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Is Santa Claus giving away more than just presents?


Santa Claus isn’t real (allegedly). On the other hand, the more sensible amongst us can quite clearly see that his work on Christmas Eve cannot possibly be attributed to a colossal cartel of inebriated parents. This leaves just one option: Father Christmas relies on some seriously advanced technology to get the job done.

The only plausible explanation is that Santa is a prolific inventor behind some truly ground-breaking developments, including, according to one source, an “ion-shield of charged particles, held together by a magnetic field, surrounding his entire sleigh“. However, a brief patent search reveals few, if any, results that could actually be the work of Mr Claus. So is Santa missing a trick with his patent strategy and letting protection slip through his fingers like the crumbs of so many mince pies?

The law in the UK provides patent protection for useful inventions that are deemed to be new and clever enough. For an invention to be new it cannot have been disclosed to the public, but neither can it have been accessible by the public, regardless of whether or not anyone actually saw it. Even if we assume that the elves, reindeer and Mrs Claus have all signed extensive non-disclosure agreements, we are still left with the issue that jolly old Saint Nick has been using his inventions in public for over 100 years.

The important point is what has actually been made available to the public, and this depends on the circumstances of the disclosure (or should that be disclo-ho-ho-sure?). There is a difference between the public having an invention in their hands to measure and test, compared with situations in which they can only look at it. The disclosure must enable someone skilled in the relevant field of technology to work out how to build the invention. So the question is, from seeing the sleigh in flight or parked on a rooftop, would a skilled person be able to determine how Santa’s gadgets work? To answer this we need to look at some case law from the Courts, and to make such a task more palatable (and because it’s Christmas) this will be done in verse. *Ahem*

Display to the public discloses an invention,
even if no one pays any attention.
At least this is the position the Court has declared,
in a case that is known as Folding Attic Stairs…(Ltd).
But in Wagner International the High Court conferred,
and decided that no disclosure occurred,
when a spray gun was on view at a public event,
for the masses to handle to their hearts’ content.
The fact of the matter was they could not understand,
the inner mechanics of the invention in hand.
And in Lucas Batteries taking a car for a ride,
did not count as disclosure of the battery inside.
So from the above perhaps we can deduce,
that the golden egg is not known just by showing the goose.

So it would seem that if Santa’s tricks are “under the bonnet” (or “in the goose”) and cannot be discerned by inspection of the sleigh, no enabling public disclosure has occurred. If that is the case, he might want to consider protecting his inventions. But on the other hand, if he’s managed to keep them secret for this long, perhaps he’s better off just loading his sack and riding off on his one horse IP sleigh.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.

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