Ged had retired from the Leeds City Library’s Business and Intellectual Property Centre (firstname.lastname@example.org) and was well versed in what could have been a very dry subject. But Ged’s superb talk was anything but – interesting, informative, beautifully illustrated and in places, laugh-out-loud funny! What probably none of us knew was quite how important his former section had been – used by many major companies – even those based in America who found the Leeds office (not the only one in the UK) quicker than their own system in dealing with queries. Its role as a revenue-earner has gone with the advent of the internet.
Most of the talk was about patents (pronounced with a soft “a” as in Dad). He gave the history – an exclusive right to make a product – the “how” must be in the patent, originally in the gift of the King, usually in return for taking on apprentices to learn from a patentee. An example, the first in Britain (but not Europe – the first known was in Italy) was Henry VI in 1441 giving a patent to someone brought in to do the coloured glass in two buildings he was involved with: King’s College, Cambridge and Eton. It took the form of an open letter – which of course at that time was in Latin and the plural Littera Patents gives us the word we still use.
Patents were taken out of Royal patronage by 1623 when the Statute of Monopolies brought in today’s patent system. They are used to protect an invention of a useful product which did not exist before and solves a problem (the word useful is open to interpretation!) or a significant improvement – again scope for argument! They now have a life of 20 years (this has varied over the years – 16 years in the 1930’s) during which time the person taking it out can hope to corner the market! It cannot be renewed.
Ged explained the difference between patents, trade marks, registered designs and copyright – all of which are covered by the term “intellectual property”. He illustrated it with a jar of Nescafe coffee. The type of beans used and the roasting…the process, would be covered by a patent. The name is a Trade mark (renewable every ten years, indefinitely). The hipped jar is protected by a registered design and the label would be under copyright which covers all creative works.
I was surprised to learn that a dishwasher had been invented in the 1880’s. The lady (!) inventor saying what many have said since – getting the patent is the easy bit, marketing the product is the challenge. The talk was followed by an active question and answer session, during which it became clear that protecting a product internationally was very expensive – a U.K. patent only applied in the U.K. Also that after lodging the patent, it was published and then it took about two years before a patent would be granted. The Military had been known to step in and block the patent being granted during this period. Cllr. Barry Anderson gave the vote of thanks.