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British Expat Newsletter: June 2013

Hello, and welcome to those of you who have recently signed up.

In this issue

This month

Here’s our news about the latest additions to the BE website.

Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement on 26 June that Winter Fuel Payments are to be withdrawn from expats in seven southern European countries may have been no great surprise. But was it as reasonable as he made out in the House of Commons? Dave wrote about it for the Editors’ Blog – see whether you agree.

This month’s Quick Quiz is all about weird words. Words are such amazing things that it’s a pity no-one pays much attention to how they arose in the first place. Test your etymological excellence!

And our latest Pic of the Week is an in-house effort – two (or is it three?) faces in a Picassoesque painting by Kay.

Editorial: Patently absurd

Since time immemorial, inventors and innovators have been struggling to make sure no-one else can steal their idea. Patents were the means by which they were able to safeguard their inventions, at least for long enough to be able to gain some commercial benefit from them.

The first recorded patents in history were issued by the ancient Greeks in about 500 BCE, allowing inventors just one year to profit from a “new refinement in luxury”. It took nearly 2,000 years after that for the first English patent to be granted, to John of Utynam, for introducing coloured glass making to England. But modern patent law in the UK dates to England’s Statute of Monopolies in 1624, restricting the granting of patents to “projects of new invention”. Under Queen Anne the requirement for a written description of the invention was introduced.

However, patent laws are territorial in their scope, so a patent granted in one country generally has no legal force anywhere else in the world. On the other hand, once a patent’s been granted in one country, it’s generally not possible for anyone (including the grantee) to lodge a new patent application for the same invention elsewhere, on the basis of “prior art” – it’s been publicly declared and thus can’t be imitated in a new application. (This is why so many products that hold a patent in one country also have “Patent pending” declarations for other countries where they’re being marketed.)

Patent applications are an expensive business, running into tens of thousands of pounds for the initial application and the annual renewal. And that’s assuming the application’s not contested – if you have to undergo litigation, the cost spirals.

And yet if you look at some of the patents that have been granted over the years, you have to ask yourself why the inventor bothered.

In last month’s newsletter we included a link to totallyabsurd.com and its collection of bizarre inventions that had all been patented in North America. However, it struck us that the site owners had missed a trick with their domain name – surely patentlyabsurd.com would have been more appropriate?

As we guessed, that domain name was taken, but a little more searching revealed patentlyabsurd.org.uk, where we found the genius of Arthur Paul Pedrick revealed – holder of over 100 patents, some of them quite ingenious but most of them completely in defiance of the laws of physics. It must have cost him a fortune.

In 1966, for example, he patented a system to send fresh water from Antarctica to Australia, harnessing the force of gravity and then the earth’s rotation to whizz snow and ice along pipelines at a speed of up to 500 mph!

Then, at the height of the 1973-74 oil crisis, with limits of 50 mph imposed on Britain’s motorways and petrol ration books printed and distributed ready for use, he came up with a masterful solution – a horse-propelled car (or indeed a horse-powered horseless carriage, if you will). The ignition key would be adapted to give the horse an electric shock in its rump, and the accelerator pedal would move the feed-box (manger?) further away from the horse, forcing it to run faster to get closer to the box. The crowning stroke of genius for the whole design? Yes… he put the car before the horse.

Remember the film The Towering Inferno, released in the UK in January 1975? It clearly made an impression of some kind on Pedrick. Within four months he’d filed his application for “Apparatus for extinguishing fires in high rise block buildings of uniform transverse cross-section or plan” – a set of fire curtains installed at roof level, released in case of fire to extend down the sides of the tower block and thus smother the flames. Occupants would be required to gather in designated “breathing rooms” where gaps in the curtains would allow air in. (A bit tough if you’re on the floor where the fire is and there’s no breathing room on that floor.)

Perhaps the best Pedrick invention of all, however, was the idea for a system of United Nations-controlled satellites, armed with three nuclear bombs, primed to obliterate Washington, Moscow and Peking in the event of any one of the superpowers launching a nuclear attack on any of the others; thus ensuring world peace. Hurrah!

Those of you who remember the books about absent-minded inventor Professor Branestawm from your childhood might be surprised to find that Branestawm predated Pedrick’s work by several decades. The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm was published in 1933; Pedrick’s patents were applied for in the 1960s and 1970s.

Even more surprising is the fact that Pedrick filed his patents after retiring from his job as… a patent examiner!

Have you come across any apparently pointless inventions in real life? If you have, please tell us on our discussion forum – we’d love to hear about them!

WWWordsmith: Forging a living from online writing

Writing is a great portable career, especially in these days of global connections – whether you’re doing paid writing for someone else, or self-publishing on websites or through eBooks. BE editor Kay McMahon and freelance writer Theo Koukouvitis have plenty of experience of both. So if you’ve ever considered writing for a living, or even for a bit of side income, here’s a great guide on how to get started. After all, we’ve all got at least one book in us, haven’t we?
ErgoGuides: WWWordsmith

Write for British Expat

Would you like to write for British Expat? Sorry, we don’t pay for articles but if you have a website we’ll link to it in the author’s blurb below any of your articles we publish. We use all sorts of content as long as it’s useful and/or interesting to our readership.

Besides articles, we also publish quick trivia quizzes – five questions about any subject. So, if you’d like to write for us but don’t feel like producing a literary masterpiece, then why not try writing a quickie quiz about your city, country, or even your hobby? Please use our contact form to get in touch.

British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping – from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

Language skills can be very important when you’re living overseas, and the learning process can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be – as The Two Ronnies showed us back in 1975.
YouTube: Swedish Made Simple

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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