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Scientist gets £2m decades after he invented diabetes test

In 1982 Prof Shanks developed new technology to measure the concentration of glucose in blood and other liquids, whilst working for Unilever. The invention was patented, and after a lengthy legal battle, the court has recently ruled that Prof Shanks’s invention had provided his former employer with an “outstanding benefit” to the tune of £24m from the patents, and consequently he should be entitled to a “fair share” of the company’s net benefit.

His electrochemical capillary fill device (ECFD) appears in most glucose testing products, and is thus of great benefit to a large number of people even today. Unfortunately his thirteen year battle for compensation has taken its toll on Prof Shanks’ own health and pocket, and most of his £2m compensation will actually go towards his legal costs. This is one of a few cases brought under Section 40 of the UK Patents Act.

But whilst Prof Shanks intended for his action to raise awareness of Section 40 to other inventors, before you all start thinking about putting in a claim to your employer the bar for “outstanding benefit” is very high. It is not merely substantial but out of the ordinary, future benefit is not included, one must fact out contributions of adverts, other features etc in sales, the benefit must be actual not theoretical, the onus is on the applicant (employee) to prove it is outstanding, and furthermore, a given level of benefit will be proportionately less outstanding the larger the employing organisation becomes, which can result in an employer being ‘too big to pay’. Food for thought nonetheless. Here is a link to the IPO decision.

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