OBITUARY PUBLISHED IN `INFORMATION TODAY’

 

Montagu (“Monty”) Hyams, pioneer of the patent information industry and founder of Derwent, passed away peacefully on 9th October 2013 aged 95.

A research chemist by training, who became a patents manager almost by accident, he had the idea in 1951 of a publication giving informative summaries of newly issued British patents.  He wrote the summaries himself, working from documents in the British Patent Office. Then, back home at his house in suburban London, called `Derwent’,  a weekly bulletin was compiled.  Within a year he had 300 subscriptions.

This enabled him to hire staff and start covering other countries, his real breakthrough occurring with `Belgian Patents Report.’ Unlike elsewhere, publication of Belgian patents was almost instant, but only a single copy was available, and this could only be inspected at the Patent Office in Brussels during a short working day. Monty took on this task personally, and it soon paid off. In the chemical information arena, in particular, early disclosure had high value and Derwent cemented its place as a key player.

Monty  worked closely with his customers to help shape Derwent’s development.  He was rewarded by their willingness to entrust in Derwent services previously carried out by others.  These features were instrumental in the next phase of  growth.

The publications to that point were not subject-oriented and offered no means of subject searching .  This changed in 1963 with the launch of a pharmaceutical patent documentation service, which included a detailed indexing system suitable for that subject.  By 1966 similar services had been launched for agricultural and polymer patents, and in 1970 came expansion to cover all chemistry. 

A comprehensive world patent documentation service, covering all subjects, had been under consideration for some time and competing organisations wishing to implement it.  After extensive negotiations, Monty  finally obtained agreement for Derwent to be the preferred provider.  Hence was born the Derwent World Patents Index (DWPI). Though the name dates from 1974, content goes back to 1963 as just explained,  so that this year has been celebrated as the database’s golden anniversary.  Next year will be that of Derwent Drug File, originally `Ringdoc’, which launched when a consortium of major drugs companies, finding coding of the literature too onerous, entrusted Derwent with it.

Searching was initially carried out through punch cards and magnetic tape.  But as online services arose, DWPI became a prime offering, initially for Carlos Cuadra’s SDC and after much persuasion, for Roger Summit’s Dialog. Summit recalls how that deal was only eventually brokered after a weekend at Monty’s holiday home, at which his host beat him repeatedly at the game of snooker.

Having sold Derwent to Roy Thomson’s publishing empire (an ancestor of today’s Thomson Reuters) Monty continued happily in charge till his mid-60s. He and Roger Bilboul (owner of Information Today) then took over `Index to Theses,’ the UK equivalent of `Dissertation Abstracts’ and for a quarter century prior to its 2011 sale to ProQuest, Monty worked hands-on as Managing Editor. An information scientist to the last, he commuted thrice weekly until aged 93, proof-reading, editing and classifying on the underground train.

 Montagu Hyams was born in London and stayed local. His wife of 62 years, Valerie pre-deceased him in 2006 and he is survived by their sons Peter and Stephen.