Monty Hyams


Published at 12:00AM, December 5 2013


Scientific publisher of a world patents index that includes 23 million inventions


At the height of the Cold War, Monty Hyams’s forays to Japan and the Soviet Union helped to make London a powerhouse of new scientific information. Moonlighting from his day job, he set up a business, Derwent World Patents Index, that became a noted source of invisible exports for the UK and today covers 23 million inventions.

Hyams began as a bench chemist at various industrial companies and was set to stay that way until a bridge partner at Pyrene, manufacturers of fire-fighting equipment, recommended him as his successor as patents manager. This meant regular trips to the Patent Office in Chancery Lane to look out for developments related to fire extinguishers. Noting that each week’s new collection of patents covered topics of much more general interest, he had the idea of producing what would nowadays be called a current awareness service. In his spare time he identified notable patents in the chemical arena and the most important numbered paragraphs within their application documents. His father, a retired tailor, then transcribed those paragraphs in copperplate, and in the evening Hyams wrote summaries and provided informative titles. His weekly bulletins soon had 300subscribers and he gave up his day job, took on co-workers and expanded coverage.

The enterprise needed a name. Hyams’s house in Finchley, North London, was named Derwent, after Derwentwater in the Lake District, and so the business name was born.

Soon there was coverage of British, German and Commonwealth patents, all compiled from papers at the Patent Office, but the real breakthrough came when Hyams started to visit the Brussels equivalent of the London office. Most patent applications went to many authorities, which waited a year or more before publishing the text, but the Belgians published swiftly. The challenge was that only a single copy of each patent was available, and this had to be inspected in Brussels during a short working day. In 1955 Hyams started to visit fortnightly to make abstracts of chemical patents. Sales were slow initially, but some of the very early disclosures were so newsworthy they were picked up by the press.

Hyams secured key contracts and alliances in Russia, in North America and Japan, while in Europe the major pharmaceutical companies placed Derwent in charge of their consortium for documenting biomedical literature. Less easy relationships existed with some European patent offices by the early 1970s in the competition to create a global documentation service for patents. In1974 Derwent launched its World Patents Index service.

Montagu Hyams was born in 1918 in London. He sold his business to the press baron Lord Thomson of Fleet, but stayed in charge till 1984, when he became managing editor of Index to Theses. To this part-time work he commuted by Underground until he was 93.

Valerie, his wife of 62 years, died in 2006 and he is survived by their two sons.

Montagu Hyams, scientific publisher, was born on March 1, 1918. He died on October 9, 2013, aged 95