In the world of intellectual property, Abel + Imray has been at the forefront of innovation for 150 years. In 1871, two engineers and leading patent agents founded the firm. Since then, our experience and legal expertise has protected thousands of ideas and brands.

Whether we’re advising on the IP rights of others, filing patents for game-changing inventions, or registering famous trade marks, we look forward to helping shape the innovations of the future, and working with businesses from our offices across Europe in the exciting and challenging times ahead.

Our firm is founded

The cable car railway. The telephone. Even the humble stapler and lightbulb. The 1870s were a prolific decade for world-changing inventions. And in 1871, Charles Denton Abel and John Imray founded what was originally called ‘Abel and Imray’, in 20 Southampton Buildings, Holborn – less than half a mile from our current London office.

Charles Abel was already an experienced patent agent with extensive technical knowledge in chemistry and mechanical engineering. His business connections across Europe also helped gain prestigious clients, many of whom stayed with the firm long after Abel’s death. John Imray brought a background in engineering and a shrewd commercial mind, often appearing as an expert witness in cases before the courts.

It was in the Summer of 1871 that Abel and Imray started filing their first UK patent applications for clients of the newly established partnership. One of the very first was No. 1894. This was for the ‘ventilating hat’, designed by Paris’ Achille Chevrillon to keep heads cool in tropical countries. Further notable patents followed, including No. 2081 in May 1876 for ‘Gas Motor Engines’ on behalf of German engineer, Nicolaus August Otto, who built the first working 4-stroke engine. Two months later, the Stag trade mark No. 8193 was registered for dairy food colourants by the company, R.J. Fullwood & Bland Limited. It’s still in force today, making it the oldest live trade mark on our records.

Ventilating Hat, 1871 and Steam Tricycle, 1875 patented by Abel and Imray

Supporting our professions

The 1880s brought us the first four-wheeled automobile, radar, wearable contact lenses and Coca-Cola. It was also when Charles Abel, John Imray and other founding members helped form the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) in 1882. Alongside the UK’s Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA), CIPA has become the professional body representing 4,000+ members and promoters of the IP profession.

Imray served as CIPA’s first ever vice-president and as second president (1884 to 1886). Abel then became CIPA president (1897 to 1899). Since those early days, Abel + Imray has counted a further five presidents among its past partners and consultants, including, most recently, Richard Mair: CIPA president 2020-21.

In terms of patent applications this decade, one was filed by us in 1892 for the first Diesel engine. Invented by Rudolf Diesel from Berlin, he described it as: ‘A Process for Producing Motive Work from the Combustion of Fuel’. Around the same time, an artificial silk similar to ‘Rayon’ was developed by French engineer and industrialist Comte Hilaire de Chardonnet. While working with Louis Pasteur on a remedy to the epidemic that was destroying French silkworms, a darkroom spillage led to Chardonnet’s discovery of nitrocellulose as a possible alternative to real silk. Abel + Imray filed one of the key UK patents for this new material in 1886.

A recording first

The radio and the vacuum flask. Safety razor and paper clip. Inventions, large and small, were transforming people’s lives in the late 19th century. 1898 saw the magnetic audio-recorder unveiled by the Danish engineer, Valdemar Poulsen. And in 1899, Abel + Imray filed a patent application for this so-called telegraphone – the forerunner of the tape-recorder.

This magnetic wire recorder used a magnetisable material, such as a steel wire or strip, which moved past a recording head fed with an electrical signal representative of the sound to be recorded. The head magnetised the material in dependence on the electrical signal such that the signal, and therefore the sound, could later be reproduced by performing the process in reverse.

Abel + Imray’s filing of the telegraphone patent, enabled Poulsen to be the first to publicly demonstrate the principles of magnetic recording. With his assistant, Peder Oluf Pedersen, he later developed other magnetic recorders that recorded on steel wire, tape, or disks. While none of these devices had electronic amplification, the recorded signal was still strong enough to be heard through a headset or transmitted on telephone wires. At the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, Poulsen even had the chance to capture the voice of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria – creating what is believed to be the oldest surviving magnetic audio recording today.

Trade mark matters

In 1902, John Imray died, marking the end of the original partnership. But the other original founder, Charles Abel, remained in practice until his death in 1906. He was succeeded by senior partner, Oliver Imray (John’s son), and Arthur Bloxham, who joined the firm in 1897 and became resident expert in the field of chemical patents.

Oliver was particularly concerned with trade mark matters – which continue to be an important part of Abel + Imray to this day. Some of the most well-known trade marks we have registered over the last 150 years are: Heinz, Hyundai, Kia, Radisson, Rentokil, Bovril, and Vaseline.

Other patents Oliver Imray filed at the turn of the century included No. 15,435 in 1901. This was for an American invention of a newly improved web printing machine, which worked by supplying paper from one or more rolls (webs) which were then printed, folded, cut and delivered as a complete product.

Fighting spirit

As the First World War began, Abel + Imray filed the patent application for a new treatment in the fight against tuberculosis. Invented by a German chemical manufacturer, this therapeutic agent consisted of small quantities of gold salts that were shown to have a remarkable ability to kill large quantities of tubercle bacilli – the bacterium that still causes such devastation in humans and animals.

Then, with the war finally coming to an end, Oliver Imray filed a UK patent for ‘Improvements in Machine Guns’ on behalf of the Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Connecticut, U.S.A. Patented via Abel + Imray in 1919, the invention centred around the firing mechanism of recoil-operated, automatic machine guns. This new development was based on how the barrel and breech mechanism interlocked and then unlocked the energy stored in the gun’s reaction spring – making reloading safer and faster.

Roaring twenties, new partners

Robots, insulin, hearing aids, liquid fuel rockets and pop-up toasters. ‘Talkies’ at the movies and the advent of television. This was a ground-breaking era for scientific, medical and electrical innovations.

One of the elegant inventions we filed in 1923 was a handy and inexpensive accessory for smokers. A small, ring-shaped cigarette and cigar holder that, when placed on a flat surface, inclined away and removed the risk of scorching from burning tobacco. In 1924, Abel + Imray also filed patent No. 217,282 on behalf of the Kellogg Company for new food processes. These were designed to improve the taste and nutritious qualities of cereal and bread products through the addition of minerals and vitamins to the whole grains or dough.

Things were changing at Abel + Imray, too. Oliver Imray (senior) retired in 1921, but the firm’s partnership retained ties to its founding fathers. Oliver Young Imray remained a partner, alongside four new equity partners who joined the firm in this year: A G Bloxham, T Shields, J W Waghorn and A Hicks. As the decade drew to a close, the office moved down the road to its new residence: 30 Southampton Buildings, Holborn, London.

Only the war stopped Frank

There can’t be many firms that can claim to have had an employee who’s given 60 years of service, interrupted only by the events of World War II. But Abel + Imray can.

In October 1935, a young Frank Hooker joined the clerical department of Abel + Imray – and continued working beyond his 60th year with us until 1996 as a loyal and much-appreciated part-time member of staff in our foreign patent department, despite reaching his official retirement age in 1985. A. J. S. Evans also joined in the 1930s after having been involved in the milestone Celanese v. Courtaulds case.

A few months before war was declared on Germany, we completed a specification for a new and improved type of filter used in photographic colour film. Our London office then became a casualty of the German Air Force in November 1940, when bombs fell on and badly damaged 30 Southampton buildings – as well as destroying many papers and records inside. As a consequence of the war, Abel + Imray’s business links with Europe were also severed temporarily, and the post war years were spent slowly building the firm back up.

Bomb damage to the firm’s premises

Silks on silk: Celanese v Courtaulds

Abel + Imray attorneys helped to weave new concepts into patentability case law – including 1935’s landmark British Celanese v Courtaulds. This case concerned patents relating to what was then known as ‘artificial silk’, made by drawing threads or filaments from a cellulose solution. And the case came about when patent owners British Celanese sued Courtaulds – who had developed their own, competing process.

It was a hard-fought case, finally decided in the House of Lords where it was found that the British Celanese process was a ‘mere collocation’: put simply, known things interacting in an unsurprising manner. Almost 70 years later, the concept of mere collocations being unpatentable was still quoted in UK case law – and the House of Lords. And since they first met in court, both Celanese and Courtaulds have been Abel + Imray clients.

Post-war recovery

World War II had finally ended in Europe. VE Day celebrations were raising spirits across the land. And the people were at last free to start re-building their shattered lives and cities.

The post-war years also saw Abel + Imray get the business back on its feet, albeit slowly. A. J. S. Evans became a senior partner in 1950, but before then, Abel + Imray only had two partners – W. W. Groves and H. W. Waghorn – from 1945 to 1949. This was the only time in the 20th century our firm was at the absolute minimum required for a partnership to be considered viable.

Moving on

In 1960 Abel + Imray moved the office to Quality House, Chancery Lane, London. A year later, a department of the UK Post Office that later became BT (British Telecom) asked us to patent technology relating to telephone exchanges and other forms of connection that operate on the time division multiplex communication system.

According to its patent specification No. 998,007, completed in 1961, this invention used one pulse time for the calling line identity and another pulse time for the called line. By allocating four-digit directory numbers to these identities, a storage system for information passed between any two lines could be set up.

Hitting a century

From the swinging sixties to the dawn of the digital age – and a new chapter for Abel + Imray. As we celebrated our 100th anniversary in 1971, there was another milestone for the firm as we welcomed our first in-house translator.

When we moved our London office to High Holborn a year later, typewriters were still standard. But our centenary was also the year of the microprocessor, an invention which eventually paved the way for office computers.

At its peak our translation team had five full-time in-house translators who were working on patents primarily drafted in German and French, but also Dutch, Italian, Spanish and occasionally Russian. One of the most difficult challenges for the team was to translate pharmaceutical text from Chinese into Spanish, in the days before computer-aided translation. Nowadays, our team, assisted by a range of technology manage a steady stream of French and German translations for R.71(3)EPC Communications – translating claims into English in the final stage of European patent applications. They also interpret International PCT Applications, which is crucial for cases to be able to enter the national phase in countries such as the USA, Australia, and UK where the text needs to be in English.

Rocking out in Europe

The end of the ‘70s saw our horizons expand in Europe. We continued to look after the UK patent applications for major chem-bio companies such as Germany’s Schering AG (now part of Bayer), Hoechst AG (now part of the Sanofi-Aventis pharmaceuticals group), and Ciba Geigy in Switzerland. When the European Patent Office (EPO) opened in 1978, we cut the ribbon on our Munich base.

Not only was our German office invaluable for clients and colleagues, it also allowed us to forge connections with EPO staff, following the newly introduced European Patent Convention (EPC). European companies could now get patent protection in the UK without the need to argue before the UK Patent Office, requiring English translations only at the point of grant. Likewise, we were now able to patent technology in Europe directly. Abel + Imray needed to swiftly adapt to this new way of working. And our Munich office was key to that. Meanwhile, securing a residence for the firm in Munich’s newly developed “Arabellapark” allowed attorneys to spend more time in the city and make the most out of our newfound European presence. Their soundtrack was provided by Queen, Elton John and Donna Summer: our Munich flat was part of the same building as the iconic Musicland studios.

Closer to home, the 1970s also saw us working for Black and Decker. With Abel + Imray attorneys responsible for the majority of their 1970s patent filings, we protected a diverse range of innovations – from pressure-fed paint rollers and jig-saws, to improvements to the iconic Workmate.

The location of our Munich Office in Sendlinger Straße

BT: Ringing the changes

In 1981, the British Telecom (BT) brand broke away from the UK Post Office. As patent attorneys for the latter, we needed to untangle a complex transaction involving a huge portfolio of IP rights.

Key to our work for the Post Office was having the attention to detail in keeping accurate and complete records, as well as a deep understanding of our client’s business – from the technology that powered telephone exchanges, to the intricacies of submarine cables. We brought that knowledge to the table when BT sought ownership of many of these patent rights, which was crucial for a transaction of this size and scale. Recording BT as the new IP rights holder at patent offices across the globe was a truly international effort.

Avon calling

In the decade when the Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum computer reached UK homes, 1984 saw us ‘move house’ and establish our Bath office in what was the county of Avon in the UK’s South West. It was a win-win location – a beautiful place to live and work, and close to Bristol, where many other firms were ‘setting up shop’.

Julian Bardo, who led the office opening, was leaving much of his London client base in the safe hands of his colleagues – and expanding the firm’s reach. It was a bold move, but it brought success. Our firm could service businesses nationwide, attracting new clients and working with innovators such as Sir Clive.

With Abel + Imray among the first patent and trade mark firms in Bath, Queen Square was the beating heart of the city’s legal sector. Working from elegant townhouses wasn’t without its quirks, however – one junior attorney even temporarily called a kitchen her office. So, as our regional work and reputation grew, we expanded into numbers 2, and 3 Chapel Row.

Chapel Row, Bath

Suited for success

Our current Senior Partner, Jim Pearson, joined in 1994. Apart from being attracted to Abel + Imray’s South West credentials, Jim was also drawn to the way the firm balanced intellectual rigour and hard work with a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

During the mid-90s, the companies and clients we acted for covered many industries: industrial chemistry, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, publishing, automotive, telecommunications, electronics, computing, defence and aviation. To mention but a few.

Our equity partners were Dave Darby, Tony Coulson, Pat Barry, Janet Senior, Julian Bardo, Richard Mair and Ceris Humphreys. Compared to other patent attorney firms in the UK at this time, our firm was considered slightly more balanced in terms of the male to female partnership ratio and relaxed when it came to office etiquette. Suits and ties, however, still appeared to be mandatory attire, for the men at least – which might explain why Jim’s mother felt compelled to buy him a shiny new briefcase for his first day in the office.

New millennium, new office, new logo

Though dubbed ‘the day the earth stood still’ by newspapers, the new millennium brought a flurry of activity for our firm. Our aerospace work took flight as Airbus UK became one of our established clients while, on the ground, our office space expanded into Cardiff.

Having represented many brands over the years, we developed our own visual identity and unveiled the first Abel + Imray logo in 2000.

A year later, it was proudly used in our new Cardiff office. Our presence in Wales was in part thanks to Julian Bardo and an approach by Welsh Water which, on the cusp of privatisation, needed some quality IP advice. Following this and other successes, enquiries began to flow from local premier law firms – and soon after, our name was on Wales’ IP map.

Seven years after opening our Cardiff office, we moved our Bath base from Georgian Chapel Row to open-plan offices at Westpoint Building, creating even better opportunities to collaborate.

Windsor Place, Cardiff

A brand new look

The world’s first popular cryptocurrency took off in 2009 with the advent of Bitcoin. Digital assistants Siri and Alexa became popular from the early 2010s, redefining the way we get information (and seemingly from thin air). And reusable rockets blasted onto the scene in 2015, as Blue Origin’s New Shepherd and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 made successful vertical landings.

With so much change afoot, it was time for a new look for Abel + Imray. In collaboration with Bath-based design agency Mytton Williams, we exchanged our ampersand – and Abel + Imray was born. This alteration was accompanied by a design aesthetic that was anything but beige. The bold new palette featured a dark pink pantone, now synonymous with our firm’s forward-thinking reputation.

New brand and logo
Assembly Square, Cardiff
St. Andrew Street, London

‘Start with the Why’

Inspired by Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk ‘Start with the Why’, we took time to examine Abel + Imray’s guiding principles. We quickly recognised how caring and understanding were the foundational tenets of our work. That everyone from partners to paralegals care deeply about their clients’ businesses and IP, asking questions to really understand the technical, commercial and legal details. And how the whole firm champions collaboration, investing in relationships and inspiring trust by working as an extension of our clients’ teams.

This space for reflection crystallised our own ‘why’ – to look after your ideas so you are free to do what matters most to you. And caring about looking after our clients’ IP in mainland Europe, post-Brexit, saw us open our Spanish office. This meant that Abel + Imray could continue to provide a full range of IP services across the continent, and in particular before the EUIPO in Alicante.

Focused and future-ready

Having survived two world wars and 150 years of virtually uninterrupted business, we’d say we’re well versed in being resilient during uncertain times. But 2020 presented a whole new set of unique challenges.

Whether based in London, Cardiff, Bath or Spain, our teams were able to adjust rapidly – and admirably – to the demands of lockdown and working from home, continuing to deliver the Abel + Imray standard.

Led by managing partner Matthew Critten, our firm is confident we will have become even stronger after such a tough year. We look forward to growing our client base and delivering valuable IP work for a prosperous future.

The equity partners of Abel + Imray over the years:

Charles Denton Abel
John Imray
O Imray
A G Bloxham
T Shields
O Y Imray
J W Waghorn
A Hicks
W W Groves
F M Leighton
W Waghorn
A J S Evans
O W Jaques
F J Bubb
V J L Fry
H J Pike
J M Taylor
A M Dowler
D T Darby
A J Coulson
P C Machin
P J Barry
J Senior
J E Bardo
R D Mair
C A Humphreys
C J Legg
J G Pearson
J E Denness
M P Critten
S M Bentley
P A Brady
M T Burt
C P Brooks
M J E Fletcher
J M Ford
R N Williams
N T Forsyth