The second most viewed YouTube clip of Dragons' Den (with just under 1.6 million views) is Derek Cozens' FlowSignals ‐ a series of flashing lights that Derek likely nicked off K.I.T.T. and stuck on traffic lights. Why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. Why someone would spend good money patenting it is bonkers. But, this Derek did, with surprising results.
This patent claims:
A display for traffic control within a region of traffic flow, comprising an array of lights arranged for illumination to indicate to traffic seeking to negotiate the region in accordance with a first path of travel the likely movement of traffic seeking to negotiate the region in accordance with a second path of travel different from the first, and thus whether said traffic seeking to negotiate the region in accordance with said second path of travel has a right of way over traffic seeking to negotiate the region in accordance with the said first path of travel.
In short: a traffic light.
Understandably, the European Patent Examiner found this claim to lack "novelty", i.e. it wasn't new.
Undeterred, Derek filed European, US and Chinese patent applications.
The Chinese patent CN102171738 was filed as is, and granted. Possibly, a rare instance of something being gained in translation.
The EP and US patent claims were amended to read:
A display arrangement for traffic control within a region of traffic flow, characterised by: a first array of lights arranged for illumination in two scrolling sequences, wherein in a first scrolling sequence lights of said first array are illuminated in sequence from top to bottom of said first array, the first scrolling sequence indicative to an observer viewing said first array of the display a direction of oncoming traffic flow, and wherein in a second scrolling sequence, lights of said first array are illuminated in sequence from bottom to top of said first array, the second scrolling sequence indicative to an observer viewing said first array of the display a direction of onward traffic flow towards said display.
This is like patenting "a flashing red light indicating danger" ‐ something intuitive everywhere but, possibly, in Amsterdam.
Think what we may, these patents were granted and the EP patent was subsequently extended to Germany, France, GB, Ireland and Switzerland.
All the granted patents remain in force.
Now that I've digested my hat. Was this idea worth £50,000 for the 10% shareholding offered to the Dragons? Duncan Bannatyne asked:
"You can't really think you can: get a patent for flashing lights to stick on poles; make a fortune? … You win the worst invention ever to have got on to Dragons' Den to date."
The FlowSignals system has not been implemented anywhere. Derek also tried his hand at fundraising on CrowdFunder, but had as much success as a Jehovah's witness at my front door. Apparently, commercialisation of new products is far more predictable than the patent system.
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