Innovation and enterprise blog

284 posts categorized "Entrepreneurs"

06 March 2023

Lizzie Magie and the history of Monopoly

For last year’s Women’s History Month, I wrote a blog post highlighting seven female patentees who I felt deserved more recognition. Whilst I was happy with how the blog post turned out, I was less happy with just how much the stories had to be condensed in order to best fit a list format.

So this year, I’ve decided to revisit that blog post and flesh out the story of one of the female patentees in particular. Namely, one Lizzie Magie – the board game pioneer, who forever changed the way we would spend time (read: argue) with our friends and family over Christmas.

This blog post will also discuss some key events in the history and development of Monopoly. Events crucial to understanding how Magie’s contributions, and so place in history, were deliberately minimised, if not erased, by a handful of men.

 

The ‘official’ line

First let us look at the ‘official’ Monopoly creation story. The following version was given on the instructions for the 1973 US edition of the board game:

PARKER BROTHERS Real Estate Trading Game MONOPOLY was invented during the Great Depression by Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania. Mr. Darrow, like many other Americans, was unemployed at the time and he worked out the details of the game primarily to amuse himself during this period. Prior to the Depression, Darrow and his wife vacationed in the resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey. When it came to naming the streets on the game board, Darrow naturally adopted those of his favourite vacation spot.

It was an often touted example of the American Dream, that for a long time was fairly well known throughout the world. Even today, you can still find examples of this story being given as the true history of the board game. The problem is, the story is a lie. We’ll move onto Charles Darrow, as well as how the actual true version of events was rediscovered, in time, but for now let us turn our attention to the true star of this blog post – Lizzie Magie.

a black and white photo of Lizzie Magie, white woman with short wavy hair (photo from wikimedia commons)

 

A quick biography of Lizzie Magie

Lizzie Magie was born in 1866 in Macomb, Illinois. Her father, James Magie, was a keen supporter of Georgism, and a great proponent of equality. Traits that were certainly passed down to his daughter.

At this early juncture, it’s probably best to talk more on Georgism, as this will come up again (spoilers: very importantly so) later on. Georgism developed from the writings of Henry George, a popular nineteenth century politician and economist, who in his 1879 work ‘Progress and Poverty’ proposed a single tax on land values (replacing all other taxes). George believed that someone should own 100% of what they have made, but everything found in nature should belong to everyone. Proponents of Georgism believe the single tax would lead to economic equality. With that hopefully better understood, let us return back to Magie.

In 1890 (ish), Magie and her family moved to Washington DC, where she would find work as a stenographer and typist at the Dead Letter Office. Here every piece of undeliverable mail was sent to be investigated, sorted, and, ultimately, disposed of. Only the staff at this Office had the power to open mail, and many turned detective to reunite mail and owner.

In her free time, Magie would write poetry and short stories, and would act and perform comedic routines on stage. She also clearly had an aptitude for invention, for in 1893 she was granted US patent no. 498,129 for an improvement she designed for Hammond class typewriters. Her invention reduced the size of the margins on the page, thus allowing for more typed words per page. I can’t find any evidence of this patent being utilised, however it should be noted that this patent was obtained when less than 1% of all US patents were being granted to women.

Patent for Lizzie Magie's typewriter

Magie was also a proud feminist, and wrote and spoke on the subject throughout her life. She had no desire to lose her independence by being married young, which was the norm at the time. Instead, she worked hard, and saved well, so that she was able to buy her own house and land. To bring the struggles of women in the US to the public’s attention, particularly with regards to low wages, she placed an advertisement in which she offered herself as a ‘young woman American slave’ for sale to the highest bidder. The stunt brought the press to her door, which allowed her to articulately expand on her point further.

Magie would eventually start teaching Georgism in the evenings, but quickly became frustrated by her limited reach. By now, single tax proponents were dwindling in America, in large because the charismatic and well-liked George had passed away. Magie eagerly sought a way to spread her views more widely, and soon settled on a board game as the ideal solution. At this point in time, board games had started to become more commonplace in middle class homes, as mass production made them cheaper to manufacture, and thus more readily available.

So Magie got to work, and by the end of 1903 had created a board game titled ‘The Landlord’s Game’, to which US patent no. 748,626 was granted on the 5th January 1904.

 

The Landlord’s Game

By looking at the illustration (below) of the game board Magie supplied alongside her patent specification, the similarities with Monopoly can clearly be seen.

Patent image of the Landlord's Game

Some of its notable features are: a continuous path for players to circle over-and over again (most board games at the time had a set path with a clear start and end point), collecting wages for passing the starting point, four railroads, a ‘go to jail’ corner space (complete with a corresponding ‘jail’ corner space), a public park space (a precursor for free parking), property spaces which the players would buy and sell with play money and deed cards, etc.

Originally the object of the game was to obtain wealth. Magie would later refine the game to have two sets of rules in order to better make her point. A monopolist set (known as Monopoly), in which the goal was to create monopolies and force others out of business, and an anti-monopoly set (known as Prosperity) in which all players were rewarded during wealth creation. Magie believed this approach would demonstrate to the players that the anti-monopoly version was the morally correct choice. Both in game, and, of course, in the real world. As the rules of the 1932 edition of the game stated:

The Landlord’s Game shows why our national housekeeping has gone wrong and Prosperity Game shows how to start it right and keep it going right’.

In 1906, Magie moved to Chicago where, along with some friends, she founded the Economic Game Company in order to sell her game. While never really a sales success, copies were sold to college lecturers (who used it as a teaching aid), just as Magie hoped. In 1910, Magie submitted the game to Parker Brothers, but they decided against publishing it.

As an interesting side note, The Landlord’s Game found its way over to the UK in 1913, where it was sold as ‘Bre'r Fox and Bre'r Rabbit’. Despite a change in title and appearance, the game played largely the same. Unfortunately it did not sell well, making it a rare and valuable game today. So one to look out for at a car boot sale.

In 1924 Magie patented a revision for the game (as the term of the original patent had expired), and this version was sold by the Adgame Company. Again, it wasn’t a huge success.

At this point we’ll Leave Magie for a while, but we won’t be leaving The Landlord’s Game.

 

Students and Quakers

Unbeknown to Magie, The Landlord’s Game was becoming popular among the college students who had played the game in their economics classes. Copies soon began to spread from friend group to friend group, from locale to locale, in the Northeast of the US. Unfortunately, none of these copies were the version Magie produced. At the time, it was fairly common to create homemade versions of published board games, and this is how The Landlord’s Game was spreading.  

The fact that the board games were homemade, meant changes could creep in. Sometimes new house rules would be added to the ruleset. Other times, the locations on the game board would be fully changed to reflect the local area (something Monopoly would later do itself, to great success).

Unfortunately the meaning of the game became somewhat lost as people soon realised that it was actually more fun to dominate as a landlord, and bankrupt ones friends and family. So much so, that the Prosperity ruleset was eventually left to one-side entirely, and so the game became increasingly known as ‘The Monopoly Game’ or just ‘Monopoly’.

For a detailed account of how the game spread, I would recommend reading ‘The Monopolists’ by Mary Pilon, but it’s worth briefly mentioning the Quakers, who readily embraced the game, and whose ranks it quickly spread through. This group would go on to add fixed prices to the properties and change the street names to ones found in Atlantic City. The same street names that are familiar to anyone who has played the original US version of Monopoly.

It is at this point, in 1932 (28 years after Magie’s original patent) that Charles Darrow finally enters the story.

Black and white image of Charles Darrow, white man with short hair in a suit smiling at camera

 

Charles Darrow

In 1932, Charles Todd bumps into his childhood friend, Esther Jones, whilst out on a walk. They had lost touch after leaving their Quaker school, and so made plans to catch up over dinner, along with their spouses. Their friendship was soon renewed, and so Todd would go on to invite Jones and her husband over for a board game night. They played a homemade version of Monopoly, and Jones and her husband, one Charles Darrow, were immediately hooked. Todd would go on to make Darrow his own version of the board game, for which Darrow insisted he provide a clear written set of the rules.

The US was in the middle of the Great Depression, and Darrow had indeed lost his job. Given the circumstances, it’s not my place to judge or question Darrow, but he soon decided to try and sell the game as his own. He asked his friend, the political cartoonist, Franklin ‘F. O.’ Alexander to work on the design. Some accounts list his contributions as including the now iconic ‘human’ characters seen on the game board. These are (and the following may help at your next pub quiz) Rich Uncle Pennybags, Jake the Jailbird, and Officer Edgar Mallory. It is likely he also designed much of the illustrations that have remained mostly unchanged, such as the tap and light bulb seen on the utility spaces, and the question mark seen on the chance spaces and cards.

Originally Darrow made his version of Monopoly with a round game board made out of oilcloth. By 1934 he had moved onto a cardboard square board which was sold at a local department store. He used his initial profits to refine his version further and after some sales success, the game would go on to be bought by Parker Brothers in 1935. The same year Darrow and Parker Brothers obtained US Patent no. 2,026,082 for the board game. Monopoly sold 278,000 units in 1935, and in 1936 it sold 1,751,000. The game was an unprecedented success.

Soon after the deal with Parker Brothers was made, Darrow was asked by the President of the company for a written account of how he came up with the idea. This is where Darrow told his lie that would go on to be repeated for years to come.

Let us now return to Magie as we continue the story.

 

Magie re-enters the scene

Parker Brothers soon discovered Darrow wasn’t telling the truth, and became worried about Magie and her 1924 patent. So in November of 1935, George Parker himself visited the now 70 year old Magie. He told her the company had come across her board game and wanted to sell it (along with two other board games she subsequently created). Magie was obviously delighted by the prospect of her board game finally being mass produced and sold widely, and so accepted $500 for her patent. No royalties were offered. Parker Brothers would publish copies of all three games, but soon let them fade away after little advertising.

In 1936, Magie was of course shocked to see Monopoly on sale, especially as someone called Darrow was listed as the inventor. She wanted some form of payback, and decided to fight back via the press (one such article can be seen here). The story was hardly front page news and was soon forgotten.

Monopoly went on to be a huge worldwide success, Darrow became the first board game millionaire, and Magie was all but forgotten. Until the 1970s that is.

 

The truth emerges

In 1973, Ralph Anspach, an economics professor at San Francisco State University, released a board game designed to teach players about the ills of real world monopolies. The game was fittingly titled ‘Anti-Monopoly’, and it quickly became a modest counter-culture hit.

Predictably, it wasn’t long before the owners of Monopoly sent Anspach a cease and desist letter due to, what they considered, an infringement on their trade mark. Anspach ignored the letter.

During the near decade long legal battle which would follow, Anspach, as part of his defence, would thoroughly examine the history of Monopoly, in which everything you’ve read here (and lots more) was uncovered. He was able to prove that the board game had existed for many years before Darrow, and found surviving homemade versions of the game from the 1910s and 1920s (several of which even had the words ‘Monopoly’ blazoned across the middle).

Monopoly ad

 

Conclusion

Despite what I said in my introduction, this is still a very condensed version of a much larger story. I can wholeheartedly recommend ‘The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game’ by Mary Pilon, if you would like to dive deeper still.

I’m very happy to say that Lizzie Magie is not as forgotten as she once was. There is now plenty of media out there that details her place in history, and I’m happy to be a part of that.

She is now rightfully recognised as being the originator of Monopoly, and as such is considered a leading figure in the development of board games. However I’m not sure how happy she would be that the board game she designed to highlight the faults of monopolies, ended up becoming a celebration of them.

One last thing, as we are the British Library, it would be amiss of me not to at least quickly mention the British version of Monopoly which came out in 1936. It was localised by Waddingtons to have the London street names probably familiar to most of you reading this. Above is an advert from a 1936 London toy catalogue from our Trade Literature Collection, announcing Monopoly as the ‘game that has taken America by storm’. It would of course go on to take Britain, and much of the world, by storm too.

 

Written by Steven Campion, curator of our historical patents collection. For more information on intellectual property, visit us at the Business & IP Centre or online: bl.uk/bipc.

12 January 2023

2022: Our Year In Business

As we enter a new and exciting year at the Business & IP Centre, we cannot wait to help even more entrepreneurs from all walks of life to start, protect and scale their businesses across the country. Before we jump in, we want to take a moment to reflect on all of the amazing things we got up to in 2022. This was a year that saw the 10th anniversary of the BIPC National Network and the return of in-person events. let’s recap all our achievements from last year.

The London Network keeps on growing

photo from greenwich launch, Warren King Photography

2022 was a busy year for our London network, with three more London boroughs joining our rapidly expanding National network. We welcomed Lewisham and Greenwich in September, and Bromley a month later. Through our existing partnership with Waltham Forest, that now brings our business support services to the heart of five London boroughs.

Reset. Restart returns

reset restart graphic banner

In May we welcomed the return of Reset. Restart, a series of free webinars and in-person events around our National Network aimed at supporting businesses in recovering from Covid and in navigating a post-pandemic world. This year we've had over 1,140 people attend these events and benefit from the free expert advice and support on offer.

Creative entrepreneurs got ready for growth

Zoom screenshot of get ready for business growth attendees

After our previous scale-up programme came to an end in January of last year, a new, national programme for creative businesses launched in August to fill the hole. Funded by Arts Council England, our Get Ready for Business Growth programme is only in it's second delivery round & we are already supporting 50 entrepreneurs across the UK in various creative fields. From artisan homeware to theatre and dance companies, we're here to help those in the creative sector who may have pivoted during the pandemic, or are looking for new ways to to grow sustainably. 

Libraries mean business

photo of camera filming the trailer

Did you know, there's more going on in libraries than you think? After filming our trailer in July, we premiered in December across social media, our newsletter and Sky video on demand. We loved having Cultureville, Paradise Cycles and Okan London, as well as our own British Library reference team member, Seema, be involved. What might you find in between the shelves of your local library?

 

We welcomed you back in person

photo from Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Building the Black Economy event

October saw the return of in-person events in the form of Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Building the Black Economy. We heard from a panel of Black entrepreneurs who are building empires online and discussed the power of the Black economy with Swiss, founder of Black Pound Day.

 

Celebrating 10 years of national business support

 

banner celebrating the national network anniversary

This year we also celebrated our National Network's 10th anniversary and welcomed two new Centres, BIPC Cumbria and BIPC Southampton. Since launching, we’ve attracted 185,000+ attendees through events, workshops and webinars, helped create 19,000+ businesses and 12,000+ jobs, supported 10,000+ existing businesses and helped safeguard 4,000+ existing businesses.

 

In 2023 we've got even more in store for entrepreneurs from all walks of life to start, protect and scale successful businesses both in London and around the UK.

 

11 November 2022

A day in the life of Ronke Jane Adelakun, co-founder of Cultureville

This month we are following the co-founder of Manchester-based African-inspired fashion brand, Cultureville, who specialises in hand-crafted clothing and accessories that feature bold African wax prints in contemporary designs. We'll hand over to Ronke Jane to find out what a typical day is like running the business...

In the life of an entrepreneur, each day is unique and in my role as the co-founder and Creative Director of fashion brand Cultureville, this is certainly true. Within the span of a week, my days can vary from having a glamorous shoot on one day to a grueling day of accounting and admin the next, but that’s part of what makes it enjoyable.

I’m constantly being challenged, learning and developing. An added benefit for me is that I get to do it all with my sister, co-founder and best friend, Adeola. Although there is no “typical” day for me, here is what an average day in my life can look like.

Ronke Jane and Adeola
Ronke Jane and Adeola

My day typically begins at 10am, one of the perks of working for yourself is that you get to choose your own hours and as a night owl, I definitely take advantage of this on days where I don't have early meetings. I start my day by praying and reading the bible before getting ready for the day ahead. While I enjoy working from home, I find that I'm more productive in a work space, so I head over to our co-working space whenever I can.

11.00 – 11.30

To help shape my day, I start by writing a to-do list of the tasks that I need to get done and order them by priority. My co-founder and I have weekly strategy meetings which I use as the basis of my to-do list. I usually select four tasks to complete each day – two relatively easy, two more challenging. I think starting your week off by achieving something difficult makes you feel like you can do anything so I try to kick off my week by getting something challenging crossed off my list.

11.30 – 13.30

As the Creative Director of Cultureville I lead our digital marketing and communication efforts so some of my tasks include formulating our content strategy, planning our shoots, designing for upcoming collections and communicating with our mailing list. The first portion of my day is usually dedicated to one of these tasks.

13.30 – 14.30

As a late riser, I tend to do brunch rather than breakfast and I like to break for brunch after I've gotten into the swing of my day. For me, getting started is the hardest part of completing a task so I tend to take my break midway through so I can just pick up where I left off.

14.30 – 19.00

I like to switch between admin and creative tasks to stay engaged, so if my first task was something admin heavy like crafting a content calendar, I'll try to lighten it up with something more fun in the afternoon like creating a reel or writing a blog.

19.30 – 21.00

We are huge proponents of work/life balance at Cultureville therefore our social schedules tend to be packed. In addition to my role at Cultureville, I’m a poet and spoken word artist so in my evenings I can often be found performing at open-mic nights. On the days where I'm not performing, Adeola and I can be found hanging out with friends, either at a games night or dinner.

21.00 – 23.00

If we haven’t had dinner by this point then we’ll head home, rustle up something and curl up on the couch with a good Netflix show. The evenings are when I spend quality time catching up with my family

23.00 – 1.30

I really enjoy working at night , the world is quiet and I can focus so this is the time I dedicate to editing videos for Cultureville. I usually wrap up by 2am and head straight to bed.

While running a business can be extremely challenging, I am lucky to have a job that allows me to use all my skills and pursue my talents wholeheartedly. It’s so fulfilling to see all that work come to fruition when someone wears our items for a special occasion like their wedding and to know I played a part in their story.

09 November 2022

Celebrating small businesses this festive season

Small businesses in the UK have had a lot to contend with in the last few years, however, the UK’s brilliant independent retailers are among the most hardy in their sector. Figures from the Local Data Company have revealed that the independent retail and leisure sector was more resilient to the impact of Covid-19 compared to national chains with five or more outlets.* In this blog we are celebrating their incredible achievements and contributions, both economic and creative. We have curated a selection of some fantastic products from small businesses around the UK who have used the BIPC services, to help you narrow down the search for that perfect gift.

For those with a sweet tooth

Klara's Gingerbread products with a festive theme

One business who received support from BIPC Leeds City Region, Klara’s Gingerbread, makes and hand decorates gingerbread biscuits; each piece made using a traditional Hungarian recipe and carefully decorated by hand making a perfect edible Christmas decoration. Lactose free and vegan versions are available. Klara also runs workshops, both in Leeds and remotely for all ages to relax, have fun and learn how to decorate their own gingerbreads.

Cost: Between £2 – £50

Where to buy? Klara’s Gingerbread

Raise a glass

Selfish Spirits bottle held by a man

Selfish Spirits is an ethically conscious spirit brand based in Skipton, aiming to make the world a little bit better through supporting charitable causes and being as sustainable as possible wherever they can. Their signature product is a dark spiced rum made from molasses from Guyana and fermented and distilled in the UK. It has all-natural flavourings of vanilla, caramel, Mexican lime and a touch of blood orange.

Cost: £34.95

Where to buy? Selfish Sprits

Make your mark

Personalised engraving on a wine bottle

Martina Rocha Luz is a Leeds-based calligrapher and engraver offering a personalised engraving service to make your gifts extra special! Engraving is the perfect way to elevate a present and Martina personalises anything, from wine to perfumes. In addition to her engraving service, Martina also offers unique wedding signage and personalised stationery.

Cost: Prices start at £19.95

Where to buy? Martina Rocha Luz

Don’t get in a pickle

Northumbrian Pantry Pickled Pear chutney with a glass of port and stilton cheese

Northumbrian Pantry makes sweet and spiced pickled pears preserved in a special blend of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. The perfect pairing for a Christmas Stilton and a glass of port and equally delicious with whipped or ice cream or as a classic pear salad with walnuts and Roquefort cheese. Handmade in small batches using seasonal pears in the North Tyne Valley village of Simonburn.

Cost: £5.40

Where to buy? Northumbrian Pantry

Super superfood

Boxes of muesli - photo by Julija Baburina

Harper and Willow, who used BIPC Northamptonshire, was created with the intention of bringing healthy, wholesome, delicious organic food to the market with their own personal twist. They use great flavor combinations with premium ingredients, resulting in an amazing taste experience. The muesli and granola doesn’t use refined sugar, processed oils, preservatives, additives and flavourings. All products are vegan and gluten free!

Cost: Various

Where to buy? Harper and Willow

Look the part

Bag modelled on woman

April’s designs are inspired by the geology surrounding her in the North East of Scotland, she has continued to use nature as inspiration, despite moving to Glasgow where she used our BIPC in the Mitchell Library. Inspired by her photography of stones and geological sites around Scotland, she set out to create a collection of luxury textile accessories whilst upholding her personal values: buying less by buying better; supporting local businesses and sustainability first.

Cost: Various

Where to buy? Agate and Ayre

Give the gift of giving

Photo of the Santaceptor with Father Christmas

For those who are looking to give back this festive season, BIPC Greater Manchester’s Action Media Hire deck out a Police Interceptor Action Vehicle, which usually stars in TV and films, for their fundraising. The Santaceptor distributes sweet treats to children and collects donations to assist with the project operations and other local charities.

Cost: Up to you

Where to donate? Santaceptor

For those who love self-care

Founder Natalee holding Skin Solace products

Natalee Onyeche’s Skin Solace is a sophisticated, luxury brand to reflect the high-quality ingredients used, which makes her customers feel pampered. Your skin absorbs 60 - 70% of everything you put on it within 26 seconds! With this fact in mind choosing the right products becomes more important. BIPC Nottinghamshire’s Skin Solace products are formulated to offer the very best nourishment and moisture naturally. Skin Solace aims to turn everyday occurrences into opportunities for self-care with the products it provides.

Cost: Various

Where to buy? Skin Solace

Bold accessories

Helen Cross Jewellery necklace

Contemporary jewellery designs inspired by the beautiful English countryside and made by hand in the heart of Norfolk using recycled sterling silver. Good jewellery is something that makes your heart sing whenever you wear it - the necklace given with love, the cufflinks bringing individuality to workwear, or the tiny horse shaped stud earrings showing a love of riding. Wherever we see it, jewellery always embodies the essence of the wearer in choices that are as individual as fingerprints. Making jewellery by hand allows Helen, who used BIPC Norfolk, to make one-off pieces on commission for clients.

Cost: Various

Where to buy? Helen Cross Jewellery

Dress to impress

Cultureville founders holding fan

Where African culture meets contemporary fashion. Manchester-based Cultureville offers statement looks and hand-crafted accessories, ethically sourced from West Africa. Their goal is to showcase the beauty and talent of Africa through bold and beautiful African inspired clothing and accessories.

Cost: Various

Where to buy? Cultureville

For the crafters

Very Craftea founder holding a crafting kit product

The 'why' of Tas’ business is to make all people create moments to feel comforted and included. It does this through uniquely flavoured, consciously sourced loose-leaf tea and modern embroidery kits, designed and created locally in Cambridgeshire.

Cost: Various

Where to buy? Very Craftea

For the K-pop stans

SOKOLLAB CD compilation

Get Ready for Business Growth business, SOKOLLAB, is an independent Korean music and lifestyle store bringing you the best in KPop, KBeauty, stationery and books.  Visit their London and Birmingham stores or go online for authentic Korean gifts this Christmas!

Cost: BTS Proof Standard Edition £54.00

Where to buy? SOKOLLAB

Eco-friendly Skincare

Eucalyptus Bath Soak 560g standing on a bath tub

Another of our scale-up businesses, BATCH #001 creates award-winning, sustainable, organic skincare products and beauty gift sets for dry, sensitive skin, powered by the bees, the land and the seas, using only natural ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, and everything is handmade, at their small female founded business. They offer a range of luxury and bespoke gift sets at all prices points, which are gift ready, wrapped, with a personalised note and free UK shipping. Choose from Bath Soaks, Body Scrubs, Bath & Body Oils, Beeswax Balms and Candles. Perfect for Christmas gifting!

Cost: Various

Where to buy? BATCH #001

Bring the world home

multiple soapstone Hippo Dishes on shelves

Meaning 'friend of the people', AARVEN is an ethical homeware and jewellery brand founded by two adventurers, inspired by their artisans around the globe. From wood block printed textiles, recycled brass jewellery, to hand woven baskets, they design their joyful collections in collaboration with the world's best artisans. Working in close collaboration with over 30 artisan groups across Africa and in India, AARVEN uses ancient craft techniques to create contemporary heirlooms for the modern home.  

Cost: Various - save 10% on purchases over £10 with code BL10 (expires on Christmas day).

Where to buy? AARVEN

The perfect accessory 

Pom pom bag

Pom Pom London was born in 2015 with the aim of delivering affordable, stylish and contemporary products. All their products are designed from the UK, they are passionate about creating fashion pieces that are unique and fun for all ages and the expanding range is a reflection of this. Whether you are looking for a warm hat or a useful bag, there's something for everyone.

Cost: Various 

Where to buy? Pom Pom London

 

If the shoe doesn't fit

I Can Make Shoes Kit

I Can Make Shoes teaches people how to make their own shoes from home using their beginner-friendly online tutorials, shoemaking kits and books. Whether you have difficulty finding shoes that fit or you're just a shoe lover who loves to craft, I Can Make Shoes is the best place to start! Our previous scale-up programme helped I Can Make Shoes founder, Amanda Overs, triple her team size and launch an online community. She's now taking part in our new business support programme, Get Ready for Business Growth, tailored to arts and culture businesses and fully funded by Arts Council England.

Cost: Various - save 10% on books, kits & supplies with the code: BritishLibrary10

Where to buy? I Can Make Shoes

Does what it says on the tin

Body wash being poured from a KANKAN can into a bottle dispenser

Introducing KANKAN, natural body care in a can. A simple at-home refill solution. Nourishing botanical soap supportive for your skin health and wellness. Made from all natural ingredients, plastic free and infinitely recyclable. Oh and one tree is planted for every can sold ensuring your daily wash is giving even more! Delivered gift ready in reusable packaging. 

Cost: Starter set prices start at £24 - use the code BRITISH LIBRARY KAN to enjoy 20% off your first purchase.

Where to buy? KANKAN

Design your own wardrobe

Sew Me Sunshine founder with rolls of fabric in the haberdashery

Sew Me Sunshine is an independent dressmaking fabric & haberdashery shop shipping worldwide. We have a curated selection of dressmaking fabrics, including a large range of sustainable eco fabrics & deadstock (ex-designer) garment fabrics, dressmaking patterns and high quality sewing supplies. Our one stop shop will help you make a handmade wardrobe that will make you smile.

Cost: Various - save 15% on all orders with code BRITISHLIBRARY15

Where to buy? Sew Me Sunshine

Cards for every Christmas

Jelly Armchair christmas card and envelope on wood

Jelly Armchair is a small family business specialising in big silly puns. Run by two sisters, Jelly Armchair has a collection of colourful illustrated cards, gifts and homewares designed to bring some silliness to everyday life and make you giggle (or grimace) at the pun based 'dad joke' humour. Cat, the illustrator creates beautiful, detailed artworks that you'll want to look at time and time again, and you’ll notice something new each time. Our collection of 'multipun' Christmas cards is suitable for all ages and even comes with a fully illustrated Christmas envelope.

Cost: Various - save 10% on all orders with code BLXmas22

Where to buy? Jelly Armchair

*According to COBRA reports (which you can access for free in many BIPCs around the UK)

26 September 2022

Sewing machines - who really invented them?

In the spirit of London Fashion Week, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to looking at the early history of the sewing machine – the tool that made the mass production of clothing possible. It is also a good example of a machine which no one can quite agree on who the inventor was.

If I describe something first, have I invented it? How detailed does my description need to be? Do I need a working model to prove my invention works? Are my ideas similar to a future proven solution? Do I need a patent?

How you answer questions such as these will likely determine who you think the true inventor of the sewing machine is. So rather than tell you who I think it is, I have instead highlighted some influential early patents from within our historical IP collection so you can decide for yourself.

Focusing on patents (should) allow us to check something is new, or at least involves an inventive step. Like any invention, it is very possible that others created sewing machines similar to those described below first, but for whatever reason did not apply for a patent. Something we will briefly explore later.

 

GB 701 of 1755

In 1755, Charles Fredrick Wiesenthal, a German born physician based in London, received a patent for a ‘needle for ornamenting fabrics’. The needle had a point at either end, meaning it could pass through fabric without needing to be turned. Some commentators have said the movement of the needle was via mechanical means, but the description goes into little detail.

 

Saint patent

GB 1,764 of 1790

In 1790, an English cabinet maker by the name of Thomas Saint was granted a patent for five types of varnishes and their uses, a machine for ‘spinning, twisting, and doubling the thread’, a machine for ‘stitching, quilting, or sewing’, and a machine for ‘platting or weaving’.

It is of course the machine for ‘stitching, quilting, or sewing’ that is of interest to this blog post, however it was somewhat lost in the busyness of the patent. So much so that when the Patent Office republished older patents and arranged them into new classes, it was placed into ‘wearing apparel’ rather than ‘sewing and embroidering’. It is safe to say Saint’s sewing machine was all but forgotten.

That is until 1874, when a sewing machine manufacturer called William Newton Wilson found the patent while undertaking research at the Patent Office. He had the sewing machine built and, after some adjustments to the looper, was able to prove it worked.

The machine incorporated many features still to be found on modern machines (as well as in later patents), such as an overhanging arm, a vertical needle-bar, and a feed system for the fabric.

The machine Newton Wilson built can now be seen at the Science Museum.

Saint Machine at the Science Museum

 

Fr 616 of 1804

In 1804, Thomas Stone and James Henderson received a French patent for their sewing machine, which passed a hand sewing needle back and forth through the fabric using a pair of pincers at either side (imitating the action of human fingers). It unfortunately required frequent stops in order to replace the short length of thread it used.

 

Austrian Exclusive Privilege in 1814

In 1814, Josef Madersperger, an Austrian tailor, received the early Austrian equivalent of a patent for his sewing machine. It used a double pointed needle (like Wiesenthal’s) and replicated as best it could hand sewing. In 1839, Madersperger received another patent equivalent for a machine that used an eye-pointed needle.

Neither machine was ever made publically available and Madersperger would unfortunately die destitute in an Viennese almshouse in 1850. In 1933 a memorial was erected in Resselpark in Vienna, declaring Madersperger the inventor of the sewing machine.

 

Thimonnier patent

FR 7434 of 1830

In 1830, a French tailor called Barthélemy Thimonnier received a French patent for his sewing machine which used a hooked needle to replicate hand sewing. The same year Thimonnier found himself overseeing 80 of his machines in a Paris workshop making uniforms for the French Army.

Unfortunately the success was not to last, as in 1831 all 80 machines were destroyed by a mob of angry tailors, fearful his invention was a danger to their livelihoods. Although later patents followed, Thimonnier never found further success and died in poverty at the age of 63.

One of Thimonnier’s 1830 sewing machines can also be seen at the Science Museum.

Thimonnier's machine in the science museum

 

GB 10,424 of 1844

In 1844, John Fisher and James Gibbons received a patent for, among other things, a machine for ornamenting lace. While not originally intended to be a sewing machine, it nevertheless was able to function as one, and used both an eye-pointed needle and a shuttle – both still in use on machines today.

 

US 4,750 of 1846

In 1846, Elias Howe Jr. was granted a patent for his sewing machine which used a lockstitch design (the most common mechanical stitch made by a sewing machine today, which uses two threads that ‘lock’ together). Unfortunately Howe struggled to find financial backing for his machine, and so was forced to take a job in London modifying one of his sewing machines for a buyer there.

When Howe eventually returned to America he discovered sewing machines were being sold that appeared to infringe his patent. One such sewing machine was the work of an Isaac Merritt Singer – a man whose surname would soon become synonymous with the sewing machine.

Howe sued Singer for patent infringement and won. Many more legal battles would ensue between the main sewing machine inventors and manufacturers before they would decide to come together to form the first ‘patent pool’ (and the Sewing Machine Combination) in 1856.

With my earlier disclaimer in mind, it’s worth briefly looking at an inventor who never took out a patent – a man by the name of Walter Hunt. Howe’s sewing machine is often credited as being the first to sew a lockstitch, however Hunt invented a sewing machine that did so 13 years earlier in 1833. Not wanting to put seamstresses out of work, Hunt never applied for a patent, but his machine came to light during the patent trials.

Hunt can therefore be called the inventor of the lockstitch, however Howe had the patent for it. Earning him $5 for every sewing machine sold in America. Howe soon became a very rich man.

 

Conclusion

So that was a very condensed account of the early history of the sewing machine. Several less important patents were skipped in the name of brevity, and many of the inventions that were included could have filled a blog post many times longer than this one alone. If you would like to know more then please do come in to the library to read further.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of who you think invented the sewing machine, or maybe you feel it was actually the accumulative work of many.

 

Steven Campion, Business & IP Centre intellectual property expert.

14 July 2022

A week in the life of Laura Sheeter, co-founder of Chalk & Blade

To celebrate the British Library's Breaking the News exhibition we wanted to get behind the scenes of news-breaking podcast producers Chalk & Blade, with a rare 'Week in the Life of' blog!

Founder and Creative Director, Laura Sheeter spent more than 10 years working as a news reporter in the UK, USA and former USSR - reporting on everything from the fate of abandoned Soviet military bunkers to the villages with only grandparents and grandchildren left behind in the exodus of Eastern European workers to the rest of the EU, the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the rebuilding of New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina.

After a brief career shift, working as a Russian to English translator, Laura and her business partner, Ruth Barnes, set up Chalk & Blade - one of the first podcast-only production companies in the UK - in 2016, before podcasting appeared to be a business at all. Soon the time came to grow their business, so they joined our scale-up programme, Innovating for Growth. 

"The British Library’s Business and IP Centre was the first place, Ruth and I went to learn about how to set up a new business. It’s since become a bit of a North Star with us returning to its resources whenever we encounter new opportunities and challenges.

The sessions with the marketing and brand teams have helped immeasurably with the visibility of the business, particularly embarking on a new redesign of the website and relocation of the offices. The Chalk & Blade team is equipped with SEO-super charged ideas and branding tactics to position ourselves as the premium destination for podcast making."

The company makes premium branded content for brands and organisations including Net a Porter, Adidas and the UN, the hugely popular TV companion series Obsessed With for the BBC (now also a show on BBC3), and award-winning, critically acclaimed narratives including In Search of Black History with Bonnie Greer (audible), The Messenger (audible), Hunting Ghislaine (Global) and Taking on Putin - an independent production with John Sweeney.

So what goes into creating all this ear candy? Read on to find out.

Monday

It’s a new work and the first in our shiny new Chalk & Blade offices. While the rest of the world came to a standstill over the last few years, the podcast industry has seen a huge boom. IAB saw an ad spend of $1.4 billion in the space last year alone. With such demand across originals and branded content, we’ve been busy growing and developing the team and the relocation was all part of this investment in the next phase of the business.

Previously in a shared co-working spot on Old Street, we’re now settling into a Shoreditch warehouse space with our own front door and freshly brewed organic coffee on tap (high on the list of requirements during the multiple recces!). A new week gives me a chance to check in with a lot of the team’s projects and look ahead to line up meetings with potential creative partners, commissioners and journalists all bursting with great ideas that could lead to a project.

the Chalk and Blade team in their office

Tuesday

The team is in full swing juggling a multitude of shows this summer. In any one week, we’ve got a BBC show recording for TV and our first foray into visual podcast production (a fascinating experience and, yes, branded cushions are a must!), drafting and refining a very personal show which requires careful briefing, a narrative podcast in pre-production (our office walls are currently decked out with story arc ideas) and talent meetings to unearth some welcome fresh voices into the mix.

Behind the scenes of a Peaky Blinders podcast shoot

Wednesday

The news tells me that we’re gearing up for a heatwave here in London so this afternoon after school pick up I take the boys to get ice-creams (they both choose waffle cones like the sensible sorts, they are). When my co-founder Ruth and I set up the company, we were both parents and so we’ve always been very open about having to juggle the demands of a busy production schedule alongside homework/baking a sponge for the school summer fete or taking the dog for a spin around the park. This is something we’re also incredibly aware of for our team too and want to offer all of them the same flexibility, whether it’s heading to a spin class on their lunch break or needing to take a duvet day when they’ve had a tough week.

Thursday

I get a text from my colleague, and Chalk & Blade’s Development Lead, Jason who is at the Children’s Media Conference meeting with other production companies and commissioners this morning. Behind the scenes, we’ve been scoping out opportunities for audio ideas for kids. We’re really excited about inspiring young imaginations through podcasts, both as audio experts and as parents who know the value of great content for our kids.

Behind the scenes of podcast shoot with Riyadh Khalifa

Friday

The final episode of our podcast series with investigative journalist John Sweeney, Taking On Putin, is out in the world and I couldn’t be prouder of the team! I first worked with John as his Executive Producer on our hit podcast Hunting Ghislaine so when he suggested we follow Hunting Ghislaine with a series about Vladimir Putin, I was all in. We actually started work on Taking on Putin nearly a year ago. At the time I had to keep checking with my business partner, Ruth Barnes, that it wasn’t too niche or geeky. Russia wasn’t fashionable, and those warning about the threat Putin posed were seen as paranoid, crackpots or warmongers. We never expected it to be headline news.

Taking on Putin has shown the true value of telling serious stories deeply, with character and humanity, because when the world takes alarming turns we need to understand not only the what, but have a trusted guide explaining the why of what’s happening too.

And that’s precisely the kind of stories we want to hear and tell through our podcast productions at Chalk & Blade.

BTS Killing Eve

25 April 2022

Ten Things I wish I knew about Intellectual Property when I was younger

Every generation of young people wants to change the world. And they do, in some way.

Right now in someone’s studio flat, or halls of residence or on a gap year adventure is the next founder of a tech giant, a publishing phenomenon or an inventing genius. Of that, there is no doubt. But some may not get the success or recognition they deserve for their originality, creativity or inventiveness. The one thing that can often make or break an entrepreneur or business venture is getting their intellectual property right, first time.

This year’s theme for World Intellectual Property Day is IP and youth: innovating for a better future.

Here is a list of the most common mistakes that I’ve come across in helping thousands of entrepreneurs, creatives and inventors. I’m a little older now having helped so many but I hope what you read here will make all of us that much wiser not matter how young we are.

  1. Knowing how important Intellectual Property actually is.

You don’t know what you don’t know and that’s the point of our first tip. For any new business (or established) not understanding how IP can protect your creations and innovations is a fundamental mistake. There are two sides to IP; one is preventing unauthorised use of what you create and the other is maximising your existing IP as an asset that can acquire value. And if you come to sell your business, a lot of its value potentially resides in your IP. Understanding this and building it into your business strategy will maximise your IP, and therefore, your business impact. But how? That’s the next point.

  1. Getting to know the IP family

Want to patent your idea? Re brand your design? Copyright your invention? Mixing metaphors is one thing but not understanding the different forms of IP and what they do is like being stuck in a maze without an exit. What’s more, knowing a thing you create in your business or a creative pursuit can often be protected by more than one form of Intellectual Property is a great help. I like to call them the IP family. Knowing the difference between them and the job they do will provide clarity, and help you formulate your IP strategy clearly. So, for the record, you patent your invention, register your design and copyright your artistic expression. You trade mark your brand, keep quiet your trade secret and everything else is know-how known only to you. And as we’ll see, timing for all of this is key.

  1. Don’t be late to register or protect your Intellectual Property.

I’ve been an agony Uncle to many downhearted, once enthusiastic, start-ups. What has been the most common problem? ‘I started trading with this amazing brand only to find someone else was using it’. It’s a fundamental mistake. What you think is an amazing name for a product or business is probably so amazing that someone else has got there first. So do your research online but also for the register of existing trade marks in the UK here. Our team in the Business & IP Centre’s around the country can assist you with how to do a basic search. This of course as relevant to all the other forms of IP, so it’s always good to register or protect as soon as you can establish originality.

  1. Don’t overshare and the importance of confidentiality

We’ve all done it. It’s irresistible. We’re so excited and captured by our new business proposition or new gizmo that will change the world that we ‘overshare’. Pub environments are particularly risky. If you do have something of real potential, why tell the world, or just anyone else you know? The other thing I hear often is that ‘so and so stole my idea’. Unfortunately, the idea shouldn’t have been shared in the first place. Knowing what a non-disclosure agreement is and when to use them, is a good first step to securing your idea if you need to share it with interested parties. In fact, when it comes to inventions, anything already known in the world invalidates your application. So, as a rule of thumb, share nothing with no one, unless necessary, and with the right protection in place.

  1. Assuming a good idea is a commercial idea is the easiest mistake.

This is a big one but I have to say it. Lots of people have amazing ideas for inventions or services and create incredible things, but not all of these will be commercially successful. Why? Because there’s no market value to them. The thing you create doesn’t satisfy a big enough demand where people are prepared to pay for it. So a good exercise early on is to ask yourself three questions; what problem am I trying to solve? How big a problem is it really? And does my invention or business provide a good enough solution? Inventors very often fall into this trap. They discover a solution to something without considering the size, and therefore commercial value of the problem. History proves this, as there are piles and piles of granted patents which never made it to market. Anybody care for spray on hair? Electric shoe polishers? But at least we can be reassured that even the biggest and boldest companies can fall into the same trap. Anyone own a Betamax?

  1. Not market testing your new product or service.

With this in mind, it’s just good practice to do prepare a robust business plan that includes some evidence of potential demand for your innovative product or service. Market research and testing are fundamental steps to get right early before properly launching. This helps to safeguard any future investment, both time and resource and IP, that you subsequently put into the business. At the British Library’s Business & IP Centre you can do market research with some of the best researchers and publishers in any given industry. That will help to demonstrate that you’re on the right track (or not).

  1. Not setting an IP budget.

There is a cost to registering some forms of IP, those that are known as registered rights. Specifically, these are patents, trademarks and design. The most costly are patents but you should do all your IP research early and work out what the most cost effective options are balanced with maximum protection (supported by a sound business case). That way you’re on track to make judicious IP decisions that pay off. It’s also very helpful to list IP as a necessary cost alongside other costs such as marketing spend, operational and staffing. Ultimately, if your IP is effective, the asset should pay for itself.

  1. Not factoring in infringement costs

First, some bad news. There are no IP police. You will need to be alert to anyone else copying your invention, using your brand or selling a different version of the same product you created. And it’s up to you then to act. Sadly, as your brand grows with your product or service, you should expect copycats. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, except when it takes out your bottom line or ruins your hard earned reputation. Early and tough action on infringement is the best way to shut down any threats and that will almost always involve some legal expertise. So set aside a war chest in your IP defence but be reassured that there is professional help out there. And that’s when IP lawyers are there to fight for your interests. IP lawyers should be members of professional bodies such as CIPA or CITMA. Also be aware of trading standards for some circumstances of infringement.

  1. Not knowing what to ask an IP attorney

Ignorance is never a good thing, especially when trying to solve a complex problem like IP infringement or a new application for protection. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, by any stretch. But at least by having a good solid grounding and understanding of how IP works for you and your business means you can maximise the time and effort of any professional advice you seek. Knowing enough about something to ask really good questions and to evaluate the reply is more power to you and encouragement that your IP budget is paying back. Time is money (especially legal time) so cut out the IP small talk and get to the crux of the IP issue and its possible resolution.

  1. Not starting with your Business & IP Centre or Patlib!

How could I not conclude by inviting anyone with an IP issue or question to get in touch with their local Business & IP Centre or Patlib (patent library) network? You’ll be able to talk with staff who have experience and are able to be a sounding board for you to make informed decisions that support your business. No matter what your age (but especially if you’re young), you deserve to be rewarded for your new and innovative creations! And intellectual property is there to ensure you do just that.  

Meet Nick Hart, founder of Storm Skin

Like many budding entrepreneurs, Nick, the London-based founder of Storm Skin has never been short of ideas, but as a first time entrepreneur, he had always hesitated when it came to launching. We are happy to say that with our help, Nick was able to gain the confidence and tools needed to take the plunge and launch his bicycle cover business. We spoke to him to find out more about his start-up journey.

Head shot of Nick Hart

“Storm Skin was born out of personal frustration. As an urban cyclist with limited space, I have no choice but to store my bike outside. A bike cover is an essential item to prevent your bike rusting and seizing up. However, the only bike covers available to buy were cheap, flimsy and prone to ripping. What’s more, they were poorly fitting and tended to spend more time on my next-door neighbour’s hedge than covering my bike. So, we built a bike cover that worked. 100% waterproof, easy to fit, durable, unrivalled protection from wind, rain and UV. Simple. 

Green Storm Skin bike cover over a bike

My first interaction with the BIPC was at Start-Up Day in 2018 and since then they have played a pivotal role in the development of Storm Skin. The Start-Up Day event inspired me to move beyond daydreaming about running my own business to taking steps to make it happen. Once I had taken the decision to proceed, I booked a one-to-one session with an expert from the BIPC. We discussed the lean start-up methodology, and I was able to learn more about the electronic resources available at the BIPC in the British Library. Over the following months, I regularly visited the library, using Mintel databases to research my consumer and market. 

They also supported me with exploring opportunities to export my product into the EU. This included providing links to resources as well as workshops run by their partner organisation (Enterprise Europe Network). The information the BIPC provided demystified the complex process of exporting, particularly the new rules and regulations post-Brexit. 

Another key area that the BIPC supported with was constructing my IP strategy. I attended a workshop with expert IP lawyers, which provided me with more information on trade mark protection, design registration and patents. Armed with this info I was able to decide the level of protection I needed, whilst remaining within my budget.

Finally, I was also helped with the sourcing of my product. Through their monthly Inventor’s Club I was able to meet Bob and Richard, two product experts and serial entrepreneurs, they explained the basics of sourcing products from target pricing to prototyping. Through Richard, I was also able to meet Katy, who helped me to approach factories with my idea.

The best business advice I was given was that innovation comes in many forms. Incremental innovation is as valid as revolutionary innovation. It is not always necessary to create something completely new. Many great business ideas are improvements on existing products. In my spare time, I like to spend time with my family. I have two children under five, who keep me busy and help give me perspective when I’m having a tough day. 

The book that most influenced me was the FT Business Start-Up guide. This book has a step-by-step checklist for setting up a new business. I found it invaluable, allowing me to break down the process into bite-size tasks. The book also ensured I didn’t miss anything (product protection liability anyone?).”

Is your business idea still a daydream instead of a reality? Visit our workshops and events page to see how we can inspire you to take the next step. 

20 April 2022

Inventors of the Month: John Waddington and Anthony Pratt

If you were to hear the names, Professor Plum, Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlet, the board game Cluedo, might immediately come to mind. And for good reason too. The game is a part of so many of our childhoods.

It’s almost eighty years since the idea for what we now know as Cluedo was first pitched to Waddington games by Anthony Pratt, musician and factory worker at the time. Yet, would you think of it as a Leeds innovation?

Illustration of Cluedo board game from trade mark GB50000000001364562
Illustration of Cluedo board game from trade mark GB50000000001364562

The story goes that he was inspired with his wife, Elva Pratt, to create a board game based on some of the live murder mystery games played in country houses that were popular at the time. The Leeds games company saw the potential of the idea right away and did a deal with Pratt.

The eponymous company was founded by John Waddington in Leeds. Its brand has been a household name in Britain for much of the 20th Century. If you could time travel back to any post war decade and take a peek into any games cupboard in any home in Britain, you’d likely find at least one Waddingtons’ game. Probably more. A household name is not an over statement.

So this was certainly a magnificent opportunity for both games inventor and manufacturer. Waddingtons was becoming a local Leeds institution and their reach would be pivotal to the success of Pratt’s invention.

But what was really the key to making Cluedo such a household name around the world? The answer is in three rather forgettable words, intellectual property rights. Here we see Cluedo’s widespread success and the collaboration between Anthony Pratt and Waddingtons as a fascinating case study in intellectual property (IP) and why these rights are so important.

We’ll see how and what lessons we can learn for a new generation of games inventors (and anyone else).

Monopoly right?

Waddingtons built their early success on another game, which also just happened to become a household name. The new American game, Monopoly. They had the exclusive licence from US maker and rights holder, Parker Brothers, to make and sell in the UK. A very savvy move as it turned out, as the favour was swapped with Parker Brothers eventually obtaining the licence for Cluedo (or Clue as it was rebranded in the US).

So the first lesson here is that being a licensor (the owner of the IP rights) and the licensee can (and should) work in both party’s interests.

It certainly worked for Waddingtons, as Monopoly’s success put them in a strong position to develop more games. Cluedo (and Anthony Pratt’s idea) came at just the right time in the company’s growth potential.

But what of the inventor; how would Pratt protect his idea?

Patently obvious answer

Interestingly, Pratt patented the idea for Cluedo back in 1944. Though if you search for any patent called Cluedo, you won’t find it (for reasons to be explained).

Pratt’s patent specification GB586817, Improvements in Board Games, is a fascinating patent. You can view the original here. A patent is a particular type of IP protection for inventions and/or processes. It is usually technical or mechanical in nature, so it’s interesting to read how a game could be considered as such.

Illustration of cards and weapons from patent GB_586817_A
Illustration of cards and weapons from patent GB_586817_A

Here’s an extract from Pratt’s original patent, outlining the process in playing Cluedo. Anyone who’s played it may well understand the selected extracts;

A board game comprises a board divided into areas representing rooms of a house connected by small squares… ten differently coloured movable pieces representing persons, nine tokens each representing a weapon, and a pack of cards having three suits, one suit containing nine cards which correspond with nine of the rooms… The object of the game is to identify a hidden combination of three cards, one from each suit, as a result of information accumulated during play.

The patent for what we know as Cluedo was granted (meaning finally approved by the Patent Office) in 1947.

This gave Pratt, ownership and rights over the game and the ability to sell or licence the process behind the game to any games maker. Owning the patent also provided him a way to oppose any unauthorised copying.

It raises the question, can you still patent a board game today?

Patents and games

The bar is much higher today to be able to patent a board game. That’s because the same criteria apply, that is the games’ process, or method have to be non-obvious and never been done before. It’s actually more difficult to come up with a really new games process that is truly an innovative step.

It’s also the more costly of the IP rights and takes the most time. There are other IP options, the same ones that Waddingtons also used.

Illustration of Cluedo board from patent GB_586817_A
Illustration of Cluedo board from patent GB_586817_A

Copyrighting a game

Copyright is an automatic and unregistered right, meaning the creator owns it as soon as it’s created. Putting a copyright sign, naming the owner and year of creation on the game is a simple and legally recognised way of asserting your IP rights.

Copyright applies to all artistic and written creations. It includes visual elements, wording and designs incorporated into the whole board game, and all can be considered copyright. If, there was ever any copying of a games look or distinctive elements, the creator can seek redress as an infringement of their copyright.

One other IP right called registered design, can sometimes be used. Especially if there is an element of the game that is three dimensional, such as player tokens.

The other very important IP right in relation to games is the trade mark. You can find more information about IP and board games by reading our Industry Guide.

Protecting the name of the game

The appeal to the game Cluedo is in the name, Cluedo. That may sound like stating the obvious but the creation and use of the name is another very important ingredient in a game’s success. The original name for Pratt’s game was Murder! But the one of Waddington’s company executives, Norman Watson, who ran with the idea promptly changed the name to Cluedo. Which was an apparent play on a Latin word ludo, meaning ‘I play’. A clever games title and eventually a brilliant, valuable trade mark.

Here is a wonderful marriage of concept and process (the patent) with the branding and name (the trade mark), topped with a visually appealing board design and unforgettable player names (the copyright). All of these forms of IP protection acts as bricks in a defensive wall of 'idea protection'.

But if you own the trade mark, in practice you pretty much own the game.

Cluedo today

Our Leeds story goes global, as Waddingtons was purchased by American games giant, Hasbro in 1994. And so, Hasbro obtained all the IP rights to Cluedo. We can see that the registered trade mark for Cluedo is still active today. As well as the trade mark for the board game.

Hasbro have taken Cluedo into new directions. Interestingly, the design of the board game, with its various rooms and names is also now a trade mark. The company is using all means of protection to extend the life of the game and retain IP rights over it. It’s a way to safeguard the investment in its purchase. Is it hardly surprising when we see what a timeless success Cluedo has become?

In recent times there have been many Cluedo spin offs, including novelty versions of the game for the Simpsons and TV comedy Big Bang Theory. Back in the 1980s there were even computer game versions and film as well as a TV show in the 1990s.

It all goes to show how a great games idea, playing on our love of old fashioned parlour games, mixed with Agatha Christie style characters can create something as novel as a board game, lifting a name like Cluedo, to the status of iconic.

So who dunnit?

It was a Leeds inventor and games maker that brought hours of fun to families, down generations, around the world.

Jeremy O'Hare, Business & IP Centre IP expert

16 March 2022

The Women Breaking Barriers in Business

Female founded start-ups represent a growing share of investment activity – in the UK in 2011, only 11% of start-ups were women founded and by 2020, this number had risen to 32%. In the male dominated space of entrepreneurship, women founders are often underestimated and overlooked; while we have made progress, there’s still more to be done. To mark Women’s History Month, we’re delving into the experiences of two entrepreneurs we’ve supported to learn how they overcame discrimination in business.

First up is Innovating for Growth alumna Eleanore Richardson, who alongside her mother, Teresa, owns Fulham Scalp and Hair Clinic.

Eleanore on the left with mum, Teresa on right in their clinic in Fulham

“My mum certainly has some stories of working as a black female entrepreneur and as I have entered the business with her in the last five years there are a few things that have brought me back down to reality in terms of the challenges that women face in business.

My mum has worked in the hair industry for the past 45 years. She moved from working in a salon to working from home as a hairdresser when she started her family; part-time availability for hair stylists wasn't a realistic career and banks wouldn't lend her the capital to open her own salon. She worked out of our utility room and bathroom for 30 years and with that income, sustained two children (and our many after school activities), a mortgage and bought a flat in Portugal.

Over those years, the banks slowly offered my mum an overdraft for her sole trader account but she never used it because she had always associated debt with poor financial management.”

When Eleanore was studying for her A-Levels, Teresa also stepped back into her own studies and re-qualified as a Trichologist. Soon after qualifying, she found a retail space that she could run her clinical practice from. However, even though she was a successful business owner for the past 35 years, she was asked for a guarantor to support her retail lease application. Financially independent and in her fifties, she didn't find this appropriate, but was forced to compromise by signing an eight-year lease with no break clause instead.

Upon realising that their business was making enough money to register as a limited company instead of a sole trader, Eleanore and Teresa went to several banks and opened a business bank account. Whilst one bank was happy to offer them a sole trader account with a £12,000 overdraft, the only business account they were keen to offer was with a £2,000 overdraft. They eventually went with another bank that offered a measly £6,000 overdraft and meant that their cash flow was still too tight to invest in growth.

Several years later, Teresa was ready to move clinics and they were in a position to develop their clinic hair care range into a product range ready to be sold to retailers. Despite presenting a business plan in an effort to increase their £6,000 overdraft, the bank turned them down. This made no sense to Eleanore, “I had been offered bigger overdrafts as a student earning nothing, yet here was a successful business that made money every year and had never had to dip into an overdraft, had grown organically year after year, and yet credit options were non-existent.” They postponed development of their range for three years out of fear that the investment would deplete their cash flow, and there were no obvious alternatives to financing that weren't fraught with high interest rates.

Fulham Scalp and Hair has also been operating in Luanda, Angola, which is Teresa’s birthplace. There she has a loyal customer base who have grown with her over the years but many customers and onlookers still don't understand how a business like theirs can generate enough interest and enough revenue to fund a satellite clinic in Luanda. “Rumours of my mother having a wealthy benefactor are always amusing, but depressingly remind me that the expectation for women to run a successful, international business is still questioned.

Last year an investor in Angola who was keen to buy a stake in our Angolan business propositioned us. When negotiations began, it emerged that he was only going to accept a majority stake in all of our business holdings internationally and was going to establish his own solicitor as a business consultant with a 5% stake. The mind boggles at how foolish they must have assumed an older black woman and her younger daughter must be.

This I find is the most common theme being a woman in business, and it hasn't really changed from the time of my mum starting her own business through to me joining and leading it. Women continue to be underestimated in their own businesses, and this seems to be particularly brutal for women of colour or for very young (looking) women. For mum she had been underestimated by so many of the services and employees previously hired, that it was a relief to work with her daughter who she could completely trust and not be on her guard with. Personally, I have had to correct solicitors, landlords and accountants on their own work and have even had one rep from an organisation ask if I need to chat with my "mummy" before signing off on membership.”

Our next business is The Fermentation Station, founded by Amy and Sam who received support from BIPC Liverpool in relation to their trademarking. We spoke to Amy to learn how her experience as an entrepreneur has been different to that of her partners’.

Amy (on left) and Sam on blue backdrop

“Being a female business owner has its advantages and disadvantages. In Liverpool, having access to support through The Women's Organisation provides many advantages to being a female business owner in the city, but I believe this is a privilege that many don't receive.

Whilst it wasn't impossible to be a female business owner 30 or 50 years ago, the challenge was much greater than what we see in 2022. Things have certainly come a long way but we still have a lot of progress to make in how we view women in business.  I often think my Nan would have achieved even more remarkable things during her working years had gender roles been different back then. She was an outstanding woman with a genetic eye condition that she never let stand in her way.”

It is also important to encourage young girls into entrepreneurship, when Amy was in high school the only future presented to her was one of academia. “We were told that it was a safe route into employment that meant that we didn't need to rely on a man - can you guess I went to a single sex school! Whilst I am eternally grateful for the solid upbringing they gave me, the option of becoming an entrepreneur was not one that I was encouraged to explore. I think often this causes 'impostor syndrome' as we feel we aren't skilled for the role, whilst men are more likely to take the leap without second guessing whether they’re qualified to do so."

Having been a Company Director for six years between The Fermentation Station & H2A, Amy has built up confidence to present herself as a business leader and leave the impostor syndrome at the door. When asked about whether she has noticed a difference in the way she is treated by investors, suppliers or clients in comparison to Sam she pointed out that unconscious bias is always at play.

“I believe that many think that Sam is the driving force behind our business – that's until I open my mouth, and he is often granted commendations for behaviours that I perform regularly. When we have been challenged with difficult customers or stockists, who are unprepared to acknowledge or accept my response, I have now resorted to responding to them by pretending to be Sam; you would be surprised how quickly their tone & response changes when they believe it's a man they’re speaking to.”

Overall though, the advantages of being a female founder outweigh the disadvantages, Amy has been the company director of a mother-daughter team and a male-female team which have both been incredible experiences for her. “I think it's completely dependent upon the personalities of your fellow directors or founders, and with both businesses I held close personal relationships. Sam and I work well together not because we are different genders or sexes but because our working styles complement each other.”

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