Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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PATENT OFFICE. Although the issue of American patents is nearly coeval with the government of the United States, the first creation of the patent office, with a commissioner of patents, dates from the year 1836. Prior to that date patents were issued directly by the department of state. By act of July 4, 1836, an office denominated the patent office was created, to be attached to the department of state, and a fire-proof building for its use was provided for. The chief officer, styled the commissioner of patents, was required to perform all acts touching the granting of patents for new and useful inventions, with a salary of $3,000, and seven clerks. Patents were to be signed by the secretary of state, and countersigned by the commissioner. The number of patents issued in the earlier years was very small, varying, from 1837 to 1847, from about 400 to 600 per annum; but since 1865 the business has enormously increased, until now the number of patents annually issued is about 16,000, with fees (averaging $35 for each patent) amounting to about $800,000 per annum. The patent office is not only self-supporting, the fees paying all running expenses, with the salaries of some 350 clerks, but it actually pays into the treasury of the United States an annual surplus of about $200,000. It has been urged with some force, that the inventors of the country should not be taxed beyond the actual cost of administering the business connected with the registry of patents, and that a large reduction of patent fees ought in equity to be made.


—By the act of 1836 patents were granted for fourteen years, with the right of extension for seven years longer, at the discretion of the commissioner of patents. In 1861 the law now in force was enacted, making the term of original patents seventeen years; and no extension for patents granted since March 2, 1861, is allowed except by special act of congress. A very few patents have been thus renewed, and many more have been asked for, upon the plea of insufficient remuneration to their owners. The last patents extendable by the patent office expired in 1875.


—The commissioner of patents is appointed by the president and senate for no definite term of office, with a salary of $4,500. He is aided by an assistant commissioner (salary, $3,000) three examiners-in-chief (salary, $3,000 each), one examiner of interferences (salary, $2,500) and twenty-five examiners (salary, $2,400 each), each of the twenty-five having charge of one of the following distinct classes of inventions: 1, agriculture; 2, agricultural products; 3, metallurgy, brewing and gas; 4, civil engineering; 5, fine arts; 6, chemistry; 7, harvesters; 8, household; 9, hydraulics and pneumatics; 10, carriages, wagons and cars; 11, leather-working machinery and products; 12, mechanical engineering; 13, metal-working, class A; 14, metal-working, class B; 15, plastics; 16, philosophical; 17, printing and paper manufacturing; 18, steam engineering; 19, calorifics, stoves and lamps; 20, builders' hardware, locks and surgery; 21, fabrics and textile machinery; 22, fire-arms, navigation, signals and wood-working; 23, trade marks and labels; 24, designs and sewing machines; 25, milling. Besides these, there are about 300 assistant examiners, clerks, messengers, etc., the annual salaries of the office reaching $537,000 per annum.


—The commissioner of patents is required to make an annual report of the business of the office, with a list of patents issued during the year. This valuable series of reports began with 1837, and for a series of years included a report upon arts and manufactures and upon agriculture in one annual volume. With the year 1849 began the issue of the agricultural report in a separate volume, which was continued until 1861, after which the commissioner of patents no longer issued an agricultural report, the department of agriculture having been created in 1862. The series of patent office reports, issued annually with specifications and [sometimes] drawings, was continued until 1871 (the set, 1837-71, numbering sixty-five volumes on Arts and Manufactures, and thirteen volumes on Agriculture), after which the method of publication of patents was radically changed, the annual reports being succeeded by the following publications: 1. Specifications and Drawings of Patents issued from the United States Patent Office, May 30, 1871, to December, 1883. Of these, 196 volumes in quarto (weekly for the first year, monthly from July, 1872,) have been issued. 2. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office (weekly) January, 1872, to December, 1883, 24 vols. 8vo. This contains the full list of patents, decisions in patent cases, etc., with drawings in reduced size. 3. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents. These contain, since 1872, a bare list or index of patents annually issued, without specifications or drawings, but with references to the Official Gazette and monthly volumes of specifications, and a statement of the aggregate business of the office for the calendar year. Besides these, the office has issued a "Subject-matter Index of Patents for Inventions issued by the U. S. Patent Office from 1790 to 1873," 3 vols., Washington, 1873. There should also be noted as covering the comparatively small record of inventive art from 1790 to 1837, "A List of Patents granted by the U. S. from April 10, 1790, to Dec. 31, 1836, with Appendix of Reports of the Patent Office in 1823, 1830 and 1831," 8vo., Washington, 1872. Pamphlets containing the patent laws, the rules of practice in the patent office, etc., are furnished to all applicants.


—The patent office building was burned in December, 1836, with the models accumulated, many of which were replaced by act of congress. Again, in 1877, a part of the office, with several thousand models, was destroyed by fire, but the loss was largely repaired by the manufacture of new models.


—On the creation of the department of the interior in 1849, the patent office was transferred to that department, where it now remains, all patents being signed by the secretary of the interior, and countersigned by the commissioner of patents. The patent office, with its vast accumulation of 275,000 models, occupies the larger portion of the great marble building known as the interior department. The arrangement and display of models of patents in its long halls is extensive and interesting, and the heavy additions of each year will soon require much more space than is now at command.


—The following is a list of commissioners of patents, with the commencement of the term of service of each:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.


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