The Munroe doctrine on destroying novelty

Us patent attorneys are always a little bit nervous about doing google (or bing) search to see if an idea is novel - have we, on doing the search, disclosed the idea to the company that owns the search engine? This is only a problem in theory and I have no knowledge of such a search causing a problem. But I recently came across a new angle on this via Randall Munroe’s excellent xkcd web comic and now I’m even more scared - if you do a google search for something in a small village, could you inadvertently destroy the novelty of an idea through ‘leaking’ the idea to another user in the village via their browser’s predictive text assuming that because they are geographically close to you they want to search for something similar? Best be safe and use a search engine that doesn’t track you (I’m using DuckDuckGo).

Willem Einthoven's patent

Have you seen today’s @GoogleDoodles? It’s in honour of Willem Einthoven who improved ECGs and received the Nobel Prize in medicine for it. Today would have been his 159th birthday. The fun bit for me is that Willem also filed a patent - given that a improvements to an ECG made it much better at detecting faint signals and did so responsively, he thought it might improve wireless radios. It didn’t. Not all inventions are created equal…

Who is the best patent attorney?

I think I am. However, I fear I’m not alone in that belief. In fact every European patent attorney I have worked with thinks that they are the best - there are excellent patent attorneys in Ireland and each of them have good reasons for thinking this. I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.

But, and this has always bugged me, how do we measure how good a patent attorney is? Even worse (to quote Lord Kelvin) “if you can not measure it, you can not improve it”. So with no way of objectively measuring how I was serving my clients, there was no way I could find to improve my service to them. Indeed, this question is one of the reasons I set up Inventorship - to use objective measurements to improve performance.

So I’m delighted to have taken my first small baby step in public to this end - from now on each email I send has feedback buttons, to make it easier to get feedback on how I’m doing. I want you to have a better experience with us than you would with any other patent firm, and our unique bonus system is based on your feedback - so we’re motivated to give you the best possible service.

And, like a proud parent, I want to show off my new baby - click here to send me an email so I can reply :-)

Why collect Intellectual Property?

Nine year ago in Ireland, a railway viaduct over Malahide Estuary collapsed. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it was a close run thing. On evening of August 21, 2009 as a train was crossing the viaduct, the train driver noticed that something had fallen off the bridge. After crossing and setting up a warning to prevent other trains from crossing the viaduct, the train driver walked back along the track. He discovered to his horror that the bridge he had just passed over had collapsed. The foundations of one of the pillars supporting the viaduct had been scoured away.

As is often usual with human error, there were multiple mistakes and missed opportunities that lead to a rush hour train going over a (very) unsafe viaduct. For example - the foundations of viaduct were susceptible to scour and (even worse) former employees of the rail company knew this. An excellent article by Sean Brady in Engineers Journal sets this out well:

The IP angle is close to the end - 'By 2009, it appears that the knowledge and information relating to the scour susceptibility of the Malahide Viaduct resided in the heads of a number of individuals who had left the division, rather than in a formal system that was accessible to the engineers responsible for the structure.'

Which finally brings us to the lesson in all of this - if you don't have a formal system for collecting the useful stuff in the heads of your staff (otherwise known as intellectual property or IP), each nugget of IP generated by an individual will leave in their head when they leave your firm - aside from your firm leaking value, it can also cause catastrophic failures. If you do have a formal system for collecting your staff's IP, it stays with your firm. We can even help you file patents for the good stuff...