Monday, 5 October 2009

A chip on their shoulder?

ActionAid have published an article on the patenting system which has disgusted me.

They want to establish that the rules on patenting are unfair, and allow companies to "get exclusive rights over basic foods and even nature itself". To highlight this, they have applied for a patent for a ready-salted chip.

I think that my feelings on this are best summarised by the email that I have sent to them:
Good morning. I write to you as the owner of the Patently Rubbish blog and a practising UK Patent Attorney.

Your article concerning the ActionAid Chip was brought to my attention. In this article, you state that:

To highlight the injustice of patents on food, ActionAid 'invented' a ready-salted chip, and filed for a patent. If successful, could (sic) be granted legal rights over the ActionAid Chip, and any chips that have salt added to them. So we could demand that chip shop owners throughout the UK pay for a licence to add salt to their chips. [...] We have done this to highlight the injustice of food patent rules.

Your assertions are misleading. It is highly unlikely that a patent will be granted, as the "invention" clearly lacks novelty and/or inventive step in view of the routine salting of chips by fish & ship shops for many decades. If, by some accident, it is granted, then although you could "demand" royalties (as you could even without a patent), the patent will not entitle you to obtain royalties as a Court will
immediately revoke it for lack of novelty/inventive step.

I therefore challenge you to take one of the following courses of action:

(1) To acknowledge that the rules governing the validity of patents are in fact fair and reasonable, and that your article is misleading. To publish this on your website and/or elsewhere, with equal prominence to the Chip article, and to add a link to the acknowledgement from the Chip article,


(2) To stand by your claim that the rule are unfair as highlighted by your example, and to

(a) provide me with the application number and filing date of the Chip patent so that an appropriate legal challenge can be brought,
(b) issue a demand to me for payment of royalties

In respect of 2(b) above, I wish to admit to you formally that I have in the past requested of fish and chip shops that they add salt to chips cooked to my order. I am therefore guilty of inducing a third party to infringe. I intend to continue doing so in the future and, despite knowledge of your patent application, refuse to cease doing so. If your argument has any merit then you should accordingly demand royalties of me.

Your response is awaited.

I'll let you know what comes back.


  1. Please may we have a link to the new patent rules (as referred to in the ActionAid article) so we can make up our own minds? It is a publicity stunt, Parently. ;-)
    Btw I know someone who patented a method (basically a bowl with a special lining) of making pasta for coeliacs. Patents balance competing interests; a reverse Hart/Devlin debate. Better go - I am overthinking this!

  2. a method (basically a bowl with a special lining) of making pasta for coeliacs.

    Sounds like an utter boon for coeliacs; well deserving of a patent and just the kind of innovation that the IP system should encourage, and can encourage.

    There are no new patent rules of the type they describe... ActionAid are making it up. The "rules" which say that a patent can be granted for an invention which consists of "adding something [to it] or modifying [it] in a way that has not been done before" are the Patents Act 1977 and the European Patent Convention of the same year. Not exactly "new", either of them...

  3. The application in question is GB2384968 filed in the name of Salil Shetty. The application was (surprisingly?!) terminated back in 2006. The point of novelty appears to be that the chips are soaked in a 30% NaCl solution prior to deep frying. Since fish and chip shop owners salt their chips with NaCl crystals after frying there would have been no infringement problem anyway... That said, I do feel that the application is likely to have at the least lacked inventive step.

  4. Thank you! Looks like the right one.

    I also agree with your opinions on validity & infringement - which of course make ActionAid's claims still worse. Not only have the "patent rules" succeeded in preventing a patent from being granted, thereby disproving their point, their assertion that they could demand royalties of fish & chip shop owners is also a breach of section 70 and their failure to acknowledge that the application has lapsed puts them in breach of either section 110 or s111.

    So the "patent rules" are also working to prevent them making such unsubstantiated threats of patent infringement.

  5. The article is laughably badly written and poorly explained. Could that be because it has no basis in fact? Odd that the article is there now as its reference to Tony Blair implies that it was written some time ago...

    Will be interested to see what you get back.

  6. Quite right, Blue. I think you may have struck on the explanation, though...

  7. Wow.
    Fast detective work guys.
    I think there is possibilities for a whole new BBC series, along the lines of The Bill or Waking the Dead.

    "File reference 1108/b - Check the records. I thought so! This claim has lapsed. Get onto Brussels. Now goddammit!"

    You need a beautiful assistant who is also an IT genius. Cheryl Cole?
    I would go with an elderly records clerk with a phenomenal memory too. Joanne Lumley? Or possibly an American so the series can be flogged to HBO.Victoria Principal is only 60ish - perfect
    Also a catchy title with an unlikely name for the lead. Like Jack Frost or Shoestring.

    John Gumptious and Jason Dilligent are "Patently and partners"

    I think this has legs. I'd better patent it before ITV get a sniff. What form do I need?

  8. Joanne could fill both female roles so far as I am concerned, thank you Bill.

  9. No No NO!
    You have to a sexy female. Look at CSI or Hustle. Its a staple. At the very least consider
    We'll put Ms Lumley down for the UK side and for her USA contact Victoria Principal, or Barbara Eden? She was the Genie in 'I dream of Genie'. I'll work on Fiona Bruce in for the pilot.
    But you must have a young, sexy assistant to sit beside you. Headset and glasses, short mini skirt and boots.

    Here's your task for today..

    Who would you choose as your young assistant and what classic car will you drive. Must be distinctive. A Morse Jaguar gives an academic feel but I could see you as a no-nonsense,rule bending lawyer, so maybe an Ashes to Ashes Quattro or a Porsch 959. . Or a complete vintage car, like a Hillman Imp for the slower,more plodding partner and a Kawasaki 1100 motorbike for the assistant?
    I can see this going global so budget is no problem. Pick yourself a dream team.

    We need actors for the leads too remember.

  10. I'll never miss the chance to have a 959. Surely the other roles should be filled by commenters to this site? Volunteers please.

    Or are you teasing me, Bill?

  11. Only very slightly.
    Who will play the bad guy at the European Bureau for Autocratic Regulation who keeps changing designations?
    Now we also need
    1} Younger or older sidekick
    2} Hot assistant
    3} Crusty judge [male}
    4} Single mother/sexy female law enforcer
    5} Evil chairman of a UK PLC {Also Patently's Nemesis}
    6} Super sexy leather clad evil femme fatale from the EU
    8}Affable but clueless UK government minister
    {I'll take that one}
    and a
    Catchy theme tune.
    I recommend Mr Writer by Stereophonics.

    Always reminds me of opening bars of Bergerac

  12. I volunteer for the role of Purdey, assuming both Patently and Bill are happy with this. Mmmm, a 959. I can give the evil eye. I already have black boots. All we need is a deadly fountain pen and some baddies.

    It is true I may have to work on my high kicks and karate moves. Perhaps my contract could include a fit personal fitness trainer being assigned to me on an exclusive basis for at least a period of six months? Bill, can you work that into the budget?

    ActionAid will get some action (does that need rewording?)... and I'll cover P's back!

    My agent awaits your call.