British inventiveness: fact or myth?

Remember the good old days when British inventiveness loomed large ...
The IPKat's friends at the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) have spurred him into action, even though this member of the blogging team is trying hard to be on holiday this week and keep away from the keyboard. The cause of his sudden activity is a press release, issued tomorrow (28 September 2010) and entitled "President of UK patent attorneys praises Japanese achievements in new technology but claims credit for UK in laying foundations" [a descriptive title, if not the most catchy one]. The press release runs thus:
“As a country, Japan is now the second biggest user of PCT, the international patent system, and Japanese company Panasonic is the biggest single user,” said Alasdair Poore, President of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, welcoming on 28 September a delegation of 14 patent attorneys from the Japanese Patent Attorneys Association.
“Technological development and patent filings have grown phenomenally in Asia and Japan continues to be a leader [well, you can't argue with that]. But while we recognise and applaud Japan’s recent achievements,” he added, “we should not forget that modern patent law has its roots in the English 1624 Statute of Monopolies [some say 1623: it would be great to have a definitive ruling]. With its patent system, Britain developed its own proprietary technology and commercialised a number of new technologies, including mechanical looms and the steam engine. This was the start of the industrial revolution. And British technology didn’t stop in the 19th century [Merpel has just ejected by the back door for suggesting a "When did British Technology Stop?" competition]: a study by the Japanese Trade & Industry Ministry - MITI [or METI, as the Japanese now call it]– in the 1980s apparently concluded that 54 per cent of the world's most important inventions were British.” [The IPKat has never seen the MITI report and wonders whether an English version of it exists.  He has however heard this figure, sometimes inflated to anything up to 75%, cited as evidence that the Japanese have simply stolen and successfully commercialised vast swathes of British innovation -- a proposition which the Kat feels cannot be supported by evidence].

The group of Japanese patent attorneys are visiting London following a visit to Tokyo by UK patent attorneys in 2008. ... The aim of the reciprocal visits is to encourage collaboration between the profession in Japan and CIPA’s members – UK-based professionals who are generally also qualified European Patent Attorneys, able to support Japanese colleagues with not only their UK but also their European and international work.[This sounds like good diplomacy and/or marketing, says the Kat]

... Said Alasdair Poore, “These reciprocal visits give us greater appreciation of each other’s rich heritage in technological development and in effective use of the international IP system.” [An elegant flourish of harmless rhetoric -- bravo!]
The Myth of MITI here
MITTY here
KITTY here
British inventiveness: fact or myth? British inventiveness: fact or myth? Reviewed by Jeremy on Monday, September 27, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. As a dual Australian and British passport holder (born in Watford), and registered practitioner under a patent law that still defines patentable subject matter by reference to "manner of manufacture", I am not disinclined to acknowledge British contributions to patent law, or to technological ingenuity.

    But let's get real here. As I pointed out in the very first ever posting on my Patentology blog, the Venetian Statute on Industrial Brevets of 1474 substantially predates the British Statute of Monopolies of 1623, contains a number of surprisingly modern elements, and was itself probably only a codification of existing practices.

    Furthermore, the British Statute, which was enacted largely to bring an end to the practice of the King handing out monopolies willy-nilly to his mates, sycophants and financiers required only local novelty and therefore allowed patents to be granted for importing new technologies into the realm, as well as for geunine invention. Historically, this is a common feature of patent statutes in "developing" countries which recognises the economic benefits of bootstrapping the establishment of industries that may already be maturing elsewhere.

    Enactment of the 1623 Statute clearly, therefore, does not demonstrate any particular inventiveness on the part of the British. In fact, in many areas the country was playing catch-up with continental Europe: the Dutch (who were possibly the first European discoverers of Australia - the British certainly were not) and Italians, at least, were powerhouses of innovation at the time.

    Finally, Japanese patent law owes more to German law than British law, from its approach to claim construction and infringement, to its provisions for compensation of employee inventors.

    Frankly, Japan's rise to be a net exporter of innovation and technology is a consequence of post-war economics and Britain (whose empire and influence was by then in decline, in favour of US ascendency) has little to do with it. South Korea is now well on its way to usurping Japan in the patent rankings, and China will undoubtedly one day take its place.

    When this happens, can we expect CIPA to claim credit for China as well?!

    PS I did not realise there was any dispute over 1623 vs 1624. Maybe you should hold a poll?

  2. Yes, a poll would settle the issue definitively!

  3. According to the CIPA Black Book [5th Edition, A 06, page 1215) "The Statute of Monopolies was enacted by Parliament in 1624 (but back-dated to the start of the parliamentary session in 1623) as part of the battle for Parliamentary supremacy over the crown."

  4. We doubt if 'eject' can be used intransitively.


  5. @Anonymous 2:23pm
    Check your Collins English Dictionary, which gives both transitive and intransitive uses of 'eject' -- not that what's the Kat had in mind. Typing's a tough job when you've only paws and the voice recognition software can't tell a miaow from a miaou ...


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