Patented inventions include light-transmitting concrete, weight-control ingredients from a cactus plant, mirror television, a waterless toilet and a musical snorkel.
A specialized agency of the United Nations, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) issues patents recognized by 184 member states. Representing over 90% of the world’s countries, WIPO members include fast-developing nations such as Brazil, China and India.
Using the WIPO website, inventors learn how to patent inventions in their country of residence only or in all participating WIPO nations. In 2006, the WIPO granted a total of 727,293 patents. Of these, 56.4% were by resident applicants while 43.6% were from non-resident applicants.
Below is a selection of the most intriguing international patents listed on the WIPO website for entrepreneurs worldwide to consider.
Translucent Light-Transmitting Concrete
Taking to heart criticisms about unsightly buildings in the concrete jungle, a young Hungarian architect named Áron Losonczi working out of Sweden decided to address the root cause of cityscape design problems. In 2003, Losonczi filed an international patent application that combined artistic inspiration, entrepreneurial flair and technical innovation.
The World International Property Organization agreed with his vision and granted a worldwide patent for his idea: concrete blocks that transmit light. With thousands of very thin glass fibers ingeniously arranged in parallel rows and casted within each concrete block, light passes right through the blocks.
A surface of translucent concrete blocks becomes a wall of embedded light-transmitting fibers. The result is a transformation: a solid gray mass becomes a light-shimmering wall alive with shadows.
High production costs and the optic fibre content currently make light-transmitting concrete a luxury product. Inventor Losonczi looks forward to reducing costs through worldwide licensing deals and large scale production.
Hoodia Appetite Suppressant
The National Center for Health Statistics recently found that 34% of Americans are obese with increased risks of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. So it should come as no surprise that a key appetite suppressant ingredient is one of the world’s most popular and successful patents. What may be surprising is that the patented hunger fighter comes from a Kalahari desert cactus known as the Hoodia.
For centuries, South African tribesmen known as the San have used the crunchy, cucumber-like plant to suppress the appetite during long hunting trips. In 1998, a group of South African inventors won a worldwide patent for powder extracted from the Hoodia plant’s stems and roots. Licensing rights to use the Hoodia compound were sold to Pfizer.
Hoodia is now the most popular ingredient for all-natural appetite suppressants that help people control and limit their food intake
In 2003, Netherlands-based inventors were awarded an international patent for a mirror that can also serve as a flat screen television or a computer monitor with the flick of a switch.
Mirror television consists of a wide-screen liquid crystal display (LCD) covered with a thin, semi-reflective sheet and mounted in a picture frame. When the television is turned on, anyone standing in front of the display unit sees only the television picture. Switching off the television instantly converts the screen into a regular mirror.
Users can also use mirror TV to tune into picture-in-mirror mode. This displays the television image in a small rectangle space on the larger mirror surface. Alternatively, the mirror can also be connected to a personal computer for use as an oversized monitor.
When the Dutch inventors registered mirror television for an international patent, they gave examples of applications for their new device:
- an interactive bathroom-mirror
- a news or weather broadcast display while the user brushing his teeth or shaves
- interactive instructions with cartoon-characters for children learning personal grooming skills
- a television or movie player that users can watch while bathing
- a handheld purse-mirror that also serves as an interactive communications device
- an automobile rear-view mirror that displays additional views from strategically placed cameras on the vehicle to monitor traffic blindspots.
Enviro Loo Waterless Toilet
In 2003, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) awarded South Africa’s Brian La Trobe with an international patent for his award-winning waterless toilet that cuts down on raw sewage.
Registered as an aerobic digestion toilet, the Enviro Loo is a dry sanitation system that treats sewage without chemicals and does not pollute ground water. The chamber-based system works on natural radiant heat and wind power to produce removable dry matter. Waste is stabilized with aerobic bacteria.
This cost-effective and environmentally friendly invention is used in rural areas and in low-cost homes in countries including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and the United States.
Snorkel with Radio Receiver
French inventor Bruno Pierot patented what is sometimes called the singing snorkel in 2001. The battery-powered snorkel has an FM-radio receiver built into its mouthpiece, which plays as long as the tip of the air tube is above water. Sounds from the snorkel’s radio are transmitted through vibrations in the swimmer’s teeth and jawbone.
The French company that sells singing snorkels is also marketing special audio tours to resorts, which can pipe tourist information and canned music to snorkelers from a nearby tour boat.
How to Profit from Invention Patents
WIPO patented inventions can stimulate new business ventures and ideas that meet local needs around the world. This can be accomplished through licensing arrangements or joint ventures with the inventor.
Countries that can channel these entrepreneurial opportunities will be best positioned to emerge from the global recession with strong competitive advantages.