Patent - History Of U.S. Patent Office

By Michael Russell

In this article we're going to do a brief historical review of the United States Patent Office.

The first national patent system was influenced by Thomas Jefferson in 1790. This was actually added to the United States Constitution in order to protect the rights of inventors. From this began the growth of the American corporation. Even though the original thirteen colonies has individual patent laws it wasn't until this constitutional act that the patent system became uniform for everyone.

Actually, the modern concept of the patent itself was established in Great Britain in the year 1449. That year King Henry VI issued a patent to John of Utynam for stained glass manufacturing. The actual history of the English patent system is important for understanding the patent system of the United States but is not the focus of this article. There are plenty of documents online where this information can be found.

In the United States, congress actually passed several patent acts; one in 1790, one in 1793 and one in 1836. Each act added different things to the patent system as we know it today.

The patent act of 1790, the one influenced by Jefferson, required that all applications for patents had some kind of model, whether it be a drawing or prototype, to go along with the application. This was because Jefferson believed ideas should not be patentable.

The patent act of 1793 was actually a revision of the patent act of 1790 due to some differences of opinions between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton who wanted to add provisions for overlapping patents, where two inventors applied for the same or similar patents. The act of 1793 created a patent board that was responsible for issuing patents. A two-thirds majority of the board, made up of the Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Secretary of War, would be required to issue a patent. This act was passed largely because of complaints by inventors that the act of 1790 was not sufficient to protect their rights as inventors.

It wasn't until the patent act of 1836 that the United States Patent Office was actually established. The patent office was created primarily because of the inefficiency of the other two acts in processing patents. Henry Ellsworth was mostly responsible for establishing this act. He was also appointed the first commissioner of patents.

Through this act a system was created for distributing new patents to libraries in every state. This way it would be easy for an inventor to research whether or not a patent existed for a particular invention. This would save the inventor a great deal of time applying for a patent that he couldn't get because it was already issued.

Much has changed in the patent office since those early days. What once took a relatively short period of time now takes years as far as securing a patent. Many times a patent isn't issued until long after the technology has been around for quite some time. Unfortunately in the current climate and with the rate of technological advances increasing everyday, patents are now viewed as nothing more than a bargaining chip in a court of law.

Michael Russell

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