Find­ing patents

Ste­fano Can­taluppi ex­plains how you can track down and use patents as a valu­able source of oth­er­wise un­avail­able in­for­ma­tion

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

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.

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