In the spirit of Shrove Tuesday Robert Sackin puts Espacenet through its paces whilst on the hunt for patents relating to pancake tossing.
My turn to write an article for our website coincided with pancake day. Sat at my desk, keen to get home punctually to stuff my pancake-hungry children with pancakes, I was eager to think of a theme for my article.”Original” not being my middle name, a theme for my article was born.
It dawned on me that, yet again, I had failed to devote enough time (any time) over the last year to improving my pancake-flipping skills. Furthermore, my 8 year old daughter, while keen, was prone to allow pancakes to miss the pan on pancake-descent. Last year, I thought that we could address this by working on her upper body strength to gain more height on the pancake-ascent. Unfortunately, this had only been a thought and no timely action had been taken. In any case, I didn’t want her to then over-compensate for fear of spoiling our newly-painted kitchen ceiling. My sons, while keen to eat pancakes, were far less keen to sit and wait for them to cook. Surely, I could kill two birds with one stone! The sophisticated patent database in front on me would reveal some wonderful olden-days gadget from an expired patent that would save the day with an elegantly simple pancake flipper and some wonderful strategy to speed up cooking. A topical article (everyone loves a bizarre patent story) and a happy family all in one go! What’s more, I began to wonder, while I thought that I had the foolproof recipe for making pancakes (Delia, obviously) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22q-038vwLU – old school Delia, but the clip finishes before the key melted butter “secret ingredient” gets added and http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/basicpancakeswithsuga_66226) Likely heresy, but could Delia’s recipe be beaten with a quick search of the patent literature?
I typed in the keywords “pancake” and “toss” into one of the patent databases we use expecting a barrage of results (you can try the Espacenet database here for example). Surprisingly, there were some hits, but very few. There was UK patent No. 410,858 filed in 28 November 1932 that describes a cooking stove with a cooking plate adapted so as to toss, turn or move with respect to the plate in any suitable manner. Apparently, the stove could be located in an attractive cabinet for shop-window exhibition purposes and the cabinet could have an air pump from which the odour-laden air could be pumped outside of the shop window where it will allegedly attract the attention of the passer-by.
There was US patent No. 1,364,332 filed on 12 December 1919 that describes a kitchen tool having a “tosser element”, but it seemed to be wondering off message with its object “to combine elements incidental to a pancake tosser coacting elements, whereby to produce a tool providing effective and convenient means of simple form for lifting pot or pan covers of different kinds”. It was nice to see Google appearing in this sector with their US patent No. 8,307,061 describing a robot interacting with an object, such as a pancake mix box that apparently may include one or more instructions, which may be human readable. A user may be queried by the robot on changes they would like to the recipe for example to use a non-diary milk, add blueberries, or lightly brown the pancakes. However, even Google’s finest minds didn’t seem to have invented or at least attempted to patent a pancake flipping robot.
I liked The Pillsbury Company’s US patent No. 5,447,739 with the title “Misted Microwave Pancakes” that describes “a process and product for improving the tenderness of cooked pancakes that are microwaved” by “applying water so that the moisture content of each pancake is increased by about 6% to 12% to about 45% to 52% by weight.” I hadn’t ever tried microwaving a pancake, but the frozen-type pancakes that this patent referred to, while I’m sure quick to cook, didn’t seem quite in the spirit of pancake day and would such pancakes be available in the UK?
What was dawning on me was that I wasn’t going to solve my pressing pancake problems from a patent database, and that perhaps I had found a gap in a surprising place in the patent landscape.
The Serious Bit
This exercise lead me to wonder when we might we see a leap in patent landscaping exercises for our clients. Patent landscaping exercises give a feel for patents and patent applications in a particular general area (such as pancake tossing robots) before developing a product or building up a patent portfolio in the area.
I tell my clients that patent searching seems easy, but actually it is not. There is a perception that a few keywords are typed into a suitable database and “Bob’s your uncle”. In practice, reliable results are hard to come by and there is a real skill in getting the most out of today’s sophisticated databases. Patent searching is not something to rely on when “tried at home”, but it can be an extremely useful first shot when done well.
Otherwise, more time and expertise will be necessary to perform a reliable and informative patent search. Reddie & Grose LLP would of course be pleased to assist you with both patent landscaping and patent searching more generally.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.