Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

3 posts from August 2023

24 August 2023

BIPC Oxfordshire – helping young people to succeed in business

It’s been a whirlwind year for our Business & IP Centre (BIPC) Oxfordshire. Although it’s still relatively new, we’ve already supported over 1,500 people with their start-ups and ideas, and all of our hard work was recently recognised in the form of an award from Libraries Connected.

We’re delighted that our work helping young people in enterprising activities and supporting them into business has been recognised by Libraries Connected - a membership organisation representing the public library services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - in the form of the Children's Promise Award. 

BIPC Oxfordshire receiving the Children's Promise Award from Libraries Connected
BIPC Oxfordshire receiving the Children's Promise Award from Libraries Connected

Of course, the BIPC doesn’t only support young people, but we’ve been particularly focused on younger generations here in Oxfordshire, partnering with local and national organisations to nurture their ambitions, and give them the skills to build their enterprise.

For the past two years we’ve been partnering with Oxfordshire Young Enterprise to host the end of year showcase. Last year alone, we had 75 students from 14 schools all over the county attend a special learning event where they pitched, exhibited and were interviewed on their projects.

We’ve additionally hosted individual school visits, including those for children special educational needs. This includes introductions to resources including our free market research databases including COBRA, which provides how-to guides on starting hundreds of different types of businesses.

For people making the first steps into business, we appreciate there can be barriers to accessing the knowledge that is mostly gained from experience. Having the tools to navigate the market is critical in so many sectors, and being able to offer access to some of these is something that makes us unique here in Oxfordshire. This is also why we’re also looking at cross-organisational approaches to link up with colleagues in Target Youth Support services to help young people who may not ordinarily have this access to get involved and gain skills they need, while also signing them up to benefit from a library membership more widely.

Beyond this, we’ve also been looking at how we can support companies or help people to create companies that support young people in education, wellbeing and other related activities.

Among the organisations to benefit from our services is GetFED. GetFED provide barista and business training for young people at risk of exclusion and exploitation. Through bespoke training sessions, the organisation supports young entrepreneurs with the basics of running a small business, developing barista skills and even project managing their own events.

Tim, founder of GetFED
Tim, founder of GetFED

The Drone Rules is another organisation that has been working closely with the BIPC. This unique organisation provides education for individuals and educational providers on all things drone-related – a technology that will be no doubt of interest to a lot of people.

William, founder of The Drone Rules
William, founder of The Drone Rules

BIPC Oxfordshire is certainly opening the doors for many young people and we hope we can continue to tap into the undiscovered skills of many more.

If you want to find out more about the work of BIPC Oxfordshire visit their website or head to the Centre, you can find them on the second floor of the Oxfordshire County Library in Oxford, with Locals in Bicester and Blackbird Leys Libraries.

Ryan Johnson – BIPC Engagement and Marketing Manager at Oxfordshire County Council

22 August 2023

An innovative history of the historic patent collection at the British Library

Sir Isaac Newton, once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” A few generations after, the Newtonian revolution in physics along with other discoveries of the time heralded in a new age of innovation, engineering and industry. Patents are the primary records of that step process in innovation. They’re a fascinating and invaluable ‘time capsule’ of brilliance (and occasional eccentricity).

Today, the British Library’s historical patent collection has become a world leading collection of historical IP documentation; not only from the UK, but from over 150 countries worldwide. No other collection at the Library captures better the progress of technology and commerce from the early 17th century to the present day.

And now, the British Library’s Business & IP Centre also sits on the shoulders of this gigantic treasure trove of patent, design and trademark information. In fact, it’s almost 170 years since it was first made available to the general public as the Library of the newly formed Patent Office. It really is a library within a library. The history and development of the collection offers us an intriguing insight into how much this information was prioritised managed valued, for researchers then as it is now. One report, by the US Commissioner of Patents in the 1860s described it as a ‘technological library unequalled by anything in America’.

I believe it still is.

The Alexander Newton statue outside of the British Library

Why a patent library?

From a practical point of view, a patent library is an essential part of being able to find (and provide evidence) that a new patent application is indeed an innovative step on what’s preceded it. One can view the history of these patents almost like a family tree of technical steps and developments, each building on the other.

Hot off the heels of the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852, establishing what we know as the Patent Office (the Intellectual Property Office today), came the Patent Office Library. It opened on the 5th March, 1855. Its formal title was ‘The Library of the Great Seal Patent Office’. To be clear, there were patents and records of them before 1852, managed by Court of Chancery, but the nucleus of the library were 388 books from Bennet Woodcroft, the Superintendent of Specifications and Indexes, and 707 books from Richard Prosser, an engineer closely associated with the Act.

The site was on 25 Southampton Buildings, off Chancery Lane. A site it would occupy in various forms and alterations until the 1990s. In 1891, due in part to an increase in the number of visitors to the Library, plans were drawn up to rebuild the entire site. This was undertaken in stages between 1893 and 1912, with the Library moving to temporary accommodation in 1898. A full library service was maintained during this time. The new Patent Office Library was designed in the cathedral style of library architecture by Sir John Taylor.

Patent office

War and Post-war

The Library continued to offer reading room services during the First World War, albeit with reduced hours and staffing levels. Visitor numbers predictably fell. And with the later onset of the Second World War, the library experienced a few near misses from incendiary bombs and a V1 flying bomb in 1944.

All during the war years, the need for a comprehensive scientific and technological network in the UK was apparent. And post-war, while widespread support was seen for a national library of science and technology, there was considerable debate on whether the British Museum or the Patent Office collections would form the basis of the new library. The debate was settled in 1959, when a Working Party on the issue recommended the new library should be based on both collections, and put under the control of the British Museum Trustees. And this, in hindsight, was what took it a step closer to the custodianship we have today.

In April 1966, the Patent Office Library formally transferred from the control of the Board of trade to the British Museum and became the National Reference Library of Science and Invention, (NRLSI Holborn division). In the late 1960s it was decided that there was a need to create better links between the UK’s major lending and reference libraries. To that end, the National Libraries Committee was formed in 1967, which recommend the creation of a national library system in 1969.

The British Library is founded

And so, the British Library was created on the 1st July 1973 as a result of the British Library Act which was enacted in 1972. Under the Act the following institutions were administratively combined to form the British Library: the library departments of the British Museum (including the NRLSI), the National Central Library, and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology.

The NRLSI was renamed the Science Reference Library upon joining the British Library and then in 1985 it was restructured to become the reference arm of the Science Technology and Industry Division (being renamed the Science Reference and Information Service (SRIS) in the process).

The British Library under construction

1998

The next most significant turning point was the opening of the St Pancras site of the British Library and the rehousing of the patent collection. The collection had its own floor (level 2 where the Newsroom currently is). But it wasn’t until 2006 that the Business & IP Centre as we know it today was formally opened. It was a unique opportunity to merge two distinct, but related collections; business & intellectual property under one umbrella. And so came a physical alteration to the space that included meeting rooms and the well-used networking area space.

All this was with an aim to offer a comprehensive range of resources, workshops events and services to support small businesses from the first spark of inspiration to forming and growing their business. Inspired by how the New York Public utilised its Science, Industry and Business collection it was a model that resembles how the Centre operates today at the British Library and now across a national network of over 20 Business & IP Centres.

But today, there is a very special merger that’s not only about business and intellectual property. It’s connecting the past with the present. Our current intellectual property advice and expertise would likely not exist were it not for the historic patent collection. So as we look ahead to what a tumultuous 21st century could bring, it’s somehow reassuring that the firm anchor of the past will continue to guide the innovators, problem solvers and entrepreneurs of the future.

Woman in the BIPC reading room at the reference desk, being helped by a member of staff

 

Co-written by Jeremy O’Hare Research and Business Development Manager at the BIPC and Steven Campion, Subject Librarian at the British Library

17 August 2023

A few of our favourite things about the British Library

Did you know that the British Library is home to over 200 million collection items? Occupying over 746km of total shelving, growing an extra 8km every year, our St Pancras site houses inventions that date back thousands of years, as well as new technology from our digital age.

To continue our celebrations for the British Library's 50th anniversary, we asked our BIPC team what their favourite facts about the Library are, as well as their favourite inventions.

Here's what they came up with:

Meron

  • ‘My favourite fact about the British Library is that it’s an unusual and uniquely built building that resembles a ship. Prior to becoming an architect, Colin St John Wilson was a naval lieutenant... This now makes sense!’ - Meron, Reference Specialist 

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  • 'My favourite invention is the Starship delivery robots in Milton Keynes. I love the innovative solution for local deliveries. They are completely autonomous and the robots can sense when they need to move out of the way. Since they can deliver a small grocery shop, it’s a great solution particularly for people less able to leave their homes. Also, they’re surprisingly cute!' - Claire, Head of Reference Services 

Jeremy

  • 'I find it amazing that as you walk through the British Library there are four levels of football pitch sized floors of information beneath your feet; the lowest basement sitting beneath the Piccadilly line. I find the historical patent collection just an endless treasure trove of incredible inventions that have changed what is even possible. My favourites are the aviation patents. The Wright Brother’s and Frank Whittle’s aviation patents. Like so many of us, I took one of these ‘flying machines’ to go on holiday somewhere warm and didn’t even consider the marvel of it.' - Jeremy, Research & Business Development Manager

Isabel Oswell5

  • 'I have thick and often unruly hair and couldn’t live without my trusty Tangle Teezer™.  Shaun Pulfrey, inventor and founder of the eponymous company, came to the Business & IP Centre when it had recently opened to see if he could protect his innovative design and now, over 15 years later, he has patented the brush in over 30 countries. Each brush design is also protected by design rights and the name Tangle Teezer™ is also protected as a trade mark.  Shaun also took part in our scale-up programme, now called Get Ready for Business Growth in 2014-15 and in 2021 he hit revenues of £43.5 million and sold a majority stake to Mayfair Equity Partners for around £70 million.  This is an incredible achievement by Shaun and his team and we like to think that we made a positive contribution to their successful business journey.' - Isabel, Head of Business Audiences

V2 10834 BIPC National Network Presentation map_2022_3

  • 'Apart from the amazing free business support the BIPC National Network provides, the most impressive aspect is its geographical spread. It would take just over six days and 458 grueling miles to walk from the most southern point of the BIPC National Network (BIPC Devon Local in Paignton) to its most northern point (BIPC Glasgow in the Mitchell Library).' - Billy, Project Administrator

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  • 'My favourite invention is the printing press. The democratisation of text ushered in the second information age in Europe by allowing for the mechanical mass production of books and broadsheets. With greater demand for written materials, the invention also fostered translations of popular texts that could be disseminated to the public rather than remaining within the church or royal courts. The British Library’s Treasures exhibit displays one of Gutenberg’s bibles, the first book printed with moveable type in Western Europe, as well as a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales printed by William Caxton, the first book printer in England.'  - Amy, Growth Programme Service Liaison Manager

Simon

  • 'My favourite invention would have to be either the Printing Press, or the Electric Guitar!' - Simon, MI and Project Coordinator

Jordan

  • ‘If you see five items each day, it would take you over 80,000 years to see the whole of the Library's collection.’ - Jordan, BIPC Workshop and Events Administrator 

Exterior_7

  • ‘Our science blog recently posted some interesting facts about the hidden 'wild' features of the British Library: "the British Library hosts a permanent show of animal fossils, hiding in plain sight. As you cross the Piazza on a visit to the Library you tread on limestone, formed in the early Cretaceous period (145 and 100 million years ago - Ma) in a warm, shallow sea, teeming with life. You can also find fossilised sea sponge outside the Conference Centre, as well as calcareous algal pellets and various fossil shells on the floors inside the British Library".' - Alyssa, Project Coordinator 

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  • ‘The British Library collects words, written and spoken. Its sound archives collect oral history to bring back stories and accounts, like for the BBC programme Aids: The Unheard Tapes. I felt proud of the British Library’s contribution to the programme, which brought personal stories back to life, turning the programme into compelling viewing.’ - Elisabetta, Project Administrator