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From World War II to the new patent offices in East and West Germany: the years 1941 to 1950

Historic pictue of destroyed patent office building

Destroyed office building in Gitschiner Straße

The end of the catastrophic World War II in early 1945 also meant the end of all German authorities. An era ended and a new one began. Germany lay in ruins. The office building of the former Patent Office of the German Reich (Reichspatentamt) in Berlin was bombed to rubble. This condition did not change for the coming couple of years, as a photograph of 1949 shows.

The library of the patent office becomes the "treasure in the salt"

Historic picture of Potash mine in Heringen

Potash mine Heringen (Werra) before World War II
Source: photo archive of the Werra-Kalibergbau-Museum in Heringen

Since the end of 1943, precautionary measures had been taken against war destructions. Evacuation of ten patent divisions with 180,000 files to a former monastery in Striegau, now Strzegom in Poland, and to the neighbouring town Jauer, now Jawor, was started. The material was transported in trains of barges via the Oder-Spree Canal, as no railway wagons were available.

The increasing bomb attacks on Berlin in early 1944 made it unavoidable to evacuate further stocks of the patent office. For safety reasons, larger parts of the library were brought to the Hessian town Heringen (Werra), about 400 kilometres from Berlin.

The office's property, approximately 250,000 volumes - other sources even mention 320,000 - was stored in the shaft of the potash mine. This shaft - around 600 metres below surface - was relatively dry due to its natural properties and therefore particularly good for storage of paper documents. A problem was the fact that the books were partly very old, had to be handled with care and it was tried to maintain the order. Therefore, the books were packed in work of several weeks around the clock and loaded in goods wagons. In addition to the library stock of the patent office, Heringen was also the shelter for the archive of the geological division of the Wehrmacht, a collection which later became known in expert circles as the "Heringen Collection" due to its wealth of books, atlases and instruments.

Historic picture of storage of the patent office library in Heringen

Storage of the patent office library 1944/1945
Source: photo archive of the Werra-Kalibergbau-Museum in Heringen

As a consequence of the war, the town and shaft of Heringen were occupied by American troops on 3 April 1945. It did not take long that the "treasures in the salt" were discovered and retrieved.

  • The Werra-Kalibergbau-Museum in Heringen provides information about the "treasures in the salt" in a journey through time in pictures on its website under www.kalimuseum.de/kalirevier.

On 10 February 1945, the war came to Jauer - shots by Soviet tanks were audible. Two days later, the men of the patent office fled by foot and reached Eger (Cheb in Czech, now part of Czechia). The next station for the staff was Lichtenfels in Upper Franconia. They were able to take the files with them. They were allowed to use some rooms in the building of the local court there. Some morning, Americans came and declared the files to be seized.

On Saturday, 21 April 1945, the patent office in Berlin was also closed.

Patent attorney from Chicago recognises the essentials

Historic document: Act of 5 July 1948

Act of 5 July 1948

Beginning in July 1945, American troops also seized 145,000 non-concluded patent files. A team of experts from the USA set up by the Allied, the Field Intelligence Agency, Technical (FIAT), microfilmed these files - 3,000 pictures per day. This was requested so by American officer and FIAT commissioner Richard Spencer, patent attorney in Chicago before joining the forces. In the 1950s, the American government handed over these films to the German Patent Office. These documents were indispensable for the further handling of non-concluded pre-war applications, which were made in large numbers on request by the applicants. The FIAT films are still in the possession of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) and can be inspected in the search room of the DPMA Information and Service Centre Berlin.

"For the moment, Germany is kaput and the German patent system is also kaput," wrote Spencer in his report about his work following the war published in the US Journal of the Patent Office Society in early 1949 (since 1985: Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society).

The patent attorney came to a plain conclusion - containing the essentials: "Today the German inventor has practically no place to turn." This statement of the expert was met with a response: on 5 July 1948, the Economic Council of the United Economic Area decided to set up offices where it was possible to file patent, utility model and trade mark applications.

Reconstruction of the patent system in West Germany begins in Darmstadt

Excerpt from the newspaper

Excerpt from the newspaper Darmstädter Echo of 20 October 1948
Source: City Archive Darmstadt

At the end of April 1945, with the German surrender on 8 May 1945 at the latest, the "patent-office-free period" began. With the Act of 5 July 1948, reconstruction of industrial property protection in West Germany took shape. From 1 October 1948, Germans were able again to file their inventions for a patent or utility model or to request registration of trade marks. The two receiving offices were set up in Darmstadt and Berlin. Ludwig Erhard, the first Minister of Economic Affairs of the young Federal Republic of Germany, later wrote the following nice sentence:

"The German industry's need for secure protection of technical achievement, which was already present at the beginning of the reconstruction and which became increasingly urgent, confirms, also from a practical standpoint, that a modern economy under the principle of job-sharing is indispensable for the positive development of industrial property protection."

Especially the receiving office in Darmstadt received a large number of applications in the period during which it was active (1 October 1948 to 30 September 1949). 56,591 patent applications were filed in the said period in Darmstadt (in Berlin: 4,411). This meant that, in those twelve months, there were even more patent applications than in the last year of peace (1938) at the Reichspatentamt (56,217).

Two inventions filed in Darmstadt then are particularly known to football players and travellers:

The "patent-office-free period" comes to an end ...
... in West Germany

Historic document: Act of 12 August 1949

Act of 12 August 1949

As early as 17 December 1948, a new act would have been able to promote reconstruction of industrial property protection in Germany - "would" because the military occupation governing body initially did not approve the act: the act on the establishment of the German Patent Office in the United Economic Area with headquarters in Munich. The further negotiations, during which concerns from the Allied about the act had to be dispelled in addition to questions regarding the location (Darmstadt, Munich and Berlin remained the last three in the race), dragged on for a few months. It is thanks to Walter Strauß, then Head of the Legal Office of the United Economic Area, and his persistent commitment that the act was approved in the beginning of August 1949 and promulgated on 12 August 1949.

Historic picture of President Eduard Reimer

Eduard Reimer, President of the German Patent Office from 1949 to 1957

Two days later, on 14 August 1949, elections for the first German Bundestag were held in the Federal Republic of Germany, which was established on 23 May 1949. The parliament held its opening session on 7 September 1949.

As early as 28 August 1949, the left library stock of the former Reichspatentamt was brought to Munich, where they moved into an undamaged wing of the building of the Deutsches Museum. The German Patent Office started its operations there on Saturday, 1 October 1949, with 423 members of staff headed by President Professor Dr Eduard Reimer (1896-1957).

Already four months later, on 1 February 1950, the German Patent Office opened its sub-office in the US occupation zone of Berlin: in the building of the former Imperial Patent Office in Gitschiner Straße.

... and in East Germany

Historic picture of GDR patent office

Office for Inventions and Patents of the GDR with the southern Mohren Colonnades

Six days later, on 7 October 1949, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was established in the Soviet occupation zone. The IP system there was also rapidly set up. The German Economic Commission, a body by the Soviet occupying power, had already decided to establish a patent, utility model and trade mark receiving office in Berlin on 15 September 1948. The first address was - and still is - a historic location: the building, named Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus in 1992, in Wilhelmstraße 97 once housed the Ministry of Aviation and served as the "house of the ministries" after establishment of the GDR. Today, it is the seat of the Federal Ministry of Finance, which also provides information about the building on its website at www.bundesfinanzministerium.de.

On 6 September 1950, the receiving office became the Office for Inventions and Patents (Amt für Erfindungs- und Patentwesen) of the GDR - with a new seat in Mohrenstraße 37b, which is no less a historic location.

Situated in the former Berlin Konfektionsviertel (clothing district), the building - constructed from 1912 to 1914 and named Prausenhof after its owner Oswald Prause - together with its historical Mohren Collonades was a perfect example of the commercial architecture in Berlin at that time. Today, it is together with further neighbouring buildings the seat of the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection. Detailed information about the history of the building complex is available in German at www.bmjv.de.

Pictures: DPMA (unless otherwise noted)

Last updated: 8 May 2020