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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The Holdings Building - Patents

A patent is granted to an inventor and this gives him a monopoly of manufacture for a certain number of years – in this country it is sixteen years. In return the inventor hands over all of the details of his invention to the state. Patents originated in 1330, letters patent were granted to Flemish weavers but not until 1615 was a judgment given as to whether a patent was a valid one. But the patent system used today was introduced in 1883.

The Early Days

Early Inventions lists the many Patents filed by the members of the Perkins Family in the 19th Century and in How it Started will be seen a photograph of the Patent granted to Joseph Baker in 1874, protecting his invention of the Flour Sifter. It is clear that the company continued to apply for patents on a regular basis during the first half of the twentieth century but we do not know the details of how this was managed.

Post-war Baker Perkins Ltd.

When John Peake joined Baker Perkins Ltd in 1951, Herbert Kirman Jr. ran the patents section. John remembers:

He was not a patent agent himself but carried out most of the preliminary work necessary for filing a patent. This included the vital task of distilling, through discussion with members of the drawing office, the essence of a particular idea and conducting detailed searches in the Patent Office to confirm its originality. All this benefited greatly from Herbert’s knowledge of our products and his meticulous approach.

In carrying out this work Herbert performed many of the functions that would otherwise have been carried out by a patent agent and thereby achieved substantial savings in fees from that source”.

It was the practice to file a provisional patent which established a date from which the cover of the full patent would run for 16 years. The provisional patent gave a year during which the idea could be worked on and confirmed to be worthwhile, for example by building a rig in then experimental department. If more time was needed the provisional could be refilled but the original starting date for cover would be lost.

Although the provisional did not have to embody the detail required for the final application it was nevertheless important for it to capture the key points that confirmed the originality of an invention. It was important to consider secondary points that could be included in the final application so as to prevent competitors from finding ways round it. It was also important to guard against the dangers of ideas getting out perhaps in a customer’s factory when a prototype was being tested there.

Over the years, fewer patents were filed to save expense; Baker Perkins became more selective and concentrated on the more fundamentally original ideas. For the same reason it was decided to limit the number of overseas applications and concentrate on those countries in which the company’s competitors were known to be manufacturing.

In the Holdings Company

As a group service department within the Holdings Company the Patents Department was part of the Secretariat. Brian Westcomb had become Patents manager in 1959 and the department, which now included two other patents engineers – Bill Atkinson and Peter Ashley - moved into the new Holdings Company building in 1966. The Patents department looked after the group’s patent and trademark interests in the UK and acted as a liaison with Baker Perkins group companies throughout the world.

The Patents Department continued as a group service within the Holdings Company until the late 70s when, by 1980, it had been transferred to become a service department of Baker Perkins Ltd..It is not clear if this change in management responsibility also included a change of office location. The department reverted to the Holding Company in 1985 with the formation of the Group Innovation Team under Charles McCaskie.

Brian Westcomb was interviewed by the company newspaper – “Contact” – in October 1974 and explained the work that his department carried out:

Having had the flash of inspiration and produced an invention, you stake your claim to it by filing it in the Patent Office in London. You are then given an application number and date by the Patent Office and from that moment onwards no one else who has the same idea can come along and obtain a patent for it. The Patent Office carries out a search to ensure that it meets all the legal requirements and if it does your patent is granted.

When several companies are working on the same problems in a particular industry it is not unusual that they often come up with the same solutions. That is why it is so important to file patent applications quickly.

People also tend to think that once a patent is granted in this country you have protection everywhere, and this is just not so. It is necessary to file your patent application nation by nation. Every major country has its own system, which all vary from one another in some way, but are all based on the British system.

Taking a typical machine with worldwide market potential, it would depend on the product of course, but by and large patent protection would be applied for in the UK, USA, Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Australia and Japan. For products like printing machines or foundry machinery having wide use throughout the world, protection could be extended.

Each patent would be filed with these individual patent offices as that is the rule at the present time (1974). The major manufacturing countries of the world are members of an International Convention on Industrial Property. This Convention allows an inventor to file a patent application in his own country and to postpone filing foreign counterparts for one year, whilst at the same time still claiming his priority date as that of the first patent application. This arrangement is useful in preventing the inventor from embarking on an expensive patent filing programme at a stage when the invention has not been fully developed.

This might seem like a pretty complex procedure but the advantage is that as obtaining patents is a costly business - about £150 to file each application in this country and in some countries it can be as much as £300 - if it were decided to file in five countries straight away it would cost a minimum of £1,000, to which must be added the costs of processing the application through to the granting of a patent and the payment of annual renewals. It could be that the invention in question is superseded by a new development. The advantage with the International Convention procedure is that you are given a year to see which way things are going and then you can make up your mind if you want to file elsewhere, without committing yourself to a great deal of expense.

The decision must be taken or every country at one time. You couldn’t, for instance, decide at a later date to file in another country as the general rule on all patents is what is called absolute novelty. This means that there must be no prior knowledge of the invention before you file your application. A description in a technical magazine, showing the invention at an exhibition or even showing it to a customer could lead to a patent not being granted. Absolute secrecy is essential.

There are moves to streamline this procedure of applying to each country in turn. Very soon the European Patent will be available. This is a patent granted as a result of applying to the European Patent Office in Munich. The feature of a European Patent is that it is granted after a common search and examination. The patent will be granted and is effective in any of the nineteen countries that are at present members of the European Patent Convention. The individual patent laws of each country will still apply as far as patent infringement is concerned.

At the same time as the European Patent is about to appear on the scene, there will also be the European Community Patent. This Patent makes use of the same facilities of the Patent Office in Munich, but when issued as a Community Patent it will give protection throughout all the EEC countries as a single unit patent, instead of being controlled by the laws of different countries.

As far as Russia and the eastern European countries are concerned, most of these countries are members of the International Convention too. They have their own patents organisations and their laws are very similar to ours.

As an engineering group we are often be in danger of infringing other people’s patents. As I said earlier, competitors are invariably involved with the same problems and, therefore, it is not unusual for the same, or similar, solutions to be found. It is important to ensure that patents of competitors are not infringed and by the same token to ensure that our own patents are not being infringed. Keeping a check on this is a continuous process and we spend a lot of time looking at technical developments made by our competitors,

Every week about 1,000 patents are accepted and published by the Patent Office. A study is made of all these patents in order to ascertain which might be of interest to the companies within the Group. In addition to British Patents the same is taking place in respect of all the major manufacturing countries of the world and the patents issued by the USA and Germany are also examined, not only for patent infringements but as a means of obtaining details of developments by competitors. A bulletin is issued each week that lists all the applications that have been filed, giving only the title of the invention and this is often quite misleading. However, several countries, Germany, France and Holland, for instance, now have early publication procedures and this means that we can often find out about applications that have been filed before the information is published in the UK.

As part of our group responsibilities we keep in touch with what is happening within the various design offices in the group and make periodic visits to the various companies within the group and have, of course established close liaison links. For example, Rose Forgrove has a Patents department at Gainsborough, which is self-contained, but operates very closely with the Holdings Patents department. Apart from these arrangements, the inventing company concerned brings inventions to the attention of the department.

Trade marks relate to patents in that they both come under the heading of industrial property. The main difference is that although a patent expires after about sixteen years, a trade mark can go on forever. Trade marks cost less to register than patents and others can be licensed to use your trade marks, paying royalties in the same way as with patents. The difference is that, as the trade mark continues to exist after a patent would have expired, the trade mark can be even more valuable".

A very useful part of the Patent Department's activities was the periodic issuing of a "Patents Review".This listed patents taken out by competitors - and customers - some of which were potentially threatening to Baker Perkins and justified a structured approach to assessing the threat such developments might pose. This list of recently published patents, collated into the key industry sectors targeted by the company was circulated periodically to senior design engineers who were then required to assess the relevance to Baker Perkins. Their comments were then circulated to senior management in the form shown in this typical extract from an issue from 1985.

List of new Patents shown on the RH side with comments from Design Engineers on the LH side.

 

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