Monday, 2 November 2009

Roland Hill at the Leeds Inventors Group 16 – 9 – 09

Roland was a partner in an engineering practice for 20 years and was involved in various structural engineering projects such as the development of Old Trafford football ground. He set up his own company Contra Vision in 1985, first on a part-time basis, becoming full-time as his ideas took off.
In 1976 he was appointed to look at the possibility of developing a demountable squash court which could be taken on tour by the national squash team. His “Courtback”™ Squash Spectator Seating System was patented and this was then followed up with the development of a demountable squash court with four unobstructed one-way vision walls. The “Safe-Screen”™ material used in this court was also patented. Using transparent panels enabled spectators – and camera crews to see into the brightly lit court from the outside.
The court was sold to the Squash Rackets Association for £100,000 but had actually cost £250,000 to build!
Putting a transparent material onto glass which allows one-way vision offered numerous opportunities – you can put a design onto it so that the design can be seen from the outside while not obscuring the view from inside. “Bus wraps” became common where adverts were placed on the windows of buses without blocking the view of the passengers. Some became like travelling billboards and this concept of advertising is now established around the world. In 1993 he suggested to BT that the material could be used for adverts on payphones. It took until 2000 before they did so. “Building wraps” became popular and the material is also used for privacy so people can see out of a window but no-one can see in. Banks and airports use them for security screens.
As Roland said, it’s always important to keep looking for improvements in an invention and to patent those improvements. He stated that if Contra Vision hadn’t done this they would no longer be in business. The original version of the material tended to fade at night when there was less light, so Roland came up with an improved version which can be artificially illuminated and therefore stands out night or day.
Roland stated that Contra Vision has always been better at inventing and patenting than producing and therefore most of their products are licenced to others. They have numerous registered trade marks in many countries and classes and also several unregistered marks. All of these marks develop value by people believing in the product and its quality and reliability.
Roland commented that it is vital for governments to support innovation but believes that in this country successive governments have little interest. For example the Danish government want a government-backed insurance for European patents against litigation but the UK government will not support this. He believes that far-sighted countries will support their inventors and inventors will go there.