May 2023 News

Patents - the Royal Connection

Hello again!  As you’ve almost certainly noticed, we’ve just crowned a new King here in the UK.  That prompted us at a recent business networking event to look at how the Monarchy had influenced our field of business - did you know that it was the UK’s Monarchy that accidentally created the patent system?
Roll back all the way top the end of the 16th Century, and the British State was a bit short of cash and needed a new way of filling up the official coffers.  Totally unlike today, of course.  Anyway, some enterprising businesses realised that there was an opportunity to be had there, and suggested to the Crown that they be granted exclusive access to a lucrative business prospect, in return for making an appropriate contribution to the King’s funds.  Again, totally unlike today.  The examples usually bandied around are the sale of playing cards and of salt.  Keen to secure the contribution that was on offer, the then King granted those exclusive rights via an open letter addressed to all informing them that the lucky business in question had that right and that others were not to infringe on it.  The word “patent” simply means “open” (as any doctor of medicine will tell you) so these were official referred to as “Letters Patent”. 
Inevitably, this caused problems for others, who saw their existing business being harmed.  Opposition to the practice started to grow, and Parliament took notice and acted.  It passed the Statute of Monopolies 1624 which outlawed the grant of exclusive rights to fields of business – just the one exception was made, for grants of Letters Patent in respect of a “manner of new manufacture”.  That definition stayed in force in UK until 1998… it was still the official definition of a patentable invention in the Patents Act 1949 which specifically referred back to the 1624 Act for its definition of an “invention”.  The 1949 was replaced with the Patents Act 1977, which came into force in 1978, and so the last of the 1949 Act patents which expired 20 years later in 1998…
That was the start of the patent system, which has now spread around the world.  Some say that patents for invention were being granted to traders in Florence earlier than that, but this is disputed.  I guess it just proves that any good patent story includes an argument about who had the idea first…
If you have a manner of new manufacture… let us know!

Until next time.

Best Wishes


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