Catalogue description Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors (Cohen Commission): Records

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Details of T 166
Reference: T 166
Title: Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors (Cohen Commission): Records

The files were created by the Cohen Commission between 1946 and 1954 and relate to claims for remuneration from members of the public who claimed to have designed, created or usefully adapted inventions that served a valuable purpose to Great Britain's war effort during the Second World War (1939-1945). Some of these inventions were extremely famous; e.g. the time pencils, tank flails and 'Mulberry' floating harbours to name a few. Many claims for remunerative awards for inventions were actually settled by the relevant government ministries without reference to the Commission. Also, many that were referred to the Commission were subsequently withdrawn by the claimants before a hearing could be arranged. Such withdrawals are noted in the indexes and registers used by the Commission staff.

Apart from the Indexes and Registers, it appears that five separate filing systems were employed by the Cohen Commission. The records comprise the following categories.

  • Indexes and registers originally used by the Commission (T 166/100 to 104). These comprise card indexes and registers of claimants for inventions.
  • Transcripts of the Commission proceedings. (1st file system). These are marked with a 'G' file prefix followed by a number and comprise green coloured files
  • Claim files. (2nd file system). These are marked with a 'C' file prefix followed by a number and comprise orange coloured files. The C reference seems to have been pre-eminent for locating other related reference material among the remaining 4 filing systems within these records; i.e. it is prominent in the indexes and registers used to locate other related G, IC file prefixes, S prefix plans and File Numbers (on correspondence files). These claim files include the particulars of the invention, design, drawing or process in question and the remuneration requested. Diagrams of inventions are often included. They also contain government department answers on the usefulness of the inventions and whether the claims have any merit in their opinion as well as the accuracy of the claims.
  • Correspondence files. (3rd file system). These contain the correspondence relating to the claim (usually between solicitors and the Treasury and / or the government departments which made use of the invention). A red 'File Number' is marked on each correspondence file alongside the C prefix claim file reference which is usually also added to link these two separate records. These records are contained in beige / buff coloured files.
  • Investigative Committee files. (4th file system). These records were created only under 'Head 3 of Warrant' criteria used under the Royal Warrant terms of reference for the Commission (see Administrative history). Investigative Committee documents are marked with an 'IC' file prefix followed by a number and applied to a large proportion of the claims made to the Commission. This Committee had to investigate those claims which were not based on any monopoly or statutory right. The Investigative Committee considered claims where an existing invention had been inventively adapted to fulfil a specific purpose which subsequently proved to be of great value to the British war effort. If the Investigative Committee was satisfied that there was merit in the claim then it would be referred to the full Commission where deliberation would be made on whether remuneration was appropriate and, if so, to determine how much. Investigation Committee. The significance of the IC reference diminished once a claim has progressed beyond the reach of this Committee.
  • Plans and design diagrams. (5th file system). The Claim files invariably contain plans and designs of inventions which were marked with an S prefix.

Many of the C prefix claim files will be annotated with one of the following scripts: 'Head 1','Head 2', 'Head 3' or 'Head 4'. These refer to specific types of cases heard under the terms of reference specified under the Cohen Commission's Royal Warrant. These terms of reference are explained in the 'Administrative history' .

Other addenda on the files can include 'S.P.' which refers to 'Shortened Procedure' used when a case was able to be fast-tracked through a simplified procedure. Its initial use was referenced in the Second Report of the Commission (Cmd. 7832, November 1949, Para. 5 to 9) where a simplified form of procedure was sanctioned where much of the evidence on the validity of the claim had already been established by the relevant government department, ready to be submitted to the Commission's Secretariat for further comment or new points to be raised by the claimant. Patent numbers can also appear on the file coves where the invention was registered with the Patent Office. These are often present when a claim was being heard by the Commission under Head 3.

Date: 1920-1955

These records were probably arranged within their original separate filing systems according to prefix arrangement number arrangement. However, as the Commission procedure progressed the records of these separate filing system records came together as composite case files for the purpose of the Commission hearings and, it appears most were never returned to their original order. For this reason, records relating to a particular case / invention will include some or all of the above records from the originally separate five filing systems noted above.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, 1946-1955

Physical description: 138 box(es)
Administrative / biographical background:

The Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors (known as the 'Cohen Commission' after the Chairman of the Commission, Lord Justice Cohen) was created by a Royal Warrant dated 15 May 1946. Its purpose was to award remuneration to members of the public who had valid legal claims of ownership of copyright to inventions and processes used during World War 2 (1939-1945) by the British government and other allied governments in exercising their emergency war powers. Remuneration was also provided by the Commission where it could be proved that an existing copyrighted invention, design or process had been successfully and uniquely adapted to serve a useful war purpose.

The terms of reference for the Commission were arranged under four headings in the Royal Warrant. These were:

  • Head 1: A claimant who bases his claim against the Crown upon a patented invention or a registered design which he alleges the Crown has used.
  • Head 2: Cases in which terms of use of an invention had been agreed (but not yet approved with the Treasury) or were in the course of negotiation between the owner of the invention or design and any government department.
  • Head 3: Cases of use, or alleged use, by any government department or with the approval of a government department, by an allied government (other than a dominion government or the government of India) of 'inventions, designs, drawings or processes which, though the inventor, author or owner thereof (including a servant of the Crown) did not possess any monopoly against the Crown or any statutory right to payment or compensation, may, nevertheless, appear from their exceptional utility or otherwise to entitle such inventor, author or owner to some remuneration for such a user'.
  • Head 4: Cases in which, under the agreement between British government and the United States government concerning the 'Interchange of Patent Rights and Information' signed on 27 March 1946, a licence authorising the use of an invention, discovery or design had been granted to the US government.

From 10 February 1947 to 14 December 1955 the Cohen Commission sat in public for a total of 397 days and heard 440 claims under its Royal Warrant terms of reference. It also published four reports (Cmd. 7586, 7832, 8743 and 9744). A Royal Warrant bringing an end to the functions of the Cohen Commission was issued on 17 March 1955.

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