I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


11 June 2015

A patent dispute: Eustace Vant and his father in law

It is unusual for patent disputes to involve taking your father in law to court. Here's a British one from World War I.

My source is the Evening Dispatch of the 20 July 1916, as found on the British Newspaper Archive while investigating Surbiton in World War I. Eustace Hazzel Vant had been a Captain in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment who had been invalided out after being thrown from a horse. In 1915 he married Sybil Barton.

The 1911 census shows Sybil as a secretary for a ladies' club, age 26, living on Bond Street with a married typist. Her parents were in a 11 room house called Brooklands, in Lingfield, Surrey. Joshua Barton was 59, a company director of a match factory, living with his wife Annie.

Then on the 20 July 1916 a court case erupted in the King's Bench. 

Vant, of Surbiton, had given his father in law, Joshua Barton of next-door Kingston, Surrey, £100. That was not in dispute: what was uncertain was whether or not it was a loan, as Vant insisted, or an investment, as Barton asserted. 

Vant claimed that half of the sum was to be repaid in November 1915 and the balance in February 1916. He had obtained an overdraft from his bank on which he had to pay interest. 

Barton argued that the money was an investment in a collapsible lifeboat. It was agreed that Vant had tried to get the authorities interested in the invention, including a visit to Liverpool which cost him £4 in expenses (for which he was refunded). 

It sounds as if they did not have a written agreement, which was very foolish of both men, and is in fact close to unbelievable. Barton seems to have been well off and it is strange that he needed £100 from his son in law. 

Although the news account does not say so, it appears that Barton was the actual inventor. A few weeks after the sinking of the Titanic, GB1912/10787, Improvements in collapsable lifeboats, was filed by Joshua Barton of Brooklands, Lingfield, Surrey, director of a public company. A drawing from it is shown below.

Together with an engineer named Charles Hibberd he had been responsible for three earlier patents for cash registers and the like, and also for an earlier lifeboat invention, GB 1898/26927

So what happened ? The newspaper account only gives us the fact that the court case was on-going and not its conclusion. Not surprisingly, the marriage appears to have broken up. Vant remarried in 1918 and became a solicitor in the family firm in Settle, Yorkshire, and died in 1948,