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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

The Patent Model

Ever wonder what was needed for a patent to be granted some two hundred years ago?
For roughly ninety years after its establishment in 1790, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) required all patent submissions to include a miniature 12” by 12” by 12” model showing how the invention would work. The ease of simply creating a model and including a short description of the invention, as opposed to detailing each intricate function of it in a formal application, no doubt aided to foster a young nation's creative spirit.
Today, patent models have become a novelty item for collectors and historians alike, and are housed in museums and law firms across the world. Their journey through the last two centuries, however, has not been without peril.
· December 15, 1836: Around seven thousand of the first patent models issued between 1790 and 1836 were destroyed in a fire at the Patent Office. Congress appropriated $100,000 for the restoration of the remaining three thousand models.
· 1870: Congress abolished the legal requirement for models. However, the Patent Office still required them until 1880.
· September 24, 1877: There was a second fire at the Patent Office that destroyed seventy-six thousand models. Shortly thereafter, Congress appropriated $45,000 to restore the remaining models.
· 1880: The USPTO deemed all patent models, except for perpetual motion and flying machine models, impractical. Only when requested by the Patent Office's Commissioner were models required.
· 1893: Due to the high cost of storing old patent models, the government sold and gave away virtually all of them. It was around this time that patent models could be ubiquitously found in places ranging from barns, to basements, to abandoned livery stables.
· 1910: The one-millionth patent was issued.
· Mid-1900s: Many of the models were bounced around from one owner to another until finally finding a home with owner Cliff Peterson, an aerospace engineer, in 1979.
· 1990: In addition to donating one million dollars, Mr. Peterson donated thirty thousand patent models to the United States Patent Model Foundation. The majority of the five thousand models he kept for his personal collection were eventually acquired by Alan Rothschild
· 1998: Rothschild founded the Rothschild Peterson Patent Model Museum where some of the remaining original models are currently being held.
· 2008: Several patent models are housed here at Head, Johnson & Kachigian, including A.E and A.W. Lyman's 1879 invention of a spoon and J.T. Foster's 1873 invention of a flour sieve.
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