Inventions and Official Secrecy: A History of Secret Patents in the United Kingdom

By T. O'Dell H. | Go to book overview

6
Introducing the Examiners

6.1 A Question in the House

Secret patents got off to a good start in the twentieth century when a question on them was asked in the House of Commons on 22 April 1901. William Redmond, MP for East County Clare, asked the Secretary of State for War to comment on the fact that two academics, who were also consultants to the War Office, had just applied for patents, in their own names, on improvements to detonators and explosives. William Redmond ( 1861-1917) was the younger brother of John Redmond ( 1851-1918), the leader of the Irish Nationalists at Westminster. His question on patents was the kind of question his party used, with good effect, continually to harass the government, at the time a radical Tory administration under the leadership of the Marquess of Salisbury and already embarrassed by its inability to bring the war in South Africa to an end. The question implied that some kind of corruption might be taking place, for the lay person, knowing that patents, like books, attract royalties for their authors, and that royalties by their very name must be of some consequence, would assume that great sums of money were involved. The Secretary of State had to give a full answer to the insinuation, and for the first time in Parliament some reasons were given for the policy on secret patents.

The two academics involved in the matter were Sir William Roberts ( 1843-1902), who was a professor of metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines, and Sir William Crookes ( 1832-1919), one of the most outstanding physical chemists of the time. They were both members of the Explosives Committee which the War Office had organized, under the chairmanship of Lord Rayleigh ( 1842-1919), to co-ordinate research and development in the United Kingdom and advise generally on explosive problems. The two patents concerned were BPN 5967 of 1901, entitled 'Detonators', to Sir William C. Roberts, and BPN 6513 of 1901, entitled 'Nitro-explosives', to Sir William Crookes. Neilher is found in the

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Inventions and Official Secrecy: A History of Secret Patents in the United Kingdom
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures viii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The First Secret Patent 4
  • 3 - The Secret Patents Act of 1859 19
  • 4 - Towards an Official Secrets Act 35
  • 5 - The Secrets of Two Technical Revolutions 49
  • 6 - Introducing the Examiners 62
  • 7 - Between the Wars 79
  • 2 - The Second World War 95
  • 9 - Making Wartime Procedure Permanent 113
  • 10 - The Last Secret Patent 129
  • List of References 140
  • Index 145
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