark. Both the drink formula and the marketing and trademark formulas worked so well that the Chandler family made a considerable amount of money when they sold Coca-Cola to Ernest Woodruff in 1919. Woodruff and his sons would go on to make even more money out of the brand.
It almost goes without saying that proper trademark registration was essential to protecting Coca-Cola’s interests. And what was important in the “Wild West” economy of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s is no less important in Australia in the early 21st century. Creators of products, especially marketing-driven products, in Sydney, need the services and easy access to specialised trademark consultants in Sydney and trademark attorneys in Sydney to ensure the legal protection of their intellectual property because, in so many cases, the intellectual property is the product. No one has exclusive rights to water, sugar and kola nuts. But try to create a similar looking and tasting product to Coca-Cola and using a trademark and logo similar to Coke and see how far you get.
Smart entrepreneurs want to be in the same position of having a valuable, protected asset.
And just in case you were wondering, in 1906 the US Federal Pure Food and Drug Act made it impossible for Coca-Cola to continue containing cocaine. Modern Coke contains extract of “spent cocaine” leaves just as a flavouring, at least that’s what they tell us. It’s about as much as almost anyone knows since the formula for Coca-Cola is one of the world’s most closely-guarded secrets.

The CPAP Machine and Masks — How ResMed Reinvented the Science of Sleep

In an ideal world we’d all get enough sleep, quality sleep. But not all of us do. Sometimes it’s our own fault; we spend way too much time working or playing. Sometimes we’ve made a decision that means that we’ve had to sacrifice some sleep time; like the decision to have children, which, as any experienced parent knows, might mean sacrificing years of sleep. And at other times a lack of quality sleep can be the result of a variety of serious medical conditions.

It turns out that sleep isn’t simple and a lot can go wrong but even though people have been sleeping for thousands of years—since the very beginning of being people—it wasn’t until the twentieth century that science really began to investigate how sleep works.

The first breakthrough came in 1928, when, with the invention of the Electro Encephalograph, investigators were first able to detect brain waves and realised that the rhythms of the brain while asleep were quite different from the rhythms of the waking brain.

Then, in 1956 the medical profession recognized the existence of Pickwickian Syndrome, or, Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS). In Charles Dicken’s book, The Pickwick Papers, there’s a character called Joe the Fat Boy, who is constantly eating then falling asleep randomly at any time of the day.

People originally attributed this behaviour to Victorian ideas about gluttony. But it took another twenty years, until 1978, to understand OHS better.

It turns out that Joe and people like him weren’t falling asleep because of the effort of digesting all their food. It turns out that Joe was suffocating a lot of the time, leading to chronic exhaustion. It turns out that in some obese people, the weight of body fat around the neck and chest puts additional pressure on the airway, partially collapsing the airway. This leads not only to snoring but to a point where the airway gets blocked altogether. At this point, the sleeper simply stops breathing—a condition called obstructive sleep apnoea (from the Ancient Greek—“a-” without and “pnoea” breath). So in sleep apnoea the sleeper is now three minutes away from suffocating to death. Fortunately for most sleepers, the body then detects the lack of oxygen and stimulates a “ventilatory response” forcing the sleeper to wake up and breathe.

But there’s a catch or two or three …

Firstly, the random waking is only a partial solution, being starved of oxygen plays havoc on the brain, which is very sensitive to oxygen deprivation.

Secondly, the apnoea kicks in at random times during the sleep cycle and often interrupts the most vital part of sleep, REM sleep, which is vital for mental and physical health. This means that the sleeper can be getting eight or nine hours of sleep, but the interrupted cycle means that there’s not enough quality sleep.

Thirdly, the patient usually doesn’t fully awaken, only just enough to start breathing again. So the sleeper often doesn’t realize that they have sleep apnoea.

So it turns out that a lot of people don’t know they have sleep apnoea, and because you don’t necessarily have to be fat to have sleep apnoea then just because you might not have OHS, doesn’t mean that you don’t have some form of sleep and breathing problem, leaving you in a constant state of exhaustion—among other problems.

With the discovery of the problems that sleep apnoea could cause, scientists decided that, at the very least, they could treat the condition with positive air pressure and the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine was born. The CPAP is essentially an air blower, gently and constantly blowing air into the sleeper’s airway and by 1985 domestic models of the CPAP were treating people at home.

But it turns out that, surprise-surprise, people vary hugely in their anatomy and a CPAP machine is only as good as the masks that fit to the sleeper’s face.

This is the challenge that the Australian company ResMed rose to in the 1990s. ResMed researched and developed a lot of different masks to ensure optimal delivery of air through the obstructed pathways of anyone who needed particular types of non-invasive breathing support. ResMed developed masks for hospital and domestic use, masks with vents and without vents, with anti-asphyxia valves and for high pressure ventilation. Further refinements include different masks for men, women and children as well as nasal masks (for nasal ventilation alone) and masks for people who tended to breathe through their mouths.

All this research in creating masks that work optimally represents a huge investment on ResMed’s part and this investment had to be legally protected, otherwise any unscrupulous competitor could copy and retro-engineer all of ResMed’s hard work and money spent. This legal protection is called a patent. But ResMed is a medical research and instrument development company, it’s not a legal firm, so they wisely chose an intellectual property law firm to ensure that they obtained patent protection in Australia and the science and design of their masks couldn’t be stolen without serious legal repercussions to anyone foolish enough to try.

Reasons You Should Register Your Trademark

Business is all about making money and anyone who tells you otherwise is either deluded or lying. And there are certain fundamental laws and principles of sound business practice that you ignore at your peril. One key principle is that you have to “spend money to make money”, or, in a broader sense, you have to invest time and energy into creating, marketing and delivering a product or service that people want to pay you for. If you create a winning combination of service quality and delivery then you have a viable, ongoing business venture that will make you, and hopefully a lot of other people, a good living while providing your customers and clients with products and services that will make their lives easier or better.
Another key ingredient is a trademark. A trademark is just what it says it is – it’s a mark of trade, a sign or symbol that represents who you are, what you stand for and what people can expect from you. A trademark is a shorthand way of saying, “I’m here, let’s do business.” But a trademark is more than just a picture, it carries with it the story of who you are. Think of famous trademarks like Coca Cola, with its characteristic red-coloured, flowing font. That word, written in that particular way, says more than ‘coloured candy water’, it carries with it over a century of associations. Like any great symbol, it links people to a story behind it, a story that distinguishes it from all the other ‘coloured candy waters’ out there. The power of the trademark is that in one symbol it can set you apart from your competition. The world is full of messages competing for people’s attention, so full that the messages often become background noise, but your trademark can lift you above all that noise.
The potential power of your trademark raises several crucial points.
What is your story? What does your business represent? What reputation do you have? What can people count on when they see your trademark.
A trademark not only represent you, it represents your reputation and it’s the most obvious symbol that the public sees, and while business names and registering business names are also an important part of business the trademark is what clients and customers most quickly associate with what you’re offering them. It would be hard to find someone on earth who hasn’t heard of Coca Cola, far fewer have heard of “Amatil”.
Given the power of a trademark, businesses invest heavily in the story behind the symbol. The public also invests in that story, creating meanings that transcend the product or service. Try telling a die-hard Apple fan that their iPhone is “just a phone”. In a very practical, commercial sense your business is its symbol.
It’s therefore paramount that you protect your trademark. Otherwise anyone can steal your symbol and with it the story and reputation that you have worked so long and hard on to build up, a story that distinguishes you from everybody else. Sound businesses justly protect their investment with considerable energy.
In 2002 a small sex shop in Kentucky changed its name to “Victor’s Little Secret”. International lingerie brand “Victoria’s Secret” wanted their lingerie to be sexy, not smutty, and argued in court that the sex shop was “diluting their brand” and argument that ultimately led to a change in the law in the US that now means that you only have to show the possibility of harm to your brand in order to win a case of trademark infringement.
Closer to home, investing in a good trademark can have surprising benefits. In 2013 the REA Group Ltd, owners of the domain name “realestate.com.au”, successfully sued Real Estate 1 Ltd, owners of the domain name “realestate1.com.au” because REA was able to show that people looking for real estate were using their domain name overwhelmingly more often and where therefore seeking their services. Search engines could nevertheless show “realestate1.com.au” websites and potential customers could easily miss the “1”, thus landing on Real Estate 1’s sites and inadvertently giving them their business. It was much easier for REA to establish its case because not only was “realestate.com.au” a registered domain name, it was also a registered trade mark, and arguably, granted them a de facto monopoly.
The REA case not only showed the value of trademark registration, it also showed that if it ever comes down to it trademark protection in Australia is far more effective when you have a good intellectual property law firm behind you that knows how to protect your interests far better than you ever might.
After all, it’s your business and if it’s worth investing in, it’s worth protecting.

PATENT YOUR INVENTION — PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENT

Throughout history there have been smart and inventive men and women who have designed solutions to problems. Some of them have been so smart that they’ve even designed solutions to problems that didn’t exist! Nevertheless, our entire civilization is based on the fruits of uncountable hours that talented people have invested in creating things that make life easier or more interesting.
But invention itself, isn’t enough.
Without patent protection it’s really difficult to protect your rights and to legally defend yourself when people hijack your ideas and seek to profit from them. A patent can be defined as an exclusive right to prevent others from commercially exploiting an invention for a limited time. This right is essential for inventors to have a chance to recoup their investment, which often involves spending a lot of time and money.
About 700 years ago China was way ahead of the rest of the world technologically. While many people in Europe were still practically running around in animal skins China had printing, clocks and paper money. Why then did China eventually fall behind Europe? One reason that historians have identified is that China never developed a patent system. Without legal protection an inventor could spend years creating something, but would have no way of being able to prevent other people from profiting from it, so there was little economic incentive to be inventive. Even in Europe the idea of patenting came late. Leonardo da Vinci often included deliberate flaws in his design notes so that other people could not profit from his ideas and even taking credit for them themselves.
Unfortunately though, often people who are very smart at inventing things fail to take advantage of patenting. They fail to do the smartest thing of all, patenting their ideas, and thus leaving them wide-open to other people effectively to steal their work.
Sometimes they fail to do this out of ignorance; they’re simply not aware that there are legal mechanisms to protect them, but those mechanisms need to be activated through registration.
Sometimes its false economy, they see patent registration as an expense they don’t really need to incur.
Sometimes its false optimism, an idea that “She’ll be right”, not realizing that unscrupulous people out there will even go so far as to register your inventions as their own, leaving the onus of proof on you.
And sometimes it’s arrogance. Intellectual property law and patent law, can be quite complex. A patent has to be properly described and defined to minimize ambiguity. Patent protection in Australia really is a specialized job that’s preferably done by a registered patent agent or an Australian patent attorney working within a specialized intellectual property law firm, with all the resources and cumulative, synergistic experience that such a firm can draw on to give you maximum protection with minimal further expense.
And of course, sometimes an inventor is just an idealist. Famously, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the source coding for the World Wide Web and who basically invented the internet, deliberately didn’t patent his invention, because he wanted the world to have it for free.
Of course, patenting alone won’t guarantee that inventors will make money from their ideas. It takes a certain amount of business savvy too.
Laslo Biro patented his invention of the ball point pen in 1938. But seven years later, having failed to make any money from it, sold his invention and his patent to Marcel Bich in 1945. The Bic company has since sold 100 billion pens, and still counting.
The Wright Brothers patented the vital mechanism for controlled, powered flight, but among their many failures as businessmen it is often cited that their over-possessiveness and pathological secrecy stopped them from claiming several major and profitable prizes for flight records that would have firmly established them as the inventors of the aeroplane in the public mind and would have built an enduring economic association with flight to match their historic one.
But even when an inventor has some business acumen and marketing flair, failure to patent can cost inventors huge potential profits.
A case in point: Diasuke Inoue invented the Karaoke machine but failed to patent it, even after installing 11 machines in bars and establishing their popularity. While he still made some money from work associated with his invention, earning a good living as the chairman of a top karaoke machine manufacturer, he didn’t realize the full profit that he might have had he had exclusive rights to the machine’s manufacture.
Patent’s only endure for a time. They have an expiry date, usually about 20 years. But in that time a savvy inventor, with sound business advice and clever marketing can be legally guaranteed exclusive rights to gain the most from their invention.
Because if you don’t protect what’s yours, someone is bound to steal it.
If it’s worth inventing, it’s worth protecting.

The Cochlear Implant — How Science Fiction Became Reality

Anyone growing up in the 1970s in Australia might be forgiven for spending way too much time watching television. One of the most popular programs of the mid 70s was The Bionic Woman, a spin-off of an equally popular program, The Six Million Dollar Man. Both shows were based on the premise that people who had suffered massive injuries could have their body parts replaced with high-functioning, artificial limbs and implants that were not only indistinguishable from natural body parts but could actually work better, so much better in fact that the body parts made their possessors into super-heroes who could go on exciting secret missions that would serve the interests of peace and freedom and, in the process, justify the investment in research and development of the artificial augmentations.

Such a combination of machine and biology results in a cyborg – a term that is a combination of the word “cybernetic” and “organism”. At the time, the idea of a cyborg was pure science fantasy, but, as sometimes happens, real-life scientific research made science fiction a reality much sooner than most people would have predicted.
In The Bionic Woman, the protagonist, Jaime Sommers, loses hearing in her right ear. The ear mechanism is replaced by an elaborate implant whose mechanism is never revealed, but that allows Jamie to hear sounds and frequencies far outside the range of normal human hearing — an obvious advantage to a spy. However, even beyond the realm of espionage the idea of being able to give hearing back to the hearing impaired is, naturally, extremely appealing. It’s estimated that about 20% of adults have some degree of hearing loss and almost 2 per thousand have total or profound hearing loss and for many people this was more than enough justification to invest time and money in finding a way to “cure” deafness.

One such researcher was an Australian, Dr Graeme Clarke, who had a close relationship with his deaf father and dreamed of being able to give him hearing. A man of vision, he was appointed Chairman and Professor of The University of Melbourne’s Department of Otolaryngology (Ear, and Throat Specialists) in 1970. Hearing is a complex thing and there are many different reasons as to why someone might become deaf. Clark’s vision was to concentrate on the connection between the outer ear and the inner ear. The main mechanism of the inner ear is the cochlea, a spiral-shaped highly-specialised bone. The inner surface of the cochlea is lined with fine hairs that vibrate when exposed to sound. The hair vibrations stimulate nerve signals that the brain then interprets as sounds. Sometimes, the outer ear mechanisms, like the ear-drums, get damaged, which means sounds can’t get to the cochlea to stimulate the sensitive inner hairs. Clark’s approach was to bypass these outer mechanisms and provide artificial, electronicstimulus directly to the cochlea.

Clark’s research didn’t happen in a vacuum, it was conducted in an environment in which researchers all over the world were trying to solve the problem in different ways and in 1977, a Swede, Mona Anderson, became the world’s first “Bionic Woman” when she received a Baha Implant, that works by augmenting sound through bones connected to the ear. In the same year, Clark receive a research grant for developing his device. Legend has it that he worked out a way to implant the electronics by playing with a blade of grass and a (cochlea-shaped) Turban Shell on Minamurra Beach in New South Wales. Working with silicon chip design engineers Jim Patrick and Ian Forster, Clark made rapid progress and in 1978 Rod Saunders became the first recipient of the Cochlear Implant. The first sound Rod heard was “God Save the Queen”. When he heard the music he stood up and saluted.

This amazing breakthrough attracted commercial interest and medical device manufacturers The Nucleus Group and Professor Clark, in partnership with the Australian Government formed Cochlear a specialist company to develop the implant further for commercial release. Cochlear founded their global headquarters in Sydney, Australia. Being professionals, and anxious to protect an investment that was already running into well-over $4 million, Nucleus owner and CEO Paul Trainor, made sure that each iteration of the implant was properly protected with patent protection in Australia and the rest of the world, through properly qualified Australian Patent Attorneys.
Other milestones quickly followed with technological improvements through the 1980s and 1990s. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the device in 1985, the same year that the first children were ever fitted with the device. 1987 even saw the release of Australia Posts “Bionic Ear” Stamp — a rare honour — and child cochlear implant recipient Pia Jeffrey was featured in the Sydney Telephone Directory in 1992. Today, Cochlear is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

While Professor Clark was never able to give his father his hearing, and while the implant is still not exactly invisible (or gives people super-human hearing) the various versions of the implant have given hearing to tens of thousands of people. It is an example of a genuine Australian scientific, technological and commercial success story.

The History of the Rubik’s Cube

One of the world’s most popular puzzles began life in a much simpler version than the one we’re used to. In March 1970, Canadian inventor Larry Nichols filed a patent application for a 2 x 2 x 2 cube puzzle made up of a cube of 8 smaller cubes. This arrangement was held together with magnets. Nichols received a UK patent on 16 January 1972. In retrospect its easy to see that you can cheat the puzzle simply by pulling it apart, but at least the basic idea was there.

Two years later, Hungarian Erno Rubik was working at the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts in Budapest, in the Department of Interior Design. Rubik had set himself a challenge to create a mechanism of 27 cubes, arranged in a larger 3 x 3 x 3 cube in such a way that the edges could all rotate a full 360º, but without the whole mechanism falling apart. Each surface of the larger cube had a different colour in order to keep track of how well the sides were rotating. It was only when Rubik solved the structural problem, scrambled the different coloured surfaces and then tried to restore the cube to its original configuration that he realised that he had accidently discovered a puzzle. And because the puzzle relied on interlocking plastic pieces that were difficult to pull apart, it was hard to cheat. Rubik then obtained a patent in Hungary for his ‘Magic Cube’. Rubik struck a deal with the Ideal Toy Corporation to manufacture the cube and it sold well in its native country. Then, in late 1979, Rubik and Ideal decided to launch the cube to the world. It made its international toy fairs in London, Paris and New York in early 1980.

The cube was an almost instant hit. Something about a cube with rotating sides that mysteriously failed to fall about, something about a puzzle with with over 43 quintillion configurations that could nevertheless still be solve, something about the appeal of complexity hidden in simplicity, just captured the public’s imagination. The now renamed and rebranded Rubik’s Cube sold better than hot cakes. It created a cult following. It created its own specialised vocabulary including a new word ‘speedcubing’ —the skill and challenge of solving the cube in minimal time. Lucas Ettar of the United States, solved a 3 x 3 cube in 4.9 seconds in 2015 for a single, one-off instance. Perhaps the the cube’s great popularity came because it makes it cool to be a nerd.

From the beginning the demand was so great that Ideal couldn’t keep up supply, so a whole bunch of bootleg copies started going into circulation.

Intriguingly, in spite of both Nichols’ and Rubik’s care secure patent and trademark registrations in their native countries, Nichols, Rubik and Ideal failed in registering a trademark anywhere else in the world.

The result was a bit of a legal nightmare. Nichols and his employer, Moleculon Research Group sued Ideal in 1982. After a court case and an appeal Ideal was found guilty of infringing Nichols patent with a pocket-sized 2 x 2 x 2 cube, but not of infringement with the 3 x 3 x 3 cube.

Unbeknown to both Nichols and Rubik, in 1976, self-taught Japanese engineer TerutoshiIshigi had been granted a Japanese patent for a mechanism that was almost identical to Rubik’s. Whether Ishigi knew of Rubik’s design and improved it, or whether, as so often happens in the history of invention, the idea independently arose in Ishigi’s mind is a matter of some speculation.

Goaded by their experience with Nichols, Rubik and Ideal quickly filed for more patents and the US patent was granted in 1983.

While defending your intellectual property is hard enough at times, it’s made more difficult when you have inadequate legal protection in place.

Even though all his patents have now long expired, It’s hard to imagine how much money Rubik and Ideal lost to copycats and bootleggers by failing to protect their investment when it was at the height of its popularity. The Rubik cube has been a huge success even in Australia, in fact two Cube records are held in Australia.If Rubik and Ideal had sought the advice of an Australian patent attorney or a registered patent agent they would certainly have stopped people violating their rights, at least in Australia, at the peak when they would have needed it the most.

At least they were more successful in securingtrademark registrations. No one can market a 3-D, rotating cube puzzle or even represent one in 2-D or 3-D visualizations and use the words Rubik and Rubik’s in association with it without the express permission of Rubik’s Brand Ltd.

Ford awarded a patent for its puddle light

Ford was recently awarded US patent 9,178,371 for a puddle light with status display. The background portion of the patent states that it is generally known to provide puddle lights in certain motor vehicles. Such puddle lights illuminate the immediate surroundings of the vehicle in the dark when the vehicle is being entered or exited.

Electric vehicles are known to have a display for informing a driver of the charge status of the vehicle’s drive battery. Such display is typically in the form of status lights on the dashboard of the vehicle which provide the driver with a visual indication on whether the battery has sufficient charge for a planned journey. Often such status lights, however, do not display the charge status until the driver has switched on the ignition.

The object of the invention is to provide a puddle light for an electric vehicle that displays the status of the charge of the vehicle. Such display must be conspicuous and function without the vehicle being entered and activated.

To that end the patent describes a vehicle with a driver-side exterior mirror which is equipped with a puddle light. The puddle light serves to light an area on the ground underneath the mirror and next to the vehicle. Status information of the vehicle’s drive battery is displayed within the illuminated area.

The patent further stipulates that the status information need not only be projected onto the ground, but could also be projected onto the ceiling or wall of a building.

Ford