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Will the 2014 Longitude Prize winner patent their technology?

23rd Jun 2014

You may have seen the recent news surrounding the launch in Britain of the 2014 Longitude Prize. This 2014 prize has nothing to do with longitude but is named for the original prize, offered 300 years ago in 1714, by the British Government as a reward to encourage scientists to solve the problem of how to measure longitude accurately.

John Harrison, a clock maker, finally solved the original longitude problem with his marine chronometer. Less than five minutes from our London office, in Red Lion Square, Holborn, there is a plaque dedicated to Harrison on the site of the house where Harrison once lived.

The UK patent system was already well established in 1714 requiring that “the patentee must by an instrument in writing describe and ascertain the nature of the invention and the manner in which it is to be performed”. Whilst Harrison did not patent any of his clocks, John Arnold went on to simplify Harrison’s design enabling accurate marine chronometers to made cost effectively in large quantities and did protect his advances with patents.

300 years on, the new prize fund of £10million (about ten times larger in relative value than the original 1714 prize) is offered in return for a solution to a problem facing the modern world which will be selected by the British public (BBC Horizon launch) from the list of six contending problems:

  • Flight – how to achieve low environmental impact flight
  • Dementia – how to enable dementia suffers to live independently for longer
  • Food – how to ensure everyone has sustainable and nutritious food
  • Paralysis – how to restore movement to paralysed people
  • Water – how to ensure access to safe and clean water
  • Antibiotics – how to prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics

As a UK and European patent attorney with an engineering background, the concept of finding a solution to a problem is extremely familiar. The solution to any of these problems will almost certainly be patentable and it will be interesting to see how quickly the publicity and financial reward will prompt the innovation required to solve the selected problem and whether any such innovation will be matched by an increase in patent filings. Of course, the solution to any of these problems, if patented, may generate a worldwide licensing revenue which could make the prize fund seem insignificant.

I voted for my favourite and watched to see which challenge won. The criteria for how to win the £10 million prize is now being finalised and I will be intrigued to see when the first submissions are filed and how the competition develops.

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 any action in reliance on it.

Julie Richardson
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Julie Richardson who will be able to help. Call +44 (0)20 7242 0901


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