Birmingham City Council

Patents: historical

Introduction: Historical Patents

Information Services holds the historical patents archive, and Creative Insight has all the current patents on disc. The collection in the Science Library comprises British patents from 1617 to, approximately, 1994; U.S.patents from 1926; classified abridgements and abstracts; chronological, name and subject indices; classification guides; patent and trade mark journals.

There is also access to U.K., U.S. and many other national and international web-sites, which contain vast amounts of extremely useful up-to-date information, and thousands of intellectual property databases. Our own stock is particularly strong in the classification areas of 608 and 609.

Finding a patent

Patent searches by name:

It will often be the case that only the family name of the patentee is known (for example, a great-grandfather) and it will be necessary to fix an approximate date range within which the family firm may have operated. The name index may provide the patent number(s) and year of publication. Alternatively, the subject field can be traced via the classification guide and the appropriate abridgement volumes can then be used to trace any relevant patents. If the year of publication is known, the chronological index may provide the required patent number. As with many other routines in specialist fields, a demonstration, followed by practice, is all that is needed!

By classification:

Just as with Dewey, once an appropriate classification has been identified, the process becomes fairly plain sailing it is just a case of checking all the relevant abridgement/abstract volumes within the estimated period of industrial/commercial activity of the company or individual. If a full copy of the patent, once found, is required, and falls within the 1870 1930 period, this can be had through a request to the Leeds Patents Unit, at a cost, (current price, .67 each). If this fails then, through one source or another, we should be able to supply the documents ourselves.

Also, sometimes scientific biographies will yield sufficient basic information to enable a patent search to be carried out.

Finally, there is the esp@cenet website, a database managed by the European Patent Office (EPO). This is primarily aimed at contemporary research, however it is constantly uploading both PDF images and indexing information relating to patents of a historic interest. One current project is the digitisation of UK Patents 1870 - 1920. Coverage is not complete but it is well worth a look when researching. Patentee and applicant details, together with application and publication date, are searchable on most records. The most reliable method to find a document is by patent number. You will need to know the year of publication for all patents pre 1916. Enter the patent number field for a UK patent as GBXXXX [year] YYYYY [number].