How's That? Edwardian Bowling Machine Demonstrates Patent Sufficiency

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Patent applications must clearly describe inventions for replication by skilled individuals. A Cambridge team successfully recreated John Venn's 1909 automatic bowling machine from its patent, highlighting the importance of sufficiency in patent documentation.
UK Intellectual Property
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It's a requirement of any patent application that it describes and explains the claimed invention in sufficient detail, and with sufficient clarity, that someone working in the field the patent relates to could replicate the invention and put it into practice based only on reading the patent document. In Europe, for example, this is expressed in Art. 83 EPC, which states that "The European patent application shall disclose the invention in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art." This objection is often referred to simply as "sufficiency" for short, and lack of sufficiency will usually doom an application to being refused.

That requirement is already strict enough without considering how technology might change in the future, and I suspect most patent attorneys would be daunted by the task of drafting a specification that would still let the invention be put into effect, say, a hundred years from now.

Remarkably, however, a team of Cambridge engineers led by Hugh Hunt have recreated an automatic bowling machine invented by John Venn (of Venn diagram fame) that successfully bowled out the Australian national cricket team in 1909, based only on a surviving photograph and a contemporary patent application. The secret to the machine's success was its ability to impart spin in the same manner as a human bowler, which its poor opponents certainly wouldn't have expected from a device that resembles a wooden catapult. Sadly I haven't been able to find out what score the Australian team managed before their defeat.

Regardless, in addition to the admirable skill and dedication of Professor Hunt's team, I can't help also feeling respect for the patent attorney (or perhaps enthusiastic amateur) who wrote a patent application over a century ago that evidently still meets the requirement of sufficiency to this day. We patent attorneys can all aspire to that!

Using patent illustrations and an old photograph discovered online, the team brought the 7ft contraption to life using materials that would have been available when Dr John Venn – who first described what are now known as Venn Diagrams, and was also President of Gonville & Caius College – created it in the early 1900s, and which bested the Australian cricketers in 1909

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