Category Archives: inventions


TrollyBag – the shopping bag of the future with a patent

Logo_packingsortedMy dad has always been something of an early adopter, keen to try out new ideas and inventions. He bought a Sharp EL-801 one of the first pocket calculators, a Sinclair ZX 80 computer, and VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a shiny new set of Trolley Bags in his cupboard the other day.

A little research shows the colourful product was invented in Ireland by Paul Doyle in 2010 and is protected by a patent for A Re-usable Bag System.

With the imminent charge for plastic bags in England, the time is right for Trolley Bags to clean up. The Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 comes into force on 5 October. And the order requires sellers who employ more than 250 people to charge 5p for a “single use carrier bag” which is less than 70 microns (0.07mm) thick.


Espacenet screenshot

trollybag patent drawing

The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle

mirrycle_logoDuring my year of cycle commuting across the capital (15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London) I have become increasingly safety conscious.

My first step was to buy a cheap and cheerful cycle helmet, mostly to placate my concerned partner. At that point I was still doubtful about its value as there was some evidence to the contrary (Cycle helmets are useless, says brain surgeon). However, after a few months mingling with cars, buses, lorries and other cyclists, I started to appreciate the fragility of the human head. Especially when it has the potential of coming into contact with any of these solid metal vehicles, or even just a patch of hard tarmacadam road. So recently I upgraded my helmet to an ‘urban’ model with more protection, and hopefully a tad more style.


My Giro Sutton bash hat

Next came a choice that drops me off the bottom of the fashion scale. My fluorescent orange and yellow safety vest may be a faux-pas from a style perspective, but it certainly gets me noticed – which is the point of wearing it. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen car drivers and pedestrians glance in my direction, then doing a double-take and stopping their imminent move into my path, as the bright colours of my vest hit their brain receptors.

I spent my formative years riding a motorbike on London roads, so I know that anything on two wheels is effectively invisible to most other road users. I still remember the “I’m sorry – I didn’t see you” from when I was knocked down by a car in the Walworth Road in 1989. And I really want to avoid hearing it again.

In those days it was the engine driving the wheels rather than my legs, and the two rear-view mirrors were something of an irrelevance. The acceleration of my motorbike meant I needed to focus on what was in front of me, not behind me.


I can see behind with my Mirrycle mirror

On a pedal powered bike it is more of a fifty-fifty front and rear. I still need to concentrate on the road ahead for rogue pedestrians and cars pulling out in front of me. But I also need to be aware of what is coming up behind me. Is it a taxi who is going to squeeze me into the kerb, or a bus desperately trying to get the stop in front of me, or a monster truck who’s air draft is going to blow me over.

I am even at risk from young Lycra clad cyclists, who I’m sure see an old codger like me riding a Brompton in a suit, as someone they can whiz past. So the ability to see them bearing down on me at speed, and so give them space to pass, is very helpful to both of us.

I still look round behind me quite a bit too, using what the Police call the lifesaver. This tends be before a manoeuvre, or to make eye contact with a driver who is about to cut me up.

Knowing what is going on behind me gives me choices and avoids dangerous surprises. So that makes my Mirrycle perhaps my most valuable investment in terms of safety on my trusty Brompton. In fact based on my experience I would recommend that every bike should be fitted with at least one mirror as a standard safety feature.

Update November 2015

Interesting to see Garmin have now come out with a radar system for detecting vehicles sneaking up behind you. I still think my mirror will do for now.

15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London

It’s been over a year since I bought my Brompton folding bicycle to help cope with my long-distance commute from Eastbourne. I have to admit there was a steep learning curve to get the complex folding system (there is only one way to do it right – but lots of ways to do it wrong). And adapting to the hyper-sensitive steering (which does become something of an advantage once mastered), took much longer. But apart from these early niggles, the bike has been a joy to own and use.


So let’s start with a list of negatives from a year in the saddle:

  1. The almost daily stories of death and injury, often appearing on the cover of Evening Standard, make me question the risks I am taking.
  2. Having to share the road with tipper trucks, articulated lorries, and buses. They are noisy, big and scary for a cyclist.
  3. Fellow cyclists who blatantly ignore red lights. I can see the temptation to get going, but they give all of us such a bad name.
  4. Taxi drivers who squeeze you into the curb. I wonder if it is deliberate, or perhaps they just didn’t they see me? On reflection I would say a combination of their skill and experience, probably means it is a conscious action.
  5. Teenage scooter drivers with some kind of ‘death-wish’ who cut through the smallest of gaps and swerve across multiple lanes of traffic.
  6. Pot-holes, which seem to multiply nearer the edge of the road (where I want to cycle), forcing me out into the path of cars and vans.
  7. Pedestrians with headphones and tunnel vision, determined to cross their patch of road, often right in front of me. They seem entirely oblivious to the world around them.
    Southwark Bridge blue cycle lane
  8. Badly thought out and implemented cycle lanes. For instance my daily route takes me over Southwark Bridge with its blue cycle highway. On the bridge I feel nice and safe with a concrete bollard between me and the heavy construction lorries. But coming off the bridge, I have to filter through three lanes of those monsters, praying the lights don’t chance until I get to the safe haven of the cycle box at the front. It is genuinely scary.
  9. Cobbled back streets. I love the fact that London is steeped in history, but my bottom would appreciate some smoother tarmac please.

That was a bit depressing, so let’s end with some positives from the year of the Brompton:

  1. Mental health. According to an Evening Standard, one of the best ways of helping to develop a Mindfulness approach to live is to cycle regularly.Brompton from above
  2. Exercise. I can feel my legs getting stronger and my stomach getting a bit smaller every time I swing my leg over the Brompton’s saddle.
  3. Surprising pedestrians. My favourite trick is to stop for pedestrians as they step onto a zebra crossing. I usually have to wave them on, as they think it is some kind of trick, having become accustomed to cyclists cutting in front of them.
  4. Getting to work on time. I can usually get to work five minutes earlier than if I changed trains and relied on Thameslink to get me across central London.
  5. Knowing I can fold my bike up and get on the tube if necessary. So far I have only been ‘rained off’ once.
  6. Being able to get from Kings Cross to Oxford Circus in 15 minutes. It’s even quicker than the tube.


The future of money is here now and in my pocket

Last week I made my first ever cashless payment using my shiny new debit card. The transaction itself was something of an anti-climax, but those additional four little curved white lines on my card brought back memories of the future of money.


Many years ago I went for a job interview with a company called Mondex, who were developing a cashless payment system they called the ‘future of money’.

Mondex logo from 1993

Mondex logo from 1993

Mondex logo from 1997

Mondex logo from 1997

I didn’t get the job, but I have been watching out that future to arrive ever-since.

And now finally it is here, just 21 years after its initial announcement, and twenty years after a three-year trial began in the unlikely location of Swindon in Wiltshire.

As with so many new technologies, such as mobile phones,  the early hype did not match the reality. But gradually the impact became much bigger than predicted by the so-called futurologists. Now many of us are dependent on our phones, and I wonder how long it will take before cash begins to disappear from our pockets, and we become reliant on the little chips in our cards.

Below is one of the first newspaper reports on the Mondex card, and a reminiscence of the ill-fated Swindon trial from the Swindon Advertiser earlier this year:

`smart’card to wipe out cash – 8 December 1993 – The Evening Standard

THE National Westminster Bank, Midland Bank and BT today announced plans to introduce a new plastic `smart’ card which puts Britain ahead in the race to create a cashless society.

The Mondex card, which will be offered to more than 11 million customers of the two banks within two to three years could eliminate the use of money for many everyday transactions within a few years.

Instead of carrying hard cash, customers will be able to use the card to pay for anything from a newspaper to a drink. The cards are charged with cash electronically either down a domestic phone line, from a payphone, or through the bank’s existing hole-in-the wall cash machine network.

The cards will dramatically reduce the Pounds 4.5 billion of hard money in circulation in Britain. They will also have the capacity to carry five different currencies at once, making it possible for cardholders to move freely from country to country without going to a bank.

How smart was that? – 21 May 2014 – Swindon Advertiser
BARRY LEIGHTON revisits the electronic cash revolution of 1994…

TO borrow a line from an old HG Wells novel, it was the shape of things to come… a society where grubby notes and pockets full of change had become a spent force – something to reminisce about alongside the eight-track cartridge, loon pants and the Watneys’ Party Seven.

And in all the towns in all the world, Swindon was where it would all begin. The “electronic cash” revolution, that is. At least, that was the plan. Twenty years ago this spring financial institutions around the globe cast their collective eye upon our unlikely Wiltshire town.

Swindon in 1994 was chosen for a unique experiment that, it was envisaged, would bring to an end to more than 1,000 years of tradition – the way people bought and sold goods. A new company called Mondex had created a “smart card” that would see the pound in your pocket vanish. Carrying cash would become a thing of the past. You won’t need the stuff anymore. No more holding folding.

In the not-too-distant future, everything you bought – from a packet of chewing gum and a round of drinks to a bag of fish and chips – would be done with an electronic card. But before going global Mondex needed some guinea pigs to practice on. A community with which to experiment. They chose 170,000-population Swindon. Why? Because we were deemed ‘average’ – a typical British town, in terms of age and social make-up, whose spending habits could be scrutinised and analysed and regarded as “the norm.”

It took just over a year to install Mondex in Swindon – a project that saw hundreds of shops, restaurants and pubs gear up to receive payments for the “cash-on-a-card” system by training their staff to use new-fangled, hi-tech Mondex gadgets (see panel).

“Farewell to filthy lucre” said the Adver as one shopkeeper, eagerly embracing the concept of a cashless community, branded conventional notes “nasty, dirty and unhygienic.” Mondex predicted: “The people of Swindon will go down in history as pioneers.”

The focus of everyone’s attention, bizarrely, was one of our paper vendors, retired railway worker Don Stanley, 72, who made history by accepting the world’s first electronic cash transaction – 28p for a copy of the Advertiser.

As the months rolled on more and more Mondex machines and appliances sprang up like an alien invasion. They were everywhere: in telephone boxes, public car parks, shops, post offices, on the buses. Keen to make it easier for us give them our money, even bookie shops got in on the act.

Mondex tended to polarise opinion. PE Ault of Devon Road wrote to the Adver saying: “It is a very smart card indeed, I am delighted.” Pinehurst pensioner John Archer opined: “It’s a load of rubbish. The hassle of messing around with a card is a waste of time.”

In July 1998 Mondex said “Thanks a million Swindon” and were off. Trials were continuing elsewhere.

“Mondex devices evaporated from our streets, car parks, shops, buses and telephone boxes as if they had never been there..


The Humble Cycle Clip

When I first started this blog back in 2006, my intention was to review a selection of significant product innovations and the impact they have had on our lives.

My post on the Paper Clip remains one of the most popular, but over the years I have rather neglected this topic.

But thanks to my daily ride aboard my Brompton folding bicycle, I found myself in need of one of the most simple products of all time – the humble bicycle clip.

This time the objective is not to hold pieces of paper together, but to prevent trousers getting caught in grubby oily cycle chains, ruining the sartorial elegance of the trouser owner.

Now, some simple hearted folk might say that socks were perfectly capable of fulfilling this important role, in addition to keeping feet warm. But having tested this approach thoroughly, I’m convinced there is a better way.

My first choice was the traditional steel sprung cycle clip available from ‘all good bicycle shops’. And I was happy with this method for a few weeks. But gradually I became annoyed at the way they often slipped down during riding, or how they pinched my growing calf-muscles. They are also quite fiddly to store between journeys. The temptation is to hook them over the handlebars. But this inevitably results in them rotating around and dropping to the ground with a clang, followed by scrabbling in the road to pick them up.

Steel cylce clip

I turned to Google for a better solution, and found a coalescence of positive reviews around the leather trouser strap from Brooks England. This long established British firm are known for making the best leather replacement seats for bicycles. The product is almost as simple as its shiny rivals, and consists of a steel band, which in this case is covered in soft leather. The difference is the band rolls up into a neat little ball when not in use.

Brooks cycle clip

The cost compared to a steel clip was a challenge, but I decided the potential benefit was worth the investment. And I was proved right. As with all well designed products, daily use is either almost unnoticed or a small pleasure. The way my Brompton folds away is an example of the latter.

Not only does the band fulfil its primary purpose of holding my trouser leg firmly in place, despite the jarring of London’s badly potholed roads, it is simplicity itself to fit, and sits nice and securely on my handlebar when not in use. What more could one ask of a product?

Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience

Brompton logo smallDuring my daily commute from Eastbourne to St Pancras and all the way back, I have been doing some ‘commuter observing’. And I have noticed most ‘hard-core’ travellers have two specialised devices in their possession. The first is a computer screen of some kind, to help distract from the long train journey by delivering various forms of entertainment.

This can vary from reading ebooks on a Kindle or similar, to watching the latest instalment of Game of Thrones on an iPad or Andriod tablet. Occasionally I have even spotted commuters actually doing work on the train.

Now that I have settled on my somewhat garish clementine orange Yoga Pro ‘laptop’, it is time to move on to the second of these devices.

And that takes us from new technology to an invention nearly 200 years old – the velocipede, more recently known as the bicycle.
Brompton Logos B&W on top

But for the serious commuter just any old bike won’t do. Or more specifically, won’t be allowed by the train operating companies. Having endured standing room only on trains for many years, I am sympathetic with banning of full-sized bicycles during the rush-hour times. Although, perhaps bringing back the guard’s van would be a way of accommodating conventional two-wheelers.

In the meantime, the only solution is a folding-bike, and this explains why they are such a common sight on my morning and evening journeys. With the rapid increase in cycling in London over the past few years has come an increasing choice of bikes, and folding-bikes in particular.

Using my information search skills I conducted thorough research into the subject, and came up with a shortlist of two manufacturers. Both had excellent reviews, and both cost just under £1,000. The first was of course the Brompton, which is by far-and-away the market leader. And a proud ‘made-in-Britain’ product exported around the world.

So being perverse I decided to go for the alternative brand. I found a shop near Eastbourne which stocked both makes, and explained my wishes to the salesman over the phone. He assured me that I would come out of the shop with a Brompton rather than the brand I wanted. And it turned out he was right. After a short discussion, the superiority its ingenious folding system and 25 percent smaller size when folded, won me over to the Brompton.Brompton folding bike

But why I hear you asking, have you abandoned the wonderful Barclays Bike Hire Scheme you blogged about in 2010? The answer – sadly, is that the Boris Bike service (which should really be called ‘Ken Bike’ in recognition of Boris’ predecessor Ken Livingston’s decision to implement the project) is not reliable enough for my needs.

A combination of glitchy technology and lack of bikes has always been something of a problem. But  since moving to Eastbourne, at least fifty percent of my attempts to hire a bike have failed. And doubling the annual subscription to £90 has only added insult to injury. The unreliability of the Barclay’s scheme added significantly to the stress of my morning journey. And as the secret to successful long distance commuting is to remove as many variables as possible, it had to be replaced with something more reliable.

Today is only day-one of my folding bike commute, so it is too early to say how effective this serious investment in improving my commuting experience will  turn out to be.


Agents of Shield

Personalised car number plates. Fun – Flash – or just plain Naff

Last November the father of autonumerology, Noel Woodall died at the age of 82. Noel is credited with creating the market for personalised car number plates in the UK, worth more than £2bn to the Treasury since 1989.

Noel WoodallHis interest in what grew into a multi-million pound business began in 1960 when he noticed a car driving past with the plate BB 4. He discovered it belonged to a local Blackpool Bookmaker. Thinking other people might also be interested in memorable number plates, he started the first cherished number plate business in the country.

As this was in a time before the Internet, Noel went on a research mission to his local public library, and was surprised not to find a single book on the subject. So, being the entrepreneurial type he put an advert in the RAF’s Air Mail magazine, asking for information about distinctive number plates. He received so much information in response, he decided to compile and publish it in a small book entitled Car Number Galaxy – Celebrities. It cost him £250 to produce, which was 6 months’ wages at that time.

He went on to publish more than 20 books, including Veterans, More Celebrities, Cartoons and a series called Car Numbers, written with Brian Heaton and described by its publishers as “one of the longest running, and most popular publications about vehicle registrations”.

Car Number Galaxy 1963

As for me, I grew up with a strong prejudice against preening drivers who paraded around the streets with vanity plates adorning their shiny cars, like some kind of automotive bling jewellery. I couldn’t think of a more idiotic way to waste money than to ‘invest’ in an ‘IAM GR8’ plate.

So, I was glad to read that even people involved in the industry recognise its controversial nature. Piers England an auctioneer from the DVLA’s auction company admitted, “We call them marmite products – you either love them or hate them.” To quote one contributor to an online discussion “When I see a vanity plate, I think only one thing: ID 10T”.

List of the 10 most expensive plates sold by the DVLA

  1. 1 D – £352,000
  2. 51 NGH – £254,000
  3. 1 RH – £247,000
  4. K1 NGS – £231,000
  5. 1 O – £210,000
  6. 1 A – £200,000
  7. 1 OO – £197,000
  8. 2 O –  £142,000
  9. 6 B – £130,000
  10. 1 HRH – £113,000

So how then can I even start to justify my recent purchase of N11 1NFO for my humble Skoda Octavia? The answer is a combination of my failing memory and local car park rules. Until recently there was an opportunity to end a shopping trip in town with a good deed by handing over my parking ticket to a new arrival. The grateful recipient could then benefit from whatever time remained.

The local council became aware of this ‘good Samaritan’ behaviour and decided they were losing valuable income. The solution was to introduce shiny new ‘intelligent’ ticket machines which required your car registration number in addition to payment. This was printed on the ticket to prevent it being transferred to another car. So no more ‘random acts of kindness’ in the council owned car parks thank you very much.

As well as being frustrated by this meanness of spirit, this change led to a challenge for me. Sadly I have never managed to memorise any of the number plates of any of the various cars and motorbikes I have owned since passing my driving test back in 1976. So I would either have to park with my bumper in view of the ticket machine or keep a note of my number to hand. A third and unexpected solution was to buy a new plate with a memorable number.

After much internet research and even more soul-searching I was finally ready to go ahead and join this group I had enjoyed despising for so many years. The change in my thinking came about when I realised a personalised plate was just about the only way to express personality and even humour on a product that is standardised and factory produced. If you own a Ford Mondeo it looks just a like any other Ford Mondeo apart from a limited range of colours. Although I did see a chrome-plated car the other day which was so bright it actually hurt my eyes.


But just having an initial or two, combined with a number seemed to be a wasted opportunity. And I began to take notice of properly memorable numbers I came across in my travels. Whilst cycling through the East End of London on a ‘Boris bike’ I spotted SK1NT on the back of a brand new Rolls Royce. A nice example of four wheeled irony. I also saw a rather surprising DARR0N on an Audie A4 queuing to get out of Legoland.

Mazda car MX55-NOB

My challenge was to see if I could find a memorable plate amongst those listed at the DVLA  starting price of £250. Needless to say, there wasn’t anything close to ‘librarian’ at that price. I compromised on a combination of my initials and info (my chosen profession), with an additional redundant ‘I’ stuck in the middle.

The irony of this story is that by the time I had deliberated, purchased the number, had the plates made up, sent in the forms, and finally got out my screwdriver and physically replaced them, the council had changed their parking policy. Outraged shoppers had bombarded the local council with complaints and the local newspaper had picked up on the issue. After initially robustly defending their new ‘fairer’ policy, the politicians realised they were on a losing wicket and eventually caved in. So now when I go shopping I no longer need to enter my number plate into the ticket machine, undermining the original reason for personalising my car’s identity.

Jany 2015 update:

I recently spotted a black cab outside work with the number CABBIE which was impressive. But I was even more surprised to see the same car featured in Paddington the movie, being driven by Matt Lucas.

Sept 2015 update:

I’m always on the lookout for fun number-plates, and was impressed by this one I happened upon this morning. I like the way they have picked an appropriately annoymous black Ford van to put their ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ plate on.

Agents of Shield

Agents of Shield van

Agents of Shield van

Bringing the Victorian teasmade up to date

Swan_teasmadeMy partner managed to snap up a bargain ultra-modern teasmade at the weekend, and we have already had a first successful early morning brew-up.

The idea of waking up to a freshly made cup of tea in bed is of course not a new desire. And for Victorians who could not afford servants to get up early and light a fire, there was the (expensive) option of the clockwork teasmade and alarm clock.

Victorian Teasmade

Copyright Maurice Collins

Some of you might remember this invention had pride of place in our Weird and Wonderful exhibition way back in 2008. Maurice Collins, the collector of these amazing inventions is still going strong and has been featured on several television and radio shows.

In the clip below he demonstrates the somewhat dangerous aspects of the teasmade involving clockwork driven matches and paraffin.

I am sure he would want me to point out that all proceeds from his collection are directly donated to the learning disability charity Kith and Kids.

The perfect Christmas present – the gift of time

Mondaine watch

I guess in this ‘time poor’ era we could all do with an extra couple of hours a day, but in the meantime for me, a new watch will have to do.

For some years I have aspired to own a Mondaine watch. Based on the iconic official Swiss Railways clock-face, they are simple and elegant. The design with its distinctive red second-hand have indicated the famously punctual Swiss trains at their stations for more than 60 years.

So I was more than a little surprised, and extremely happy to be given one as a Christmas present from my partner. Especially as I hadn’t mentioned my interest in owning one.

Canary Wharf ClockIf you want to see an example ‘in the flesh’ in the UK there is a little cluster of them at Canary Wharf in London Docklands.

My intellectual property expert colleague Phil mentioned that the design was the cause of  court case between Mondaine and the giant Apple computer company. The story was covered by the Daily Mail website in October and November of last year.

Bet Apple wish they could turn the clock back: Swiss firm accuses iPhone 5 of copying their iconic face design.

Apple ‘paid £13million to Swiss national rail operator’ after using its iconic clock design without permission

There is some irony here, as this was the same time that Apple was suing Samsung in the United States for copying elements of the iPhone screen design.


Mondaine clock face

Image from

Re-inventing umbrellas and corkscrews in the Business & IP Centre

Squid_LondonIt never ceases to amaze me how innovative our customers in the Business & IP Centre are. In just the last couple of weeks I have been helping visitors who have re-invented the most iconic of household products, the umbrella and the corkscrew.

It started when a young man came up to the enquiry desk to ask if I could help find market research on the UK umbrella market. Sadly, the well-known publishers we hold such as Mintel and Keynote don’t tend to produce reports on niche markets like these. But a bit of creative researching led to some useful information on some of our other databases. I was of course curious as to why he wanted to know this information, (I would like to think this is part of what makes me a good information professional). “I guess you are going to tell me you have invented a new form of umbrella”, I said. His response was, “That is correct. I came up with the idea many years ago, and have now decided to patent it”.

As a heavy user of umbrellas to and from work (sadly they are necessary part of life in this rain ‘blessed’ nation), I can’t wait to see what his solution will be. The only real innovation I am aware of is the patented wind proof umbrella. Although an honourable mention should go to Squid London with their colour changing model, who just happen to be one of our Success Stories.

ScrewpullThe next encounter was with an older customer who wanted to find sales figures for corkscrews in the UK. Once again, we were not able to locate a market research report on this niche product. However we did manage to locate a few articles estimating sales and covering trends in the market.

As something of a gadget man I was interested in hearing about his corkscrew invention. But he wasn’t in a position to go into details at that point. However he did say that his idea was remarkably simple. I was left wondering if it will be any better than the ScrewPull system which is my current favourite. This involves the use of a low friction screw to penetrate the cork, combined with a mechanism that pulls it out of the bottle in one continuous movement.

By coincidence the previous evening Stephen Fry had been showing off what must be the most complicated and expensive corkscrew ever invented, on his Gadget Man television show.



Higgs Corkscrew