RPG: Patenting Inventions

This extract is taken from the (unpublished) Advanced Gas-Lamp Book. Please note that it relates to my late Victorian gas-lamp fantasy campaign, and should not be used as a guide for modern patent law.


Patenting Inventions


Patent law: Current Patent Law only dates back to 1883, when all previous laws dealing with the matter were repealed. The law was amended in 1885, 1886 and 1888.

The inventions for which patents are obtained are chiefly either vendible articles formed by chemical or mechanical operations, such as cloth, metallic alloys, new chemical compounds and creations (such as vulcanised rubber); or machinery and apparatus, or new processes. Abstract ideas may not be patented.

The main types of patentable inventions are these: new contrivances applied to new ends; new contrivances applied to old ends; new combinations of old parts, whether relating to material objects or processes; and new methods of applying a well-known object.

The patent, if applied to new methods of using some device, must show that it is an ingenious and novel process. Simply rehashing an old idea is not enough.

The inventor himself is not allowed to use his new invention, either in public or secretly, with a view to profit, before the date of the patent. The inventor of a device is judged to be the first person to apply for a patent for that device.

The Patents Act 1883 provides that the exhibition of an invention at an exhibition certified as such by the Board of Trade, or the publication of any description of the invention during the period of the exhibition, or its use for the purpose of the exhibition in the place where it is held, or during the period of the exhibition by any person elsewhere, without the knowledge or consent of the inventor, should not prejudice the right of the inventor to apply for and obtain a patent, or the validity of any patent granted on the device, provided that two conditions are complied with: first, that the exhibitor must, before exhibiting the invention, give the Comptroller-General a prescribed notice of his intention to do so; and, secondly, that the application for the patent must be made before or within six months from the date of the opening of the exhibition.

Patents must be for devices to be used within the United Kingdom, at least in part.


Applying for a patent: The application must contain a declaration that the applicant is the true and first inventor, and it must be accompanied by either a provisional or complete specification as to what the device or idea does. It must be completely described, in detail. Rough specifications are not enough. Provisional patents should be filled out only if the inventor feels that he requires immediate protection.

The inventor must only describe the invention he wants the patent for: the patent does not cover any future improvements of the device.


Length of a patent: The length of a patent is 14 years. The inventor may petition the courts for an extension to the patent, which the court may grant if they feel that the inventor has not been sufficiently remunerated. Extensions are usually seven years. Only in exceptional cases will they be fourteen.


Licensing patents: Patent privileges may be sold or licensed. By means of a licence a patentee may derive benefit from his patent without entering into trade and without running the risks of a partnership. It is one way for an inventor to easily recoup his outlay.


Infringement of a patent: An inventor who has had his patent infringed can only proceed via a civil suit. If the ‘infringer’ has come up with some new way of producing the same effect – for example, a new type of improved screw propeller, it is not considered to be an infringement. But if the person has borrows the substance of the invention, then it is an infringement.


Cost of a patent: It costs £100, from 1892 onwards, to patent an invention for 14 years. The money may be paid in instalments. There is a preliminary few (included in the £100 cost) of £4 which must be paid before the patent comes into effect. The patentee must pay the rest of the money according to the table below (note: this is only for Gas-Lamp London):


Before end of:             Money to be paid         Total paid

4th year                        £5                                £9

5th year                        £6                                £15

6th year                        £7                                £22

7th year                        £8                                £30

8th year                        £9                                £39

9th year                        £10                              £49

10th year                      £11                              £60

11th year                      £12                              £72

12th year                      £13                              £85

13th year                      £15                              £100


Of course, if the inventor can afford it, he may pay the entire £100 up front.


The Patent Office: The Patent Office is in London, and is run under the auspices of the Board of Trade. They comprise Southampton Buildings running into Staple Inn, on the southern side of High Helborn. It is located near Chancery Lane underground railway station.

At this office is kept a register of all patents issued, of assignments of patents, licences granted under them, and so on. An illustrated journal of patent inventions is published at the same office, where printed copies of all specifications can also be obtained.

In 1892, the date that the current costs for patents came into effect, 30,952 patents were applied for.


Making money from patents: This will depend on the individual invention, and how desirable it will be for people to have, and the ratio of costs to selling price. As a rule of thumb, though, a character might expect to earn an average of £1 a month from his inventions. This will allow him, over a 14 year period, to earn around £68 per invention, a great deal of money in these times (not taking into account the costs, of any, of designing it). Should the character produce several such inventions, it should end up as being an amount of income on which he can comfortably survive, even with paying for the cost of the patent.

A truly spectacular invention, such as a Phlogiston Regulator that actually works, would, of course, earn the inventor much more money than £1 a month, and would put him up there with the greats, such as Edison and Tesla and the others. Something like that would easily bring in £10 per month, and possibly more.

The character should keep track of all patents issued and what they’re currently earning in royalties.



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