Stefano Cantaluppi explains how you can track down and use patents as a valuable source of otherwise unavailable information
A valuable source of otherwise unavailable information
It sometimes happens that one wishes to find out how a certain item is made or how it works, but the technical literature fails to provide the appropriate information. The internet has been an enormous help in this regard, but the technical information offered by manufacturers is often incomplete because they do not want to disclose these details to competitors (or the curious in general). In cases like these, patents may help.
Let’s assume, for example, that you see a picture of a certain tool and want to know more about it. Just such a contingency arose on the letters page in PBO March 2017, wherein Dr Kenneth Crossner of Lake Arrowhead, California sought details about a tool called a barrier wrench. A picture of the tool was shown, but it appeared impossible to find out any more on the web. However, the picture contained an important piece of information: the tool was patented, and the number of the patent was engraved thereon. This happens quite often in relation with US patents, because there are important consequences for the patent owner if indication of the patent is omitted.
The tool was patented by a Japanese citizen: a copy of the patent can be obtained free of charge at https://worldwide. espacenet.com/publicationDetails/originalDocument?FT=D&dat e=19801104&DB=&locale=en_ EP&CC=US&NR=4231271A&KC=A&ND=5. With this information the reader, if interested, may try to contact the inventor to obtain further details. In any case, he or she can examine detailed technical drawings of the device and a full disclosure thereof.
Several databases containing patent information are available on the web. One is maintained by the European Patent Office (https://worldwide.espacenet.com), another is offered by Google (see Google patents in any browser) or you can look for national patent offices websites. The important thing is that all these databases are available through the internet and most are free.
Taking the example of Espacenet, when you enter this website your cursor automatically defaults to the smart search window. This works pretty well for most searches: just key in the matter you are interested in and the algorithm will direct you to the appropriate information.
Full details of the split lead antenna are yours, kindly offered by Mr. Michael McKim and the US patent office.
As an example, I was once interested in a certain antenna for marine SSB which was claimed to work efficiently in all conditions, and which was sold by GAM Electronics (www. gamelectronicsinc.com). The technical information available at the firm’s website wasn’t sufficient to enable me to build a prototype for test, and the cost of the original apparatus was not cheap – about $450. On their website, the inventor’s name was given as Mr. McKim, so I entered ‘McKim antenna’ in the Espacenet search field, clicked ‘search’ and obtained the following information.
Mr. McKim had two US patents for a split lead antenna system, both with the same priority date (date of generation of the basic invention). Clicking on either of these will take you to the relevant web page, where you can select ‘original document’ from the list on the left-hand side and download to obtain a full copy. You will be requested to key in a code to confirm that you are a human, and that’s it.