https://ipo.blog.gov.uk/2013/09/16/2-5-millionth-patent-a-guest-post-from-john-alty-our-chief-executive/

2.5 millionth patent

This week the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) published patent no. GB2,500,000.

It is for a collaboration between Liverpool John Moores University and MedePad to produce wireless sensors able to monitor a patients’ vital signs, such as their heart rate, blood oxygen levels and temperature. This is done without having to hook them up to a machine. The sensors are both invisible and undetectable to the wearer and a person’s readings are transmitted in real time to devices located many metres away.

This new technology demonstrates the importance of collaboration and the wealth of knowledge transfer taking place between our world class Universities and UK companies.

To some the GB 2.5m may seem like an arbitrary point to mark, but it gives good insight into how the use of intellectual property has influenced the social and economic development of the UK for centuries.

The industrial revolution of the late 18th century was synonymous with the explosion of British innovation. This period saw the number of patents exceed 1000. James Watt’s patent of 1769 (913/1769) led to performance improvements of the steam engine, which in turn helped the Cornish tin industry establish itself as a world leader.

In 1775, Richard Arkwright took out his patent for a new carding engine which, combined with water power and semi-skilled labour, saw the mass production of yarn and the creation of the first ’production line’ more than 100 years before Henry Ford and his ‘Model T’ assembly line. The link between Intellectual Property (IP) and growth was clear even in the 18th century.

Official numbering of patents did not start until 1852 when the Patent Office was also established. This overhaul of the system gave numbers to the 14,359 patents granted across the previous 400 years.

The increased pace of industrialisation saw the 200,000th patent granted in 1895. This period also saw the granting of a number of patents for well-known and much loved devices such as the ‘little nipper’ (13277/1899) or flatbed mousetrap in 1900 and Meccano (587/1901) in 1901.

In 1902 the British patent system was expanded to include a novelty search of an invention before a patent was granted. This increased workload for the then Patent Office and it added 190 examiners to the 70 who already worked there.

1915 saw the 500,000th patent granted. In the same year, Captain Stephen Coxon’s patent for an ‘improved Entrenching Tool’ a type of shovel (5956/1915) was published. This played a vital and often life saving role in the trenches of the First World War.

The post-war period saw many inventions claiming to be the ‘most important’. A strong contender for this title was published in 1924 with as ‘a system of transmitting views, portraits and scenes by telegraphy or wireless telegraphy.’ (GB222604). This was the birth of the television.

However, technological developments have not always kept pace with the demands of society. In July 1966 England celebrated their famous World Cup win over Germany. Some say the Germans would have benefitted from the advent of goal line technology with England’s often disputed third goal. Only a week before, German firm AGFA had a patent published for an integrated camera with built in flash. This may not have helped them at Wembley that day, but was part of the relentless march to perfect the high speed cameras that form part of today’s technology.

The internet age has seen the numbers of patents published rocket in recent years. UK based firms such as ARM and Dyson continue to lead the world in innovative technology that has seen the value of intangible assets overtake that of tangible ones. To cope with this demand, we have 225 patent examiners carrying out extensive novelty and inventiveness searches on over 22,000 applications a year. Our customers say that the IPO is widely regarded as one of the best IP Offices in the world.

We are the 12th largest patent office in terms of patent filings according to WIPO figures. We are the first patent office to achieve ISO accreditation for patent-granting process – recently re-confirmed.

These achievements are certainly something to be proud of.

I’m personally very proud of this 2.5m milestone for the inventors and our world class rights granting office. I look forward to reaching GB3m – although it may be a few years off yet.

If you have questions or feedback, do comment on this blogpost and we’ll do our best to respond.

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