Patents and literature: The forging of a rebel, by Arturo Barea

In Spain, all those who are interested in the world of patents, in its history, in its relationship with different aspects of life, have been immensely fortunate, because Arturo Barea, who wrote an extraordinary portrait of the Spanish Society during most of the first half of the 20th century, worked as a patent agent for many years. Thanks to that, his work “The forging of a rebel” has provided us with priceless information about the world of patents during the second and the third decades of the 20th century. With this entry I have tried to obtain all the information about patents and inventions that can be found in the fabulous work “The forging of a rebel”. It isn’t the first time I have written about him and his autobiographical work (though always in Spanish).

Analyses of this literary work are quite numerous. The trilogy became very popular after a TV series based on it was broadcast by the Spanish Public TV channel in 1990, but in this entry I will focus on all that has to do with patents, which can be found in volumes II and II, titled “the track” and “the clash”, because the first volume “the forge”,  the most praised one from the literary point of view, is devoted to his childhood and adolescence.

Portrait of Arturo Barea by Galina Yurkevich

Throughout the trilogy, on several occasions, Arturo reveals that he had always wanted to become an engineer, but the early death of his uncle, who was to pay for his university studies, thwarted his project. He could have studied at the Engineering Faculty known as ICAI, managed by the Jesuits, thanks to a scholarship, but in “the track”, he states that he renounced such a possibility because he did not want to commit himself to following the dictates of the Jesuits for his whole life:

“I would be able to work in any factory in Spain as a mechanical engineer without the legal title, but it would be tacitly understood that I was to remain in contact with the Order, confess my sins to a Jesuit, and obey his instructions unless I wanted to lose my job from one day to the next. And where would I go then with a certificate which was nothing but a scrap of paper when the placet of the Society of Jesus backed it no longer?”

That is why he felt satisfied when he worked as a “patent technician” for several years:

“I buried myself in work, and it had much to attract me. I had not been able to become either a Mechanical Engineer or a mechanic, but I was now the adviser of inventors.

Despite his thwarted Project of becoming an engineer, he was often in touch with the engineering and the industrial worlds; during his stay in the African war, he served as a sergeant in the Corp of Engineers and during his youth, when he was around 19 years old he worked for some time as an administrative officer in a factory in Guadalajara, the so called “hispano suiza”, which in those years changed its name to “Motores España”. It’s then the first reference to patents is made in the trilogy.

“Spanish motors was a patriotic enterprise which would free Spain from her dependence on foreign countries and giver her her own aviation”.

Five million free shares in pesetas were issued, 1,000,000 belonging to the King Alfonso XIII, the same amount to the Count of Romanones and other industrialists

“The rest of these shares wer entered in the name of the inventor of the engines of Spanish Motor Engines. They were the payment for his patent rights on those very engines which were now to be produced under the name of Spanish Motors, Ltd. But I forgot what name I wrote.”

In his early years of youth he had already worked briefly in the Office of D. Agustín Ungría’s, which does not appear explicitly in any of the volumes of the trilogy. Back in Madrid in 1923, after his traumatic experience in the African War as a sergeant, he stumbles upon D. Agustín in the “Puerta del Sol”, and he offers him a new job in his company, which is described with all kinds of detail in the final pages of the second volume “the track”.

When Arturo Barea started working again at the Company of Agustín Ungría “El Fomento Industrial y Mercantil” ( the company still works under the name of “Ungría, patentes y marcas”), it had been established in Madrid 30 years ago. By then, the company had 50 employees and the author tells us that whenever a new worker joined the Office, a new table and a new chair were bought in a second-hand shop, and as a result, there were not 2 identical chairs or tables in the Office. The company dealt with all kinds of administrative issues, including those that had to do with the Industrial Property, as well as commercial information and debt collection. Arturo says that salaries were miserable and that was why the company was known as “el refugio” (free bedroom for the homeless).

At Agustín Ungría’s company, Arturo Barea worked mainly on patents, especially on everything that had to do with the relationship with foreign customers since he spoke French. As an introduction to his job, he says that the Spanish patent granting procedure that existed in Spain at that time was of the “simple deposit” type, without substantive examination.

“The Spanish patent laws require no more than a simple registration, but the firm began to deal with countries abroad where patents involve a meticulous technical and legal preparation. No one in Ungría’s office was qualified for this kind of work. For my private satisfaction I started studying the technical and theoretical side of every patent which came our way. Soon I specialized in this.”

Arturo says that his salary was very low (150 pesetas a month) and that patent translations were paid additionally, depending on the number of words. Throughout the trilogy and coinciding especially with his stay in Agustín Ungría’s company, Arturo provides us with several examples of the precarious economic situation suffered by numerous administrative workers or “chupatintas” (literally ink-suckers) in Madrid.

“I hated that terrible, hidden, shame-faced hunger of the office workers, which then ruled so many hundreds of homes in Madrid.”

Letter from Agustín Ungría’s firm where Arturo Barea worked between 1823 and 1924

In 1924, after refusing to marry Agustín Ungría’s daughter, Arturo moved to another industrial property agency:

“Almost simultaneously one of the heads of the best-known patent agency in Spain died unexpectedly. I knew that it was difficult to find a replacement for him, because his work needed highly specialized qualifications, and went to see the director of the firm.”

He took over the firm’s technical direction, with a 500 pesetas salary and a commission. Even though, neither the name of the director of this second industrial property office nor that of his bosses are ever mentioned throughout the trilogy, nevertheless it has been possible to find it out from several indications that are given during the last part of the volume “the track” and in the first part of “the clash”. The firm turned out to be Roeb y Cia, still working. It had been founded by the German José Roeb y Nohr, professor of German language at the “Escuela Superior de Guerra”, in 1904. During his last years at the company, until 1936, it was located in Alcala, 40, in front of the beginning of the Gran Vía. On several occasions, Arturo refers to the privileged location of his place of work. From there, he witnessed the usual skirmishes between “falangistas” (fascists) and communists during the months before the outbreak of the Civil War.

“Opposite us, at the corner of the Phoenix Building, some half dozen people were leaning over a bundle on the ground. It looked ludicrous from our height. We could see the street in its full length. At our feet it widened into a sort of square, where the Gran Vía and the Calle de Caballero de Gracia joined it.”

Advertising of the Patent Agency (Roeb & cia)

Most of the anecdotes and stories that have to do with patents take place during the 12 year period when Arturo worked at “Roeb & Cia” , and they are narrated in the volumes II and III.

He also tells us that he used to write technical or legal articles for two professional magazines and that his boss (probably Guillermo Roeb Ungelheuer) let him edit a technical magazine that was used as advertising for the firm. This magazine was “el inventor”.

“My work brought me into the realm of big industry and my journeys to the two industrial centers of Spain – Catalonia and the North country – became more frequent.”

Cover and inside page with advertising in the magazine “El inventor” that was probably edited by Arturo Barea

Arturo also deals with his relationship with the Duke of Hornachuelos, José Ramón de Hoces y Dorticós-Marín. The Duke wanted a patent on “the inclusion of advertisements on the cigarette packs”. Although Arturo tried to deter him from filing a patent, because that subject matter was not patentable, the Duke insisted and even though the Registry of the Industrial Property was going to deny the patent, due to pressure from high government authorities, eventually the patent was granted.

“Now, under the dictatorship, he counted on getting the monopoly for cigarette and match packagings, protected by his worthless patents.”

 In the database of the OEPM’s historical archive there is only one patent filed by José Ramón de Hoces: ES121494. This story of a patent granted on a non-patentable invention because of political pressures reminds me of something similar that happened in Nazi Germany, about which I wrote an entry for the OEPM’s blog.   

The patent ES121494, titled as “improvements in the packaging of tobacco products” was filed on the 29th of January 1931 and granted in February that year, a few months before the proclamation of the Second Republic, once Miguel Primo de Rivera had already passed away. Besides, the patent refers to the addition to cigarette packs of all kinds of accessories (from mirrors to matches and powder containers) and not only to the inclusion of advertising. Therefore, this patent does not seem to be the one mentioned in “the track”.

Drawings from patent ES121494 and a prosecution related document

Arturo was usually in contact with all kinds of inventors, including those known as “individual inventors”. It could not be otherwise:

“The humble, visionary inventor would arrive with his drawings in a leather briefcase bought especially for the purpose – he had never used a case of the kind himself and fumbled with the lock – and let himself drop into the armchair”.

From what he says, it seems he was also acquainted with perpetual motion machines:

“What a labor it was to convince people of the fact that their “invention” had been known to the world for years, or that their machine could not function because it was against the laws of mechanics. A few, a very few, saw it and left, bowed down under their knowledge shattered. You had killed their spirit, and you felt compassion for them.”

““Imagine”, he would say, “that one out of every thousand inhabitants of Spain buys my apparatus. At five pesetas. That makes one hundred thousand pesetas. And then we take it to America, with a market of millions and millions of people – it’ll be millions of dollars, you’ll see.””

But he was also in touch with big business, usually foreign and especially German, since that was the nationality of the founder of the firm. In the volume “the track”, he explains some of the cases in which he was involved, hired by those big companies.

He devotes quite a lot of time to a patent whose owner was a professor of chemistry at the Central University of Madrid, whose name is not mentioned, who had invented a new procedure for dissolving the up to then insoluble alkaline earth salts. Thanks to that new method, it was possible to increase five times the amount of sugar obtained from beet or sugar cane; from 14-17% to 85-92%. According to Arturo, a German company wanted the patent to be declared invalid, in order to prevent it from being exploited, since their main business was the obtaining of alcohol from residues from molasses and the use of the invented procedure would have limited the amount of sugar contained by those residues. Eventually, the patent was maintained but the law-suits consumed his private means, a family fortune he had inherited. Besides, the invention could not be exploited commercially because there was a surplus of sugar in the market at that time.

The professor of chemistry was Teófilo Gaspar Arnal, and the patent whose validity was at stake was ES98580 and the addition ES101906. The protection was extended to Great Britain (GB297482), Finland (FI13546), and Switzerland (CH128983)

On one occasion the firm where Arturo Barea worked represented a powerful German company, the Reichsbahngesellschaft (The German public railway company), which wanted the annulment of several patents whose owner was a French Company, and whose subject matter was the manufacture of railway bearings, all that with the purpose of obtaining a contract with the northern railways company.

The trilogy also shows that in those years German companies used to visit Spain in search of the minerals needed for Germany’s armament industry. For instance, during one of his stays in Novés (Toledo), a village where he had rented a house, he gets in contact with a landowner in a zone where Bauxite was abundant, and who had been visited by Germans:  

“Do you know anything about aluminum? …….. Yes, of course. But I don’t know exactly what interests you about aluminum and whether my kind of knowledge is likely to be any good to you.

……Never mind, never mind, we must have a talk. I’ve made a most interesting discovery, and we must have a talk. You’ll have to give me advice.

I was by no means pleased at the prospect of having one of those cranky inventors next to me in the village, but it was impossible not to respond.”

On another occasion he met a landowner from Asturias, Rafael Soroza, whose lands were rich with dolomite:

 “….The Germans buy all the magnesia I am able to extract from the dolomite, and now they’re asking for greater quantities. It’s an excellent insulator, and they’re going to use it for refrigerators and for covering all the pipes in the ice factories. It’s better than asbestos. We must take out a patent…..”

Reference is also made to a Spanish Industrial Property Figure of that time known as “defensive patent”, defined in the “Estatuto de la Propiedad Industrial” that came into force in 1929.

“Don Rafael registered innocuous patents which protected the rights to use magnesia as a non-conductor of heat. The Rheinische Stahlwerke, the I.G, Farbenindustrie, and Schering-Kahlbaum sent us patents protecting the extraction of magnesium from dolomite ant its exploitation for mechanical purposes.”

The “Estatuto de la Propiedad Industrial” defined those patents in its article 287:

“It shall not be possible to decree the preventive seizure of the products, nor the seal of the machines and apparatuses of a patent in force, nor therefore to deprive ‘a priori’ the accused of the exercise of his industry, in the meantime the competent Courts have not made declaration, in executory sentence, on the nullity of the patent of the defendant and validity of that of the plaintiff; However, the owner of the subsequent patent, whether the plaintiff or the defendant, may be obliged to make a cash deposit, bond or surety sufficient to ensure the results of the trial and to indemnify, where appropriate, the holder of the original patent.”

In other words, the ownership of the patent protected against precautionary measures until the moment this was declared invalid.

Those patents were explicitly eliminated by the Ley 11/1986, in its article 55:

“The owner of a patent may not invoke it to defend himself against actions brought against him for infringement of other patents that have a priority date prior to his own”.

Attending the “Registro de la Propiedad Industrial” was part of his job. Arturo offers us a revealing description of that public office and of some of the civil servants. First, he informs us about its location in the “Palacio de Fomento”:

 “When the big building became the Ministry of Labor, the Patent Office was housed on its ground floor. For fifteen years I went nearly every day into those vast stone halls and glass-roofed office rooms.”

Palacio de Fomento (Where the registry of Industrial Property was located for most of the 20th century)

Arturo also describes briefly the organization of the Registry of Industrial Property and some of the management posts.

“The chief of the Patent Office, with the title of Director-General, owed his post to a political appointment and changed with every Government. I had to deal with the three permanent officials, and to crowd all my business into the brief hours when they were available.”

Below the Director-General were the secretary, the head of patents and the head of trademarks. According to Arturo Barea, the Registry of Industrial Property was not an exception within the pervasive corruption, though it was not one of the worst organizations in that respect.

“I could obtain astounding results by fencing cleverly with a few bank notes, an amiable letter from a German personage, an amiable letter from a politician, or an amiable letter from a prominent Father.”

The text also describes thoroughly the atmosphere in the Registry soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, after the assault on the “Cuartel de la Montaña”. We also learn Arturo’s intervention to rescue the Head of trademarks from an imminent execution by communist militiamen.

Further details about those stories as well as about the functioning of the Registry of Industrial Property during the civil war can be found in the issue 52 of the MARCHAMOS magazine (magazine of internal communication of the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office).

Once the war had begun, Arturo remembers that within his work with patents he had been involved in the drafting of a patent application on a grenade:

“Then I remembered the patent of a very simple hand grenade which had gone through my hands. Its inventor, Fausto, was an old mechanic whom I had come to know well. The ordnance factory at Toledo had just taken up its production when the insurrection broke out. This was the kind of weapon which was needed now. I saw Fausto and asked what had been done about his invention.”

A weapon factory had been set up in Toledo in order to exploit the patent. Arturo travels there, accompanied by the mechanic, with the aim of rescuing as many weapons as possible, but they failed to do so. Toledo was taken over by Franco Forces who stumbled upon an intact arms factory.

In the document “Las granadas de mano artesanales del tipo 5ª regimiento” (The hand-made grenades of the 5th regiment type), it’s stated that the mechanic’s name Fausto had been made up and that the patents that protected the hand-grenade were ES125781 and ES123764. In both patents the applicants were Juan Delgado Moreno and Virgilio Fernández de la Vega. Since Virgilio Fernández was a pharmacist, Juan Delgado can be assumed to be the mechanic.

Figures from patents ES125871 and ES123764 on “hand grenades”

The final reference to the world of patents, takes place in the last pages of the volume “The clash”. Arturo Barea, accompanied by Ilse Kulcsar (an Austrian journalist that had voluntarily worked, as well as Arturo, in Madrid in the censorship of foreign correspondents), whom he had married after divorcing his previous wife, left Spain in 1938 and stayed in Paris for a year before moving to England where they settled down. In Paris they barely scraped by, mainly by translating all kinds of texts. One of those works was the translation of a patent:

Mostly it was a question of short advertisements netting five francs apiece, enough for bread and cheese. But once they sent me a patent to translate into Spanish. When I started to type, one of the letter-levers broke. It was nothing short of disaster, for the patent was long enough to promise warm meals for at least five days.”

Arturo Barea as inventor and patent applicant

It’s striking that throughout the three volumes of the trilogy Arturo refers neither to his activity as inventor nor to the three patent applications he filed. It’s true that those patent applications soon expired, two of them because of lack of payment of a renewal fee and the other one was not even granted because drawings were not submitted. Anyway, these are his three patent applications:

ES103729 – “A container-device, especially applicable to tooth paste”. It was filed on the 26th of July 1927.

In this application, unlike in the other two, he wasn’t represented by a patent agent. According to the documentation of the file, in that time he lived in “el Puente de Vallecas”, in “Plaza de San Isidro”, now known as “Plaza de Puerto Rubio”.

The patent application referred to a dispenser, included in a Buddha-shaped container that allowed the contents of the tube of toothpaste to be used without waste, while simultaneously providing it with a pleasant support and appearance, since the toothpaste was usually packed in tin tubes that didn’t match the other usual elements in a bathroom.

The patent was granted but it expired due to lack of payment of the first renewal fee.

Filing document signed by Arturo Barea and drawings from the patent ES103720

ES111519 _ “improvements in steaming machines”. Filed on the 20th of February 1929.

This application was filed under the representation of the Industrial Property Agent Leocadio López, who also worked in the firm “Roeb & Cia”, what can be interpreted as a personal favour. That year his address was in “calle Julián Gayarre”, near the Atocha Station.

The patent application refers to improvements in steaming machines for making coffee, to be used in cafeterias and with the purpose of improving hermeticity and performance.

First page and one of the drawings of the patent application ES111519

ES140385 – Improvements in the manufacture of hollow objects with cellulose paste and similar materials. It was filed on the 28th of November 1935.

In this application, Arturo was represented by Guillermo Roeb, his boss. The patend was denied, because drawings were not submitted. On this occasion, Arturo’s address was on “calle Olivar”, in Lavapiés, very close to the “calle del Ave María” where in the volume “the clash” he is said to live at that time.

The invention refers to improvements in a procedure for the manufacture of hollow objects from cellulose paste, procedure that was already protected in Spain by the Spanish patent ES67493. Since a grid was used to facilitate the expulsion of water, the surface of the object was no completely smooth and an additional treatment of said surface was required.

Authorization included in the patent file ES140385


As readers have been able to confirm, if one talks about patents and Spanish literature, “the forging of a rebel”, and more specifically volumes II and III play a leading role. As in so many other fields, this work offers an invaluable testimony to understand the world of patents in Spain in the 20’s and 30’s of the 20th century.

En español

Στα ελληνικά

Leopoldo Belda-Soriano

Interesting links:

You can find articles (in Spanish) about other literary works where patents play a role somehow relevant:

– Día del libro de 2015.

– Les Souffrances de l’inventeur (Honoré de Balzac).

– Congreso en Estocolmo (José Luis Sampedro).

– A Venetian Court (Charles L. Harness).

– Les Patrons sous l’occupation (Renaud de Rochebrune).

– Patent Pending (Arthur C. Clarke)

– El Agua Prometida (Alberto Vázquez Figueroa) – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

La literatura y las patentes

A patent lie

Birdseye: las aventuras de un hombre curioso

Proofread by Ben Rodway

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