With over 1.5 million patent applications filed at the Intellectual Property Office of the United Kingdom (UKIPO) over this period, the last 70 years have also been significant for innovation in Britain. From the automatic electric kettle, patented soon after The Queen’s accession, to the World Wide Web, British innovation has transformed our lives. At this historic milestone we reflect on a few particularly notable British inventions over Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.
Lets take a look at some everyday inventions and their profound impact
ATM – cash dispenser
The Automated Teller Machine – or ATM – is an unassuming invention that fundamentally changed the way people use banks. ATMs eliminated the need to wait in long queues during bank branch hours to withdraw money and encouraged customers to treat banks as both a brand and a ubiquitous service that is not tethered to a particular branch. Several teams are credited with devising a method for withdrawing cash from a bank after-hours, most notably John Shepherd-Barron, but the first patent for an ATM using the Personal Identification Number (PIN) system we still use today was filed by James Goodfellow in 1966 (UK Patent No. 1,197,183).
The first ATM was designed and installed by Shepherd-Barron at a Barclays branch in Enfield, London in 1967 - beating Goodfellow by a number of months. Shepherd-Barron is said to have been inspired by chocolate vending machines, wondering why there was not a similar machine for dispensing cash. Shepherd-Barron’s invention used cards with samples of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 to uniquely identify customers, whereas Goodfellow’s invention used a PIN system and a plastic punch card. Nowadays, credit cards commonly store customer information on a tiny computer chip, and ATMs additionally offer ease of use and anti-fraud measures.
DYSON – the bagless vacuum
The next invention demonstrates innovation on an individual level. When James Dyson developed the bagless vacuum cleaner, the basic technology used by vacuum cleaners had not changed significantly since inception in 1901. Dyson used the principles behind air movement in a cyclone to create a vacuum cleaner that would not clog and lose suction as it picked up dirt. Dyson’s first vacuum cleaner, the G-Force cleaner, required an amazing 5,172 prototypes to perfect before it was initially sold by catalogue in Japan. He patented his idea in 1986, but struggled to find a manufacturer in the UK, in part because the market for replacement cleaner bags was a lucrative after-market that manufacturers were not willing to cannibalise. However, when he did start to achieve commercial success in the UK by manufacturing and distributing his own product, other, more established manufacturers began to market their own versions of the bagless vacuum cleaner. It was Dyson’s patents that protected his exclusivity in the market, as he successfully enforced his intellectual property rights on (UK) EP0042723 in a high profile patent infringement case against Hoover UK in 2000. After the success of the case, Dyson said: “The patent system can work. I hope it encourages inventors who have their ideas stolen by multinationals to fight for their patent rights”.
Processors for portable computing
The final invention, and the one with arguably the biggest overall impact on our lives, is the ARM (formerly Advanced RISC Machine) processor. ARM processors can be found everywhere in the modern world, from over 95% of tablets and smartphones, to most cameras, smart devices and even cars; they are largely responsible for the explosion in portable computing. After helping design the BBC Micro whilst working at Acorn Computers, Sophie Wilson, along with Stephen Furber, set about exploring an idea developed by IBM called Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC). IBM had reportedly struggled for months using a large mainframe computer to simulate the instruction sets for their RISC processor, whereas Wilson was able to execute the simulations in her head. In 1985, just 18 months later, the first ARM-based processor, ARM1, was ready for commercial use.
Using the RISC architecture, Wilson was able to build a processor that contained an order of magnitude fewer transistors than its contemporaries whilst remaining equally capable. It is said that the efficiency of the processor was realised when, during testing, a fault led to the chip being powered only by the electricity leaking out of the rest of the test bed and it continued to function. Thus, the Advanced RISC Machine (ARM) processor was born. ARM processors were first used on a larger scale in devices made by Apple and Nokia before being adopted across the industry. ARM Holdings, one of several spinoffs from Acorn, then formed an innovative and successful licensing model from their patent portfolio covering ARM processors, earning fixed upfront license royalty fees for allowing customers such as Apple to build ARM-compatible processors with a custom micro-architecture of the customer's own devising. Presently, ARM processors facilitate low-power devices for the Internet of Things and are being adopted in laptops, servers, and supercomputers alike.
As evidenced by these three significant inventions, the 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign have been a hugely significant period for UK innovation. All of the inventions discussed above continue to evolve and make a difference to our everyday lives - aided significantly by patents that protect them. We are excited to see what the next decades will bring in terms of new inventive technology. If you would like to discuss a new invention that you would like protection for, then please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com.
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