The First Secret Patent
On 6 August 1855 one John Macintosh left a provisional specification at the Patent Office in London entitled 'Certain Improvements in the Application of Incendiary Materials to be Used in Warfare'. This was not the first time that Macintosh had applied for a patent. In fact, it was the fourth time that year, his previous ideas for 1855 being in the more peaceful fields of pens, springs, and matches. His application on 6 August is of particular interest for this book, however, because it became what may be the first example of the British government suppressing the publication of a patent specification.
Under the new Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852 an inventor was allowed a period of up to six months in which to perfect the idea outlined in the provisional specification. At any time before the six months expired a complete specification could be left at the Patent Office and the inventor could then declare an intention to proceed with his application for a patent. This Notice to Proceed would then be published in the Commissioners of Patents' Journal, giving the full title of the patent specification and the inventor's name. Under section 12 of the 1852 Act, anyone could now object to the application by writing to the commissioners. For example, an employer, a master, as he would expect to be called, might well object if he found one of his employees, one of his men, trying to take out a patent on some aspect of the master's manufacturing technique. Another inventor might well object when he noticed a colleague attempting to patent an invention he had trustingly thought they were planning to patent together. It must be remembered that no details of the specification were public knowledge at this confidential initial stage. Only the name of the inventor and the title of the specification were published. It follows