Your letters on patents and hydrogen liberation

Have patents

Following Stuart Goldie’s summary of his experience of publishing scientific research (Chemistry World, October 2018, p5), I believe it is worth exploring the merits of an entirely different approach to publishing research: patents. These reach around the world and can be found with an internet search if the title is cogent and short.

Of course, the publishing format of patents is known and patent applicants would have to learn it, as well as to identify an inventive step or feature in their work. But, of course, each scientific publisher has his own particular requirements anyway, and these have to be learned too.

A recent piece of my research was granted a UK patent (at a cost of around £250). Patents granted in the UK, say, enhance our body of protected intellectual property and can bring an economic return to the applicants and their university both for operation of the patent here as well as applying to appropriate imported products coming within UK jurisdiction.

Patent applications do not face referee assessment, but the difficulties of the refereeing process have been recited frequently. The main downside to consider is the delay in the grant and publication of the patent – usually about three years. However, the effect of this delay can be ameliorated by publishing subsequent studies in scientific journals for several years until patent applications are published. Also, a succession of patent applications can result in a succession of granted applications.

The effect on impact scores might have to be evaluated prior to filing an application, but funding bodies would reasonably be cognisant of the merits of granted patents.

Clive Delmonte, FRSC

Fakenham, UK

Water shortage

I must take exception to the use of the title ‘Sunlight converts plastic to hydrogen’ for an article in a recent issue (Chemistry World, October 2018, p32) and to the statement ‘photoreforming a plastic bottle to hydrogen’. The description of the actual process is ‘irradiation with sunlight allows the catalyst to oxidise the plastic polymers and simultaneously reduce water from the solution to hydrogen’. This statement makes it quite clear that no hydrogen is produced from the plastic – it all comes from the water. In addition, this description gives no details of the part played by the plastic in the liberation of the hydrogen – it appears to suggest that it is the catalyst alone that is responsible. The whole tenor of this article understates the part played by water as a reactant rather than merely a solvent.

J D Wheatley

CChem FRSC, Matlock


In the July issue we erroneously stated the temperature of glacial lakes on Mars was around -268°C. The actual temperature is estimated to be around -68.2°C.

Best of the web

Our columnist Nessa Carson asked if anyone knew about completing a PhD by external publications. It turned out quite a few people had some experience…

My uni does PhD by publication but you can’t be an enrolled student. You can technically include papers in your thesis as a student here, but the school was against it so I had to rewrite my papers. Ended up disincentivising publishing in my final year.


I’ve supervised students who have written a traditional thesis and also who have done the thesis by publication approach. Thesis by publication involves traditional intro and discussion chapters with those in between formatted as papers (published or manuscripts).


24 years ago, when I did my PhD, my external examiner warned me at the start that he was concerned, as I’d already published two papers when my thesis was submitted. After 20 minutes he told me he had concluded that I had done the research … I think it was (is?) frowned upon for the reason he was hunting at: that the student hadn’t done the work.


I’ve recently submitted my PhD thesis based on published papers. It’s becoming a common practice in Spain, as well in other countries of the EU. It’s faster to write, read and evaluate. In the end, I had already written those results and conclusions. Why should I do it again?


My thesis was by ‘alternative format’. It was all the papers I had published, with an intro to each one and stating my contribution. My thesis intro was a book chapter that was later published. The University of Manchester offered the option.


I kind of did it. In Germany it was allowed if you had more than four papers. I wrote the introduction and conclusion, the rest are papers attached in the thesis. It saves a lot of time in writing.