Patent records held in Canberra – Fact sheet 265

A patent is a right that is granted for any device, substance, method or process that is new, inventive, and useful. A patent is legally enforceable and gives the owner exclusive rights to commercially exploit the invention for the life of the patent.

Following Federation in 1901, the matters of patents were brought together under the new Commonwealth Patents Act 1903 and one office, the Commonwealth Patent Office. The Act was implemented on 1 June 1904. All patents that had been previously registered under colonial Acts remained in force until they expired (the usual period was 14 years), and could be re-registered under the new Commonwealth system.

The application process

An applicant would apply for letters patent by lodging a specification describing the complete working of an invention. If the Patent Office considered that this specification was incomplete or if the specification did not differ sufficiently from an invention already patented, then the specification was considered provisional. Applicants were then asked to provide further details to address the Patent Office’s concerns. If these details were provided and the Office approved, then the specification was considered complete and could progress to the next stage of the process. If no more details were provided, or the Office’s concerns were not met, then the patent application would lapse.

When a complete specification was received and accepted, the Patent Office would grant letters patent for that invention. The invention was given a patent number, and all new patents were advertised in the Journal of Australian Patents (and its successors). Once letters patent were granted, the owner was given exclusive legal rights to commercially exploit that invention for the term of the patent (usually 20 years).

How patent records are organised

In the period 1904–35 a single number system was used to identify patents. For each
five-year period, a cycle of numbers was used. When that period ended, the numbers be would reset and a new cycle began.

Applications were allocated the next number in the cycle and given a year suffix to indicate the year of lodgement. A complete patent number from this period would appear in the ‘number/year’ format. For example, application number 20337 lodged in 1911 would appear as ‘20337/1911’. However, the year suffix was often not cited, unless there was risk of confusion with a similar patent. The allocated number was retained throughout the life of an application or patent if accepted. Patent applications from 1904 onwards are held in series A627.

From 1935, once a patent had been accepted and letters patent granted, a separate patent file was created and assigned a patent number. Patent files are held in series A661.

Record holdings of patents and letters patent

The National Archives holds records of Commonwealth patents lodged from 1904 onwards. It also holds some pre-1904 patent records for various states. Registers for these records are listed below.

Patent application files may include correspondence between the inventor and the patent office, as well as technical specifications, drawings, and diagrams of an invention. Patent files contain application forms, declaration forms, examiners’ reports and correspondence.

Patent records held in Canberra

Commonwealth

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesApplications for patents1904–A627
SeriesRegisters of Commonwealth patents1904–A3918
SeriesPatent files1937–A661

All States

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesPrinted specifications of letters of registration granted for inventions (with index)1877–86A1151

New South Wales

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRegister of applications for provisional certificates and letters patent1887–1905A1077

Victoria

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRegisters of patents granted and issued1854–1904A1172
SeriesRegisters of patents1890–1904A1159

Queensland

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRegister of patents granted1885–91A1124
Series(1) Register of applications for letters patent (2) Register of letters patent (from 1891)1885–1904A1122

Western Australia

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRegisters of patents1876–1904A1109

South Australia

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRegister of colonial patents1877–99A1148
SeriesRegisters of deeds of letters patent granted1877–1903A1149
SeriesRegister of applications for patents1877–1904A1152

Tasmania

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesRegister of patents1858–1904A1095
SeriesRegister of proprietors to letters patent1859–94A1097

Finding records

You can search the collection using keywords from the title of the patent or the applicant’s name. As only a portion of the records in the series have been listed on our database, for assistance please ask us.
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017