Patents:  Supporting British innovation for 400 years

The UK is marking its 400th year of protecting innovation by patents, which began in 1617 when the first British patent was granted to Messrs. Rathburne and Burgess for a new method of printing and engraving maps.  As part of this commemoration, The Intellectual Property Office, British Library, Science Museum, media outlets and a ‘Great for Imagination’ campaign are highlighting interesting and important inventions developed in the UK over the years which have been protected and disseminated with the help of patents.

Inventions developed and patented in the UK have included a wide variety of innovations such as Portland cement (1824), the grooved golf-club head (1902), beta blockers (1965), the ATM (1967), and even the recent Albacore wet suit (2017).  More than 2 million patent applications have been published by the UK’s patent office over the years. 

The Great for Imagination campaign is presently rolling out a stunning set of ‘conceptual’ photographs showing the ‘imagination behind the invention’ for 60 patented innovations, which do not show the actual patented object or process itself but try to ‘bring these inventions to life’ for people all over the world to understand. 

The value of the patent system as an important support for such innovations is also being highlighted in the course of this commemoration.  In the words of Tim Moss, the IP Office’s Chief Executive, intellectual property “encourage[s] investment in research and innovation, and ensure[s] that the results of that investment are used and protected.”

The BBC’s One Show yesterday featured a segment on the UK’s 400 years of patents and interviewed Mandy Haberman, inventor of the groundbreaking Haberman Feeder and Anywayup Cup for children (photo below).  Haberman, who is now also on the steering board of the UK IP Office and a director of the Intellectual Property Awareness Network, described her inventions and how she found it necessary to enforce her patents when these innovations quickly garnered 40% of existing companies’ market share: 

“If you have an invention that disrupts the status quo, and it’s a technology that changes the market..., existing companies challenge the patent and come out with an infringement.  So it’s then down to the patent owner, the patent holder, to decide if they’re going to enforce their rights—it was a really difficult decision.”

UK IP Minister Sam Gyimah later emphasised the importance of the 400th anniversary of the first British patent, remarking that UK inventions “have gone on to transform the way we live our lives”.

For more information, see the BBC One Show interview, more on Mandy Haberman’s inventions and IP, the ‘Great for Imagination’ campaign and photos, and the British Library’s ongoing rollout of ‘Today’s #Greatimagination patent’.  


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