World IP Day - Manchester's significant innovations

World Intellectual Property Day is celebrated each year on April 26 with the aim of increasing awareness and understanding of intellectual property.

The theme of this year’s World IP Day is “Innovation – Improving Lives” so we decided to get involved by taking a look back at some significant innovations from Manchester which have contributed to improving our lives. We have also put together a list of inventions from Birmingham.

John Kay's Fly Shuttle

John Kay of Bury patented the flying shuttle in 1733, an important step towards automatic weaving. Kay’s device greatly increased the speed and efficiency of weaving as it enabled one weaver to move the shuttle back and forth across the loom by pulling a cord. His invention meant that the price of textiles dropped as productivity improved but it was not welcomed by weavers who lost their jobs as the looms no longer required two people to operate them.  

First steam-powered submarine

In 1878, Reverend George William Garrett of Moss Side obtained a patent for “Improvements in and Appertaining to Submarine or Subaqueous Boats or Vessels for Removing, Destroying, Laying or Placing Torpedoes in Channels and other Situations, or for Other Purposes.” In 1879, he designed and built the world’s first steam-powered submarine. Named Resurgam (“I shall rise again”) the craft was successful in initial trials but sank after taking on water whilst travelling to Portsmouth to give a demonstration to the Royal Navy. The wreck of the submarine was discovered in 1995.

Rolls Royce

It was at the Midland Hotel in 1904 that Charles Rolls first met Henry Royce. Royce had built his first motor car earlier that year and Rolls, whose company sold quality cars in London, agreed a partnership to sell motor cars under the name Rolls-Royce. By 1907 the venture proved so successful that they required a larger car production factory and the company moved from Manchester to Derby where they continue to operate today.


John Noel Nichols created Vimto in Manchester in 1908 and it was originally launched it as a herbal tonic that provided 'Vim and Vigour'. The recipe for Vimto has remained, like beverages such as Coke and Pepsi, a closely-guarded trade secret for over 100 years.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

Polyethylene terephthalate, a form of clear polyester, was developed and patented in 1941 by Calico Printers’ Association of Manchester before the patent rights were sold to DuPont and ICI. PET was first developed for use in synthetic fibres before becoming popular as packaging film and later as the material of choice for drinks bottles. It is still widely used today.

The Small Scale Experimental Machine (‘The Baby’)

On 21 June 1948, the Small Scale Experimental Machine, nicknamed ‘The Baby’, became the first computer to store and run a program. Developed by Freddie Williams, Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill at the University of Manchester, The Baby was the precursor to the Ferranti Mark 1, the first computer to be sold commercially in 1951.

Oral Contraceptive Pill

Dr Herchel Smith did not invent oral contraceptives however, during his time as a lecturer in organic chemistry at Manchester University (1956-61), he developed and patented a process to synthesize hormones, which formed the basis of the contraceptive pill. Dr Smith emigrated to the United States in 1961 where his research led to the invention of the first synthetic birth control pills.


Discovered at the University of Manchester by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov in 2004, graphene is the world’s thinnest known material. The highly conductive and super-strong single layer of carbon atoms was discovered by peeling off a layer of graphite using Scotch tape and then repeatedly sticking and peeling back the tape. Whilst graphene itself cannot be patented, many organisations are undertaking research to identify graphene devices and processes which can be protected.

To find out more about intellectual property, have a look at our online resources or get in touch to speak to one of our attorneys.

© 2018 Wilson Gunn