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back to article Wind-up bloke Baylis winds up broke, turns to UK gov for help

Trevor Baylis, the brains behind the wind-up radio and a shoe-powered phone charger, has called on the UK government to back Blighty's inventors. And he is reported to be selling his one-bedroom self-designed house on a River Thames island in Twickenham after failing to convert his creations into a mountain of money. He told …

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Tricky balancing act

I'm all for the legitimate inventors of something new gaining full legal protection for their inventions. But I'd be very cautious about giving similar protections to patents on abstract concepts: we've all seen how the big boys will sue and counter-sue to the nth degree over something like a 'rounded corner'.

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Re: Tricky balancing act

Indeed - the first generation of his clockwork radios were indeed clockwork (storing energy in a spring) whereas the later versions are hand-cranked generators that charge batteries. Although the concept is the same, the engineering implementation is very different. I think he's simply misunderstood what invention actually is.

On the other hand, you have to have some admiration for a man whose Wikipedia entry reads "With money earned from performing as an underwater escape artiste in the Berlin Circus ...".

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Re: Tricky balancing act

Yes, there were hand cranked radios at least as far back as World War II, so he definitely didn't invent the general concept. A cursory search on Google Patents reveals a 1942 patent for a "Spring Driven Electric Generator" by Robert Leslie Haynes et al, quote from the abstract;

"This invention relates to spring driven electric generators, such, for example, as may be employed in generating current for portable radio apparatus and the like. [...] The spring may be wound as by means of a hand crank."

It looks to me like Baylis' patent is for a pretty specific spring arrangement powering a radio, otherwise it wouldn't have been granted in the first place due to prior art. Seems like Baylis would like to be able to be granted very wide patents, covering anything similar to the original claim, almost as if he hasn't heard of the problems with patent trolls hindering innovation. If anything, we need the opposite, overly broad patents should be re-examined and invalidated much more easily.

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Alert

I wouldn't even say tricky

Clockwork and dynamos are very old ideas. Putting them together to power a radio shouldn't be patentable. By all means register your design so that others can't copy it exactly. By all means patent any mechanical widget that makes the clockwork dynamo work better than it ever could without that widget - if there is such a widget involved.

But patenting a concept that amounts to connecting a radio to a power source ought to have been thrown out by the patent examiners! Even if there wasn't any prior art for clockwork radios, it STILL shouldn't be possible to patent the concept.

Whatever next - a patent on kiddies' play bricks with rounded corners? Oh, wait a moment ....

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Meh

Re: Tricky balancing act

I remember a dynamo powered flashlight (torch) we had when I was a kid in the late 50's. Palm sized with a lever that had a toothed gear section on the free end (near the bulb). You squeezed the lever and spun a generator and a flywheel inside. Keep squuexing as long as you needed light.

While I feel sorry for Mr. Bayliss, he did himself just come up with a new twist on an old idea. His contribution was a more efficient radio and power system, and lower cost to manufacture. He'll be remembered for that, if not remunerated.

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Re: Tricky balancing act

The problem is patents are handed out like candy and is very hard and expensive to defend in court. You need to make your patent as broad as you can get away with as to make it more defendable (a shotgun instead of a rifle)

Patents should be very hard to get but very easy to defend.

In this case I disagree with the inventor. Winding a spring to run a generator to run a radio isn't the same as winding a generator to charge a battery to run a radio. It's a vast improvement over his concept and shouldn't be covered by his patent.

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WTF?

Re: Tricky balancing act: "later versions are hand-cranked generators that charge batteries."

We had hand-cranked and pedal cranked generators in the British Army and the manufacturing date on the labels indicated they were made well before the latest version was 'invented'.

As for criminalising copy cats, would this include Apple or Microsoft? Didn't think so.

You will rarely beat the Chinese replication industry. Is is far too advanced, and some of their 'copies' are improved versions. The Chinese have the capability of copying all but the latest, very fine traced, silicon chips. And they find making 500-1,000 copies economically viable.

The West can only implement it's rules in the West, and in countries where Western 'niceties' are observed. The rest of the world is uncontrollable.

Take the 'Gucci' and 'Burberry' copy market. One of the driving forces is that this type of company, like Apple, makes exorbitant profits and thereby affords a opportunity for copycats to operate.

Recently, two high-end shops, Mondo and Gucci, who have flagship stores on Dong Khoi Street (our Regents Street) in Ho Chi Minh City, were raided by VietNam Customs. These officials weren't in the least bit interested in the product - only the missing duty and taxes.

Ironically, the imported goods were genuine and had been rerouted through HongKong for relabelling as they were in actuality the REAL goods and not off copies! The re-labeling was intended to support a claim they were made in China and therefore had a lower duty/tax rate.

All Apple has done, in China, is to create a market for Apple knock-offs that sell for around UAD$150 - genuine copies that are so close to the real thing they run iOS!

Apple, and others, could cut into this market if they weren't so bent and determined on maintaining their 47% mark-up.

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Pint

Ideal Kickstarter Project?

Crowd source the funds to buy his house, let him continue to live in it then turn it into a museum after he's karked it. Brian May did something similar for Sir Patrick Moore. I'm sure Trevor Baylis would be agreeable to the idea.

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Criminal Act?

Dear god no!

There are so many frickin' patents these days that everyone that creates anything, no matter how obvious, small or simple, (or conversely how unique and high-tech) infringes on any number of poorly worded, awful patents.

I bet Mr Baylis, should he have been anywhere close to as successful as he thinks he should be, would have found himself on the receiving end of more than a few lawsuits. Under his proposal he'd probably be in jail.

The wind up radio is a cool thing, and it's a shame people have ripped him off. Criminalising patent infringement is not the answer.

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Re: Criminal Act?

I agree with you completely but you and most people who talk about patents and copyrights always forget the consumers.

Yes, it's a shame he didn't manage to sell as many units as he wanted but it's only because other producers could do it better or cheaper. The groups that benefits the most is the consumers. As it happens, it is also the group that represents the greater number.

A great invention is only great if it can be produced at a price that consumers will buy. It might not be the original inventor who does the producing. His only advantage is that he is the first to have access to that invention. If he can't use this time to get a market advantage then it's tough luck!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Criminal Act?

If it were to be made a criminal act, hopefully many of the 'rounded corners' type claims would (hopefully) turn into charges of wasting police time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Criminal Act?

Yet without patents why invent anything if someone else can just rip it off immediately. You go to all the effort - they copy it completely = great idea.

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Re: Criminal Act?

@S.G.

Unfortunately you miss the point:

Research and development costs money. It costs a lot of money. Recouping that money means higher product costs or license fees.

Reverse engineering costs money, but no where as much as the initial R&D.

Without patents, an inventor/developer has to complete their work in secret, then get their product to market quickly and charge a premium in the hope they can recoup the initial investment before other people can copy them and produce their own versions at a fraction of the cost. The alternative is the inventor spreads that initial cost over a longer time and hopes they can recoup the costs eventually. Meanwhile they are not seeing the same degree of profit and will be disinclined to further research and develop their work. Others, however, can afford to do so and will do so, hoping they will recoup costs.

While it seems the consumer will benefit in the end, they don't: They lose out instead. Why? Because people will be less inclined to invest in the initial R&D to find new things to market as that is where they'll make the biggest loss. Instead, people will focus on existing products and we'll just get the same old crap time and again.

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Re: Criminal Act?

"Yet without patents why invent anything if someone else can just rip it off immediately."

Most patents are not given to inventors. They're made by employees of megacorps patenting any damn thing that pops into their heads that the lawyers think they can slip past the system. I'm not arguing for no patents at all, I think they serve as a useful incentive. BUT what we as a society need to do is up the standards. They need to be specific, highly specific, so that abuse isn't so easy.

They need to be non-obvious to someone skilled in the art, so patent review needs to involve people who *are* skilled in the art and experienced, not just patent clerks. If two 'inventors' are racing to patent the same thing at the same time then it's probably actually an obvious development and neither should get it.

Patents on rounded corners or the location of a thumbstick on a game controller or an animation technique for scrolling a page on a phone screen or a million and one other things... these are incremental developments, and not innovation.

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Re: Criminal Act?

@PatientOne

What you say looks right but it is counter-intuitively wrong (if there is such a word).

Someone did a very good research that is free and explains it much better than I could: levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/papers/ip.ch.9.m1004.pdf

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Criminal Act?

Looking at it another way, if it was made a criminal act, the government would have to sought the patent mess out, as the courts would be brought to a standstill under the current system

...and while they are at it, make copyright infringement a criminal act as well, that way the cases won't get to court until life + 70 years

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Re: Criminal Act?

When your government builds luxury condo for unwed mother of 11, then why shouldn't the government bear all the burden of protecting his intellectual property?

I think both are wrong.

Its not as if he invented the windup generator or radio, its just a matter that he happened to put one on a radio. Unique aspects of how he did it is patentable, but not a broad claim to all windup appliances.

Plus, his origin is 1991, 22 years ago. Patent is expired and now in the public domain.

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"Patents on rounded corners etc"

These are most often design patents (patents on the look and ornamentation) which are different to utility patents (which patent the idea).

Me thinks the bloke protests too much. A wind up electically powered gizzmo (including a radio) is not sufficiently novel for a utility patent.

Consider the flip side to this: If he was given a patent for the first radio this would have cut off all the other wind-up radio inventors/innovators who made radios far better than his.

That's some of the badness in patenting, giving protection can stifle competition which, in turn, stifles better ideas/implementations from seeing the light of day.

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Re: Criminal Act?

@S.G.

Interesting, if somewhat laborious read.

Unfortunately they focus on patents in pharmaceuticals, and in particular for patents on the end product. While their argument is sound for not patenting pharmaceutical products, those arguments do not hold for the patents for the process, or for patents in other areas.

Indeed, all they really say is that there are some areas where patents are bad, then say that because patents in those areas are bad, all patents are bad. I agree there are areas where patents are bad, but I happen to believe that patents do have a valid use, if applied properly.

Unfortunately we see all too often examples of how a good patient is ignored and a bad patent enforced. That is a failure of the patent system, not of the purpose of patents.

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It's a pity he's fallen on hard times. He deserves to be paid for his inventions. Not sure how lone/small groups of inventors could be protected but given we're suppose to be a knowledge based economy you'd think the goverment would have gotten its act together by now.

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> how lone/small groups ... could be protected

Well, traditionally they band together in co-operative groups like rights societies. Of course these days you unwitting slaves of big advertising consider such groups to be patent trolls and the like and somehow evil in some way. But the kool-aid tastes great.

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Re: > how lone/small groups ... could be protected

You are correct to a point. As a rule the rights societies and co-op's didn't start out buying up patents to sue though. The group worked together to protect the rights of other members through the payment of dues and such so there was a kitty available to go to court with and protect their Inventions. Remember a patent only gives you the right to sue, it does not give you funds to do it with.

Trolls are those who buy up patents with the sole intent of suing someone for the purposes of financial gain, not to protect their work.

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Re: > how lone/small groups ... could be protected

Even companies that exist simpy to buy patents up and licence them isn't theoretically a bad thing. Having a market like that allows companies to sell patents to realise funds for other activities, and allows creditors to recover some money form a bankrupt debtor. The problem is a combination of these comapnies, and some of the ridiculously broad patents that are floating arround, especially in the software realm. Defensive patents, patent thickets and so forth. There are any number of large companies which have on their books patents that allegedly give them rights over entire markets, and basic functions of mainstream programming languages. Never tested, never really intended to be enforced, rather emassed to ward off the threat of litigation from competitors with similarly broad portfolios.

When one of these companies go bust and their patents get on to the market, we get wholely unuseful threats of litigation. But blaming the "trolls" misses the point - the problem is (some of) the patents.

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Angel

The group worked together...

so there was a kitty available to go to court with and protect their Inventions

Sorry, but that tickled me.

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Why does he deserve anything?

This has never been a fair world and never will be. "Deserve" is just entitlement thinking.

Many people have made millions, and some even billions, with crap products and ideas. Many have brought great products and ideas to the market and never get to be rich.That's life!

If you expect the government to hand out money to everyone with a good idea you better have deep pockets.... and remember, there is no government money - just taxes. Are you prepared to pay more tax so these people get what they "deserve"?

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Re: > how lone/small groups ... could be protected

"allows companies to sell patents to realise funds for other activities, and allows creditors to recover some money form a bankrupt debtor...."

But that has NOTHING to do with the purpose that patents were created for. The patent becomes an end in it's self, it becomes the product.

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Re: > how lone/small groups ... could be protected

If patents weren't invented to turn an intangible - the implementation of an idea - into something that could be treated as a product, what were they created for?

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Sponsership required

from Apple perhaps. They do have an element of expertise in this field and perhaps could act on his behalf?

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Coder, drop that editor, this is the patent police

Criminalize patent infringement? Great, combined with the flood of software patents, that would eventually put every software developer behind bars...

I can symphatetise with this guy, but his proposed cure is worse than the disease.

(Sob stories like this is what is used to sell the patent system to the public, but the real benefits are reaped by other people, like big companies and lawyers).

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Anonymous Coward

Part of the problem may also have been the business model where 1st world people paid over the odds for a bulky and a bit more of a hassle to use than a normal radio to help subsidize radios for the 3rd world. Plus being mechanical they didn't tend to break a lot quicker than a normal transitort radio. I've had both these wind up models and while they were fine for 2-3 years each eventually had a failure in the wind-up mechanism. When the 2nd started to die I bought a £10 Sony radio from Argos - about 5th the size and price of another wind up - and feed it a couple of AAs every 6 months.

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Better still to buy some hybrid rechargeable AAs and a charger, so you use the same batteries over and over again. (Hybrid NiMH are the ones that will stay charged for many months - ordinary NiMH go flat in about two).

My DAB radio needs new batteries every week. Progress? I think not , but it does let me listen to BBC World service in my bathroom. Thank heaven for rechargeables. Must be approaching their 200th recharge by now.

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Given the maintenance issues you have had, I wonder how many original wind-up radios are still in use in dusty villages in Africa?

Perhaps they were a crap design?

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Anonymous Coward

But...

If his original invention was supposed to help the poor in the Third World, surely it's a good thing if someone else can produce similar products even more cheaply? :)

Was his motivation to become rich himself, or to help others?

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Re: But...

@AC

Nope: He produced the radios here for sale, where the sales would fund FREE radios for the third world.

People producing cheap copies weren't doing the latter bit, so the third world has lost out.

So yes, his motivation was to help others rather than become rich. Those who copied his products were out to get rich instead.

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Re: But...

I would love to know how many cheap copies are currently in use in Africa compared with free Baylis radios.

If the radios were given away free, they would be given to those deemed by a charity committee to have most need, rather than bought by those who actually did need them. The result, I'll bet, would be a lot of wasted radios.

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Anonymous Coward

broke?

I realise you don't get the full details of his financial situation, but since they mention that his house is worth 400K and he only paid 20K for it, I'm guessing he's long since paid of the mortgage and simply has his money tied up in the property.

There's a variety of financial services that will basically buy your house from you and let you live in it till you're dead, he might want to look into that.

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Re: broke?

According to the source article in the Telegraph, he also has an £80,000 Jaguar E Type in the garage. It's hardly grinding poverty now, is it? With the proceeds from that and his state pension, he'll be perfectly comfortable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: broke?

E-Type was cheap when he bought it to restore, same as most central London houses were only £2000 back in the 70's.

Trevor has done the philanthropic route to invention, whilst James Dyson took the making one's self route.

It's easy to forget that through history, not all inventions make millions for the inventor, i'm sure Trevor doesnt look upon "what's my house worth" but that it is his home.

Eel Pie Island is a nice place tho

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Re: broke?

>It's easy to forget that through history, not all inventions make millions for the inventor

Like Charles Goodyear who invented the process of rubber vulcanisation, esssential for pneumatic tyres, before the motror car was developed.

http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/goodyear.html

Goodyear once wrote: "I am not disposed to complain that I have planted and others have gathered the fruits. A man has cause for regret only when he sows and no one reaps."

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Holmes

Re: broke?

I can't beleive he is broke in any normal sense of the word. He was never off the TV during the 90's. I like Trevor Bayliss and even sent him one of my feeble invention ideas, years ago when he was presenting from the shed on the Big Breakfast Show. His C.V. must make him employable, even if it's after dinner speeches. Jesus! if he is really broke then what the hell has he been smoking!

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Trollface

prior art

(Clearly, this is a wind-up)

I guess there was a reason that he had no patents.

Still, seems like old news:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/09/02/patent_infrigement_criminal_offence/

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Re: prior art

I can distinctly remember lying in the bath listening to a Radio 4 program extolling Mr Baylis's "invention" sometime in the early 90s. I was listening using a portable AM/FM wireless powered by four "AA" NiCd cells. There was a small (pretty ineffective -- i.e. incapable of providing power at the rate the radio used it) solar panel, and a serviceable hand-cranked dynamo to recharge the batteries. There was also a socket for a mains adaptor, when not in the bath or garden. This was a small, cheap device that would have cost £5-£10. My recollection was reinforced by going to the pub a couple of hours later to be informed by two friends about this marvellous wind-up radio they had just heard about on the BBC.

I think that the Baylis radios were designs, rather than inventions, and he should have thought of Trademarks and copyrights rather than patents.

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Sympathy for him but

As the posters above have noted, what he did was not strictly an invention but an adaptation. The dividing line is much more of a blur these days but prior to his radios there were at least a number of torches which converted manual effort into stored charge (I'm thinking in particular of some which had a trigger type action which used a lot of effort which never produced much light because the bulbs of the time sucked juice way too fast).

What he had was a really good idea on how to combine technologies and produce a small usable receiver version of those WW2 hand cranked generator/radio combos but once you start digging it gets ever closer to those wonderful 'on a mobile phone' type patents.

Laudable effort but a perfect example of how hard it is to move from generalisation (stealing other people's ideas is bad) to a properly defined law/regulation.

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Boffin

Re: Sympathy for him but

Agreed, Baylis put together some parts, made a product which filled a niche and a few others followed. But frankly the market for expensive wind-up radios was small. Some might say that £30 isn't expensive, especially when factoring in the lifespan of Alkaline batteries. But this is still a product which is useful either for camping or third world countries, anyone else uses battery devices. The rise of the MP3 player and improved life on smart phones has taken its toll on radio listening in the past decade. You can't ride the wave on one modest invention, you need to keep innovating or make something so special that someone buys you out. Dyson has kept innovating and has built a sustainable business. I would have hoped Baylis would have had a retirement plan and wouldn't have risked his house after his initial success.

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Re: Sympathy for him but

The WW2 hand cranked generator/radio was my inspiration for a small, transistorised version as part of my early 1980's Craft, Design and Technology O Level. Power storage (really not more than smoothing of the cranking) was from a large capacitor, the rest of the circuit gleaned from wireless magazines. Being a spotty school boy, I wouldn't have dared to call anything other than the vacuum molded plastic box original.

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Re: Sympathy for him but

Batteries aren't particularly nice things to dispose of, so methods of storing energy like clockwork or a heavy bag of sand hung from the ceiling shouldn't be discounted.

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Facepalm

No sympathy

This is not about inventing but about marketing/selling/finding the distribution channels.

Which is the hard work.

Falling back to a "the world owes me" defense is just weak.

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Re: No sympathy

Marketing, hard work?

I've worked in Advertising and Marketing segments, and it's not "the hard work". It's finding something quirkily catchy to say about something, and knowing the channels to use to put it into the media. Most of that is rote.

Inventing things, and actually getting products to work reliably and in a fashion where they can be released (especially as a lone inventor/small company) is extremely hard work.

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So where was the wind-up?

It always seemed to me that the whole Bayliss thing was one big wind up.

It epitomises the fact that British media are gimmick driven, usually doing Britain as a whole a major disservice.

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