Page 1: Introduction
In a rapidly changing competitive environment knowledge has become the basis for organisations to develop advantages. When individuals create new products or processes they need protection from competitors so that they gain the most benefits from their ideas. The UK Patent Office provides enterprising people with reassurance and support for their ideas and inventions. This framework of protection has been in place since 1852.
The word ‘patent’ comes from the practice of monarchs in the Middle Ages giving rights and privileges by means of ‘open letters’. These were documents authorised with the royal seal open to inspection by anyone. The word patent has evolved from the Latin name for these open letters - ‘litterae patentes’.
The earliest English patent was granted to John of Utynam in 1449. This provided a monopoly for a method of making stained glass previously unknown in England. Under Elizabeth I and James I the granting of monopolies for particular commodities became increasingly subject to abuse. In 1624 the Statute of Monopolies incorporated the doctrine of public interest. This meant that patents would only be granted for ‘projects of new invention so they be not contrary to the law nor mischievous to the State’.
For the next two hundred years the English patent system developed through the work of lawyers and judges in the courts without government regulation. However, by the mid-nineteenth century it had become inefficient and people were starting to demand reforms. The Patent Office was set up in 1852 as the United Kingdom’s only office allowed to grant patents of invention. The Patent Office took responsibility for industrial designs in 1875 and in 1876 a system providing registration of Trade Marks was launched.
The Patent Office grants patents, registered designs and trade marks, effective in the UK only. Patents are granted to individuals and companies who can lay claim to a new product or manufacturing process or to an improvement of existing ones, not previously known in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.
The granting of the patent gives the owner the right to stop others from making, using or selling the invention without his permission for a period of up to 20 years. Under the terms of the European Patent Convention (E.P.C.) inventors in states which have joined the Convention can also obtain patent rights in all the E.P.C. countries by filing a single application at the European Patent Office.
This case study demonstrates how protecting intellectual property through the services of the Patent Office can benefit businesses and inventors.