The Patent Office came into being as a single centralised office, responsible for all matters concerning the obtaining of patents for inventions, as a result of the Patent Law Amendment Act 1852, which swept away most of the antiquated and cumbersome procedure that had been in use for the previous three centuries. The new act completely separated patents for inventions from other patents under the royal prerogative and placed them under the control of commissioners of patents, consisting of the Lord Chancellor, the Master of the Rolls, and the law officers.
The act provided that specifications, instead of being enrolled in Chancery, should thereafter be filed in the office of the commissioners, and should be printed and published, and that a register of patents should be provided for use by the public.
The commissioners, together with all vestiges of the pre-1852 practice, were abolished by the Patents Designs and Trade Marks Act 1883. They were replaced by a Comptroller General, with a staff of examiners, and other officers, responsible to him, serving under the general supervision of the Board of Trade. The board's supervisory responsibilities for patents and designs had been maintained originally by its Commercial Department and, after 1867, by its Railway Department. The 1883 act also transferred responsibility for the registration of designs and trade marks from the patent commissioners to the Patent Office, which until the 1920s was formally known as the Patents, Designs and Trade Marks Office.
A Design Registry, intended to protect designs of patents used in the manufacture of textiles and many other manufactured articles, had been set up by the Board of Trade in 1839, and had been transferred to the patent commissioners in 1875. A Trade Marks Registry, with similar objectives had been established in 1875 as a result of the Trade Marks Act 1875. An office was established at Manchester in 1875 to deal with cotton trade marks, and another in 1908 to deal with designs for printed and woven textiles.
In 1901 the Finance Department of the Board of Trade took over general supervision of the Patent Office, and in 1908 it passed to the Commercial, Labour and Statistical Department. In 1919 the Patent Office and Industrial Property Department was established, which has since performed the advisory and administrative duties formerly performed by other departments. As head of the Department the Comptroller General was an officer of the Board of Trade, but as Comptroller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks he was answerable only to the High Court.
The department discharges the functions in relation to copyright acquired by the Board of Trade under the Copyright Act 1911 and subsequently; in 1965 the department was renamed the Patent Office and Industrial Property and Copyright Department. In government reorganisations it has followed the president of the Board of Trade, firstly to the Department of Trade and Industry in 1970, to the Department of Trade in 1974 and to the second Department of Trade and Industry in 1983.
The Comptroller General of patents, designs, and trade marks has important judicial functions in his field. Originally appeals from his decisions lay to the law officers, but the Patents and Designs Act 1932 established a Patents Appeal Tribunal to deal with such cases. The tribunal consisted of a judge nominated by the Lord Chancellor. Further appeal under certain circumstances lay to the Court of Appeal under the Patents Act 1949.
Under the Registered Designs Act 1949 designs were dealt with separately from patents and a Registered Designs Appeal Tribunal was constituted. The jurisdiction of the Patents Appeal Tribunal was replaced by that of the Patents Court under the provisions of the 1977 Patents Act.