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This page highlights points in the evolution of patent law and the patenting of some major innovations.

Context is provided by the multi-page communications & media timeline on this site and a more detailed intellectual property chronology.

Note that commercial implementation often occurred several years after the first patent, with automatic transmissions in cars for example being patented in 1904 but implemented in 1937, diesel electric railway traction being patented in the 1890s but adopted commercially in 1934 and the first patent for methyl methacrylate polymers predating implementation by 58 years.


1449 John of Utynam gains 20 year patent of monopoly in England for method of making stained glass

1617 first numbered English patent (granted to Rathburn & Burges for "Engraving and Printing Maps, Plans &c")

1624 English Statute of Monopolies

1646 Joseph Jenkes gains flour mill patent in Massachusetts


1785 Arkwright's patent for spinning machines declared void for lack of adequate specification

1794 Philip Vaughan's ball bearing patent

1796 Watt's UK patent for steam engine

1836 US Patent Office established

1843 Nancy Johnson's hand-cranked icecream maker patent

1847 Richard Hoe patents rotary printing press

1849 Abraham Lincoln's buoy patent

1852 Patent Law Amendment Act (UK) launches modern patent regime, establishes The Patent Office

1859 fluorescent lighting

1863 Alfred Nobel's detonator patent

1866 Pierre Lallement's bicycle patent

1868 Mauser bolt-action rifle patent

1869 Canada's first federal Patent Act replaces provincial Patent enactments

1869 Thomas Edison's ticker tape patent

1873 Congress for Patent Reform in Vienna

1873 Levi Strauss jeans patent

1880 Hans Renold's bush roller chain patent

1882 Wienke's 'waiter's friend' corkscrew

1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property

1883 Patents, Designs & Trademarks Act 1883 (UK)

1885 Daimler Reitwagen patent

1885 Patent Monopoly Act (Japan)

1891 zip fastener

1892 bottle crown cap

1895 safety razor

1899 Mauser recoil-operated rifle patent

1903 Patents Act (Australia)

1903 Wright aircraft patent

1904 automatic transmission patent in US

1907 Bakelite

1909 Patents Act (Australia)

1922 self-winding wristwatch

1923 German patent term extended from 15 years to 18 years

1923 Canadian Patent Act introduces compulsory licensing of patented foods and medicines

1924 tetraethyl lead

1925 Hague Agreement Concerning the International Deposit of Industrial Designs

1930 Plant Patent Act (US)

1932 Rohwedder's bread slicer patent


1935 Knowles Committee on industrial property (Australia)

1935 Canadian Patent Act lowers term of patent from 18 to 17 years

1937 xerography

1938 ballpoint pen

1941 terylene polyester

1951 Dean Committee on industrial property (Australia)

1954 Royal Commission on Patents, Copyright & Industrial Design (Canada)

1959 NRDC v Commissioner of Patents (Australia)

1961 Sunbeam Corp v Morphy Richards (Australia)

1961 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (Union Internationale pour la Protection des Obtentions Végétales (UPOV))

1970 International Patent Co-operation Treaty

1971 Strasbourg Agreement Concerning the International Patent Classification (IPC)

1972 Gottschalk v. Benson (US)

1973 Franki Committee on industrial property (Australia)

1973 European Patent Convention

1975 US Patent Office renamed Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO)

1977 Patents Act (UK)

1977 Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purposes of Patents

1977 Graham Hart Pty Ltd v S W Hart & Co (Australia)


1978 European Patent Office (EPO) opened

1980 Industrial Property Advisory Committee (Australia)

1980 Diamond v Chakrabarty (US)

1981 Australian Patent Office report The Economic Implications Of Patents In Australia

1984 Windsurfing International Inc v Petit (Australia)

1987 Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 (Australia)


1991 IBM v Commissioner of Patents (Australia)

1991 establishment of Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO)

1993 The Role of Intellectual Property in Innovation report (Australia)

1994 Kwan v Queensland Corrective Services Commission (Australia)

1994 Appalat decision on software patents (US)

1995 Philips NV Gloeilampenfabrieken v Mirabella International (Australia)

1995 Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS)

1998 State Street Bank v. Signature Financial (US)

1999 Kingston Bond v Wickham Gensol (Australia)

2001 Welcome Real-Time SA v Catuity Inc (Australia)

2005 Grant v Commissioner of Patents (Australia)


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