Here’s one of our Articles in celebration of World IP Day, and published on the UK Intellectual Property Office’s website here

Imagine for a moment that you have been launched back a few hundred years and landed smack(!) in the middle of the Dark Ages. Lost and alone, your first instinct is to pull out your mobile phone to find your location on Google maps and call a loved one who will then hop into their car to come and get you. Or perhaps they may tell you to meet them at the nearest station. A sinking feeling of dwindling hope is bound to befall you upon the realisation that none of these options, which are so much a part of your everyday life in the 21st century, are open to you here.  It is only with the fanciful imaginations, tireless dedication and a bit of faith from inventive minds that many of the systems and tools we use are available to us today.

The first mobile phone, invented by Dr Martin Cooper of Motorola, was a far cry from present-day improvements. The invention, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, formed the platform for mobile telephone development and a patent disclosing the invention was filed as a “radio telephone system” (1973). Most mobile telephones currently come equipped with a number of additional features, such as various applications and internet access capabilities.

Say ‘internet’ and the first associative word that jumps to mind is ‘Google’. So much so in fact, that the noun is now also considered a verb. The internet without Google is akin to a compass without a needle. The Google vision was spawned in 1998 by then-university students from Stanford, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Google as we know it stemmed from their initial back link search engine, BackRub. Google Inc currently has over 5000 patents filed.

Instant and convenient access to data is arguably the most attractive feature of Google. In the same vein, transport modes and systems provide the same advantages by providing convenient and speedy access to locations. The idea of automobiles can be traced back to the minds of Leonardo de Vinci, Flemish missionary Ferdinand Verbiest, Dutch scientist Christian Huygens, French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, British inventors William Murdoch and Richard Trevithick, Russian inventor Ivan Kulibin and ultimately, Karl Benz whose invention culminated in the world’s first successful automobile. Speeding travel up a notch, Charles Pearson was the first to propose the underground train transport system, and the idea of a pneumatic tube subway was first patented by Alfred Beach (1865).

All of these inventions, would of course, be futile without the use of electricity. The discovery of electricity led to experimentation which enabled further understanding thereof. Systems were thus developed which facilitated the power distribution system presently used for access to electricity. This system is heavily based on the discoveries and inventions of Nikola Tesla, who protected his intellectual property with 30 patents. Along with George Westinghouse’s patented transformer invention, Tesla’s developments enabled safe and convenient power access.

Aside from these inventions which have aided convenience in everyday life, there are many which have been developed out of necessity, for instance medical devices such as MRI and ultrasound, vaccines and antibiotics. Whilst MRI was developed by Peter Lauterbur and Paul Mansfield, it was Raymond Damadian who recognised and patented its use in medicinal practice for imaging and diagnosis. OECD Health Data statistics in 2009 indicated that of 30 assessed countries, an average of 41.3 MRI scans/1000 people were conducted, with the US taking the lead with an average of 91.2 scans/ 1000 people. Since the invention of ultrasound in 1957 by Ian Donald, a number of ultrasound devices have been patented. Ultrasound is now commonly used in imaging of internal body structures and tissues.

The discovery and method of vaccination was however, not patented by its developer, Edward Jenner (who developed the smallpox vaccination). Smallpox is estimated to have killed 300million people in the 20th century. Jenner believed that patenting this method with limit progress in implementing life saving measures. Alexander Fleming is credited with the discovery and application of the first antibiotic, penicillin, (not patented for much the same reason as Jenner’s). A large number of patents now exist in the area of antibiotics and vaccinations. Medical devices and treatment methods thus form an integral part of protected intellectual property and have stemmed from both creative and scientific avenues of investigation.

And so, it is from the creativity and endless inquisitive minds of the few that vision and application have been demonstrated to benefit and aid in societal progression. As Ted Levitt so eloquently put it, “Just as energy is the basis of life itself, and ideas the source of innovation, so is innovation the spark of all human change, improvement and progress”. The combination of imagination and sound creative implementation forms the essence of societal progression.

By Ghabiba Weston

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