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Kolster’s first patent served the paper industry


February 14, 2019

The use of wood fibre as the raw material of paper was boosted when the first patent application filed through Kolster was accepted in 1874. Officially, this was an exclusive right granted by the Senate, because the Patents Act only became effective at the end of the century.

The year 1874 is an important milepost in the history of Finnish patents. It was then when Rudolf Kolster filed his first patent application. At first, he was a part-time patent agent while teaching at the University of Technology and worked at an engineering office. In the same year, he set up the oldest patent office in Finland still in business, Kolster. Based on the company’s first patent application, the Finnish patent number 129 was granted. The official announcement on the granting was published in Hufvudstadsbladet on June 5, 1874. Kolster’s Patents Director Tapio Äkräs explains the details of patent no. 129.

What did the invention relate to?

“Rudolf Kolster filed the patent application on behalf of two English inventors George Sinclair and John Nicol. Their invention was about processing wood fibre in paper manufacturing. Charles Watt, an Englishman, had previously developed a pulp manufacturing method suitable for wood fibre, that is, the soda process. Sinclair and Nicol were developing an apparatus suitable for this method.”

Why was an English invention patented in Finland?

“High technology and know-how were efficiently spreading around the world in those days, too.  At the time, there was more knowledge related to steam boilers, and surprisingly also to chemical pulp manufacturing in England than in Finland. Due to his background, Rudolf Kolster was an expert in the steam boiler technology, which possibly played a role in handling the patenting through him. Pulping probably was not a field of the future in England, so the inventors may have considered Finland a good market for their product. There were several factories under discussion in Finland, and obviously a lot of wood for the raw material. Sinclair had filed the same patent one year earlier to another country, Canada, know for its wood industry. It seems he clearly believed in his idea.”

How was the patent utilised?

“Kolster’s first patent was actually a privilege granted by the autonomous Finnish Senate, so an exclusive right to manufacture a device in Finland for 20 years, converting wood fibre material into paper pulp.   Finland did not yet have patent legislation in force in 1874, but an applicant of a patent was granted a privilege, so an exclusive right and sole right in the same manner as craftsmen were granted a craftsmen right, so a permission to practise their profession. Such a patent undoubtedly supported the sales of the invention.”

How many patents were granted in the 19th century?

“The first privilege patent was granted in 1842, and it is estimated that only 180 of them were granted within 40 years. In 1876, an imperial decree on patent rights was introduced for Finland, and in 1898 the first patents act.  In the early 20th century, Rudolf Kolster had filed by far the most patent applications in Finland. He was also involved in preparing a new patents legislation for Finland.”

Is patent no.129 still in force or has it been renewed?

“Because there was no legislation at the time, the filing method, form of the application, or protection period had not been officially determined. Patent no. 129 was granted for 20 years, but it looks like patents were also granted for shorter time periods. For example, patent no. 120 for a manufacturing method of matchsticks was granted for ten years.

The structure of patent no. 129 is surprisingly close to the modern practice. The application has a clear description with drawings, and claims of sorts handwritten in Swedish. There were no typewriters, let alone word processing programs, in those days. The formalities for the structure of an application were not precise, because the application for the matchstick invention, for example, had one page of description without drawings.”

What makes the invention particularly interesting?

“The patent was Kolster’s first assignment and for that reason important to us.  Its timing also coincided with an interesting global turning point of the patent sector. The significance of patent protection had been the topic of vivid discussion in the early 1870s, which seems to have resulted in an increase in the patenting activity all over the world, Finland included. In 1883, the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property was signed, which the basis of international patenting.”

What happened to the invention?

“We have no information on the further stages or success of the invention. Pulp manufacturing technologies saw rapid development at the turn of the century and new pulp mill technologies were patented for the use of the forest industry. In all likelihood, Sinclair and Nicol’s invention was buried under the new technology. They did not seek a new patent for their invention.”

 Photo: The Finnish Labour Museum Werstas.

To celebrate Kolster’s 145th jubilee year, we feature each month an interesting Finnish invention or patent.

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Tapio Äkräs
+358 20 137 0588