FO­CUS ON: PATENT RECORDS

Was one of your an­ces­tors an in­ven­tor? Maria Lampert from the Bri­tish Li­brary re­veals how you can track down any patents they filed and flesh out their in­no­va­tive lives…

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

We re­veal how you can find out if one of your an­ces­tors was an in­ven­tor

Our an­ces­tors were a pretty in­ven­tive bunch – and just to prove it, they filed patents on every­thing from com­po­nents of power looms to ed­u­ca­tional toys. If you sus­pect that one of your fore­bears had the creative gene, there’s an easy way to find out if they com­mit­ted their bright ideas to pa­per.

Patents, as we know them to­day, grew out of the Royal Pre­rog­a­tive in Eng­land, which com­prised mo­nop­o­lies granted to court favourites or used by the Govern­ment to raise money. They were in­tended to en­cour­age new trades – mainly from abroad.

The first English statute to re­fer specif­i­cally to patents on in­ven­tions was the 1623 Statute of Mo­nop­o­lies. This lim­ited the pow­ers of the Crown, and laid down con­di­tions un­der which patents on in­ven­tions could be al­lowed. It re­stricted patents to a term of 14 years or un­der, granted to the “true and first in­ven­tor” – along with the rights to be the sole user, worker or man­u­fac­turer of the in­ven­tion.

Af­ter the Statute of Mo­nop­o­lies, no fur­ther ma­jor changes were made to the law of patents un­til the Patent Law Amend­ment Act of 1852. Any­one who ap­plied for a patent be­fore Oc­to­ber 1852 had to go through 10 stages of ap­pli­ca­tion, which en­tailed in­de­pen­dent vis­its to five or six sep­a­rate law of­fices and re­quired a pay­ment to be made at each stage. The fees, ap­prox­i­mately £52 7s 8d in to­tal (roughly £6,800 to­day), had to be paid be­fore the patent was sealed for grant.

Tak­ing the doc­u­ments from one of­fice to an­other and pay­ing the fees was en­tirely the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the in­ven­tor or some­one act­ing on their be­half. In­deed, Sa­muel Pepys men­tioned in his fa­mous di­ary that he was “forced to run all up and down Chancery Lane” be­fore re­ceiv­ing his patent of ap­point­ment as clerk of acts to the Navy Of­fice.

Not ev­ery­one was in favour of the patent sys­tem. Isam­bard

Any­one who ap­plied for a patent be­fore Oc­to­ber 1852 had to go through 10 stages of ap­pli­ca­tion

A Mec­cano model of Bat­tersea Fair. Frank Hornby patented the toy in 1901 – see page 65

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