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…
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