Over 150 years of excellence in IP

Shelston IP has a long and unbroken history of service dating back to 1859. Although more than 150 years have passed, our professional staff are only three degrees of separation from their earliest professional ancestor, Edward Waters, who opened his Patent Agency in Melbourne in 1859.


The rapid expansion of industry and commerce in the developing nation soon required a matching expansion in patent services and in 1882 Edward Waters opened a branch office in Sydney. The young manager, Fred Walsh, later established his own firm in 1901 and remained a prominent leader of the profession until his death in 1938.

In 1927, Fred Walsh needed the services of a technical draftsman and employed a young London immigrant, Robert (Bob) Charles Shelston. Bob Shelston was to play a major role in the history of the firm and something of his extraordinary life is preserved in a short personal history “Robert C Shelston” which he wrote in 1977. He was born in London in 1906 and travelled alone to Australia in 1921, celebrating his 15th birthday at sea.

Orient Line S S  Orvieto (2)

Bob commenced work as an apprentice in the NSW railway workshops and later qualified as a patent attorney and mechanical engineer.

Robert C Shelston at Genevoise Jig Borer at Eveleigh Railway Workshops 1    (2)

Robert C Shelston in train control car at Eveleigh Railway Workshops

He also spent time as an examiner in the Australian Patent Office. Many examiners ultimately become patent attorneys, but Bob Shelston was probably the only patent attorney who subsequently became an examiner.

In 1940 he returned to Sydney and joined the firm of Spruson & Ferguson before moving to the Sydney branch of Edwd. Waters & Sons in 1944. By that time, the Sydney and Melbourne firms were operating largely independently, although a common line of ownership still remained. In 1972 ownership of the Sydney practice passed to Bob Shelston, his son Robert G Shelston and their young partner, Graham W Halford. They adopted the new name, Shelston Waters. The firm continued to grow and the initial three partners were soon joined by David T Wilson and William S Lloyd in 1976. Other partners inevitably followed, including Dr Ian Ernst, Leon Allen, Peter Heathcote and many others.

Bob Shelston often repeated a mantra, “The client’s interests are paramount!” He lived by this maxim throughout his long professional life. Before he retired in 1984, he liked to say that from his last professional office in Clarence Street, he could still see the small railway shed on the other side of Darling Harbour, where he studied for his matriculation exams in the 1920s.

The firm has continued to grow throughout its long history, by taking on new partners, acquiring a number of other practices and by close association with many highly respected practitioners both here and overseas. One of these practices, acquired in 1977, was that of Sturt Griffith, who was famously involved in the defence of Darwin during the War. In 1983 the firm acquired the practice of Helen Taylor-McIlwraith, the first woman patent attorney registered in Australia. Helen paid tribute to the assistance that “Uncle” Bob Shelston had given her in studying for her patent specification drafting examination. One of the cornerstones of professional life is passing on acquired skills to the younger generation of attorneys. This process of continuing education forms an essential part of the firm today, often using the same techniques and mantras handed down from our professional forbears, such as Robert C Shelston. His life-long dedication to the highest standard of client service was indeed a paramount example of what is still expected on a daily basis, more than 150 years after our professional birth.

In these more recent years, the firm continues to provide trusted advice to our clients in assisting them to transform their unique ideas into marketable products and services, against an increasingly complex IP landscape. In 1999, an associated law firm, now known as Shelston IP Lawyers, was established to specialise in IP commercialisation and litigation, and related aspects of commercial and corporate law. Branch offices were opened in Newcastle in 2000, Brisbane in 2005 and Auckland in 2012, to service our growing client base in these important locations. To better reflect the ever-changing IP landscape, the firm adopted the new name, Shelston IP, in 2004.


Further reading

Hack, J. Barton, A History of the Patent Profession in Colonial Australia, Institute of Patent Attorneys of Australia, Melbourne, 1984

Wing, Judy, A ‘lucky’ profession? A history of the patent profession in Australia, Institute of Patent Attorneys of Australia, Melbourne, 1996