Patents: Kim Lesley Ridgeway

Back to work for the hearing officers today. The first decision of the New Year is a decision of Bruce Westerman on a hearing that took place before him on 16 Dec 2005.

The applicant, Kim Ridgeway, had applied for a patent for a rather neat teaching device which reminds me of a slide rule. Indeed, as a St Andrean I have to say that I am also reminded of Napier's bones. According to the drawing in Mr Westerman's decision, the invention consists of two or more rods each divided into a number of blocks or chunks rather like a chocolate bar. One of the rods is fixed and the other is movable. The chunks on one of the rods are numbered while those on the other are plain. When the movable rod is lined up against the fix rod it is possible to demonstrate simple adding, taking away, multiplication and division.

Apparently the device has attracted a lot of interest and rightly so, but, unfortunately, there is one whole heap of prior art. Identifying the claimed invention as "the plurality of rods, as there specified, all providing “segments” defined by indented channels extending across the width of the upper surface of the rods, the alignment rods being suitable to align and register with the index rod", Mr Westerman found that there were at least two documents that showed delineated by blocks. The
use of grooves or channels to demarcate areas on a scale or ruler was in Mr Westerman's view "so commonplace that to utilize this in the known arrangements performing the same function is clearly obvious". Finally, a Japanese document appeared to show the use of alignable rods and grooves in a very similar context. In the light of these disclosures, the hearing officer came to the conclusion that the claimed invention was obvious. Not the combined efforts of applicant and her husband, the examiner or hearing officer could tease out an inventive step.

The examiner had also objected that the invention was also excluded under s. 1 (2) (b) of the Patents Act 1977 as an "aesthetic creation" or s. 1 (2) (d) as "the presentation of information". The hearing officer did not buy that one.

This invention sounds a wonderful teaching aid if not a toy. It deserves to do well. I doubt that it needs a patent. I wish Mrs Ridgeway good luck with it.


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