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  • Cassandra L. Wilkinson

History of Patents


Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution states that Congress shall have power “to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed a bill that laid the foundation of the modern American patent system. The Patent Act created a system for patent review and grant that was administered by the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson; the Secretary of War, Henry Knox; and the Attorney General, Edmund Randolph. The Department of State had the responsibility for administering the patent laws. Fees for a patent were between $3 and $5. Under this system, an invention would be submitted to these three officials for review.< If two out of three determined that the invention was “sufficiently useful and important,” a patent would be granted to the inventor. The patent gave the inventor the exclusive right to make, use, and sell the invention for fourteen years from the time the patent was granted. In 1793, the system was changed radically to a registration system and the application fee was increased from $3 and $5 to $30. Under this system, an inventor would register his invention with the Secretary of State, who would instruct the Attorney General to grant a patent for fourteen years to the inventor. Remember, the first Secretary of State was Thomas Jefferson. It is ironic that the first Patent Act was administered by a man who, being an inventor himself, not only never sought a patent but also was critical of a patent system. Jefferson opposed patents because he considered it an unfair monopoly. Jefferson became more open to the idea of patents when he saw how many inventors put forth their ideas as a result of the new system of protection, claiming that "it had given spring to invention beyond my conception." (Little, Brown and Company (1951). The 1836 Patent Act created the Patent Office as part of the Department of State. The 1870 act moved the Office to the Department of Interior. The Patent Office was renamed the United State Patent and Trademark Office and moved to its current home in the Department of Commerce as a result of changes to the law in the 1950’s and is located in Alexandria, VA. The U.S. Patent Act of 1952 simplified and clarified language and arrangement, and eliminated obsolete and redundant provisions in existing U. S. patent law. It also effected substantive changes. The major substantive changes were the incorporation of the requirement for invention and the judicial doctrine of contributory infringement in 35 U.S.C. 13 and 271, respectively. Subject to numerous amendments over the years, the Act originally divided the patent law into three parts. . Part I – Patent and Trademark Office (formally the Patent Office) contains provisions governing the office, its powers and duties, and related matters. . Part II– Patentability of Invention and Grant of Patents sets out the conditions under which patents may be obtained and the procedure for doing so. .Part III– Patents and Protection of Patent Rights relates to the patents themselves and the protection of rights under patents. A later amendment added .Part IV – Patent Cooperation Treaty. The Patent Cooperation Treaty, signed by 35 countries by December 31, 1970, simplifies the filing of patent applications on the same invention in different countries by providing, among other things, centralized filling procedures and a standardized application format. It helps established programs of American industry to file foreign patent applications as well as encouraging smaller businesses and individual investors to become more active in seeking patent protection abroad. Other amendments to Title 35 concern the change of name of the Patent Office to the Patent and Trademark Office, revised fee schedules for application and issue of patents, and modifications in procedures related to the protection of patents. PATENTS TODAY To obtain a patent today, an inventor must go through a review process by a patent examiner, an employee of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The process, which may take several years, involves a determination that the invention is new and useful. Once the patent is granted, a description of the invention is published for everyone to read and the inventor is given an exclusive right to make, use, sell, and offer to sell the invention. If someone does make, use, sell, or offer to sell the invention without the patent owner’s permission, the patent owner can sue for infringement and obtain money damages from the infringer. THREE TYPES OF PATENTS UTILITY PATENT:A utility patent protects an invention’s function or the way it works. Utility patents usually fall under three types: 1) chemical, 2) mechanical, and 3) electrical. Since June 8, 1995, a newly filed utility patent will have a life span of 20 years from the priority date. The priority date can be the filing date of the application, or the filing date of a prior domestic or foreign application that is disclosed as at least part of the same subject matter. All patents issued before or in the application process as of June 8, 1995 have a 17 year life span from the date of issuance. A design patent protects the original and ornamental shape or ornamentation or characteristic of an object. Design Patents have a 14 year life span from the issue date. PLANT PATENT:A property right given to an inventor of a new plant that has been asexually reproduced. Plant Patents have the same life span as Utility Patents. FUN FACTS First Patent: U. S. Patent No. 1X METHOD OF PRODUCING POT ASH AND PEARL ASH, issued to Samuel Hopkins, on July 31, 1790. X Patents were issued by the USPTO from July 1790 to July 1836. The first numbered patent: U. S. Patent No. 1 TRACTION WHEELS, issued on July 13, 1836 to John Ruggles, a U.S. Senator from Maine. From the USPTO Website Kids’ Pages: November Patents, Trademarks, & Copyrights November 1 APPLE JACKS cereal trademark registered in 1966. 2 PILLSBURY’S flour trademark registered in 1948. 3 LISTERINE trademark registered in 1903. 4 Richard Gatling received a patent for the machine gun in 1862. 5 Henry Ford received a patent in 1901 for a motor carriage. 6 Colonel Jacob Schick patents the first electric razor in 1928. 7 The movie “Guys and Dolls” based on stories by Dammon Runyon is registered in 1955. 8 Cecile B. Demille’s “The Ten Commandments” was registered in 1956. 9 George Bruce receives the 1st Design Patent in 1842 for printing type faces. 10 STAR-KIST canned tuna fish trademark registered in 1953. 11 NABISCO trademark registered in 1901. 12 BAT MAN trademark registered in 1940. NABISCO trademark for crackers, wafers, cakes, and other baked products registered in 1901. 13 Robert Jarvik was granted a patent in 1970 for an artificial heart. 14 Patsy Sherman & Samuel Smith obtain a patent, in 1973, for a method for treating carpets, known as Scotchguard. 15 Patent #775,134 granted to King C. Gillette for a safety razor in 1904. 16 Stephen Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was registered in 1977. 17 Emile Berliner is issued a patent for a combined telegraph and telephone in 1891. 18 ELMER’S glue trademark registered in 1952. 19 Granville Woods was issued a patent for a third rail to operate electrified railways in 1901. 20 Patent #1,475,024 granted to Garret Morgan in 1923 for a traffic signal, the forerunner of the modern stop light. 21 Isaac Von Bunschoten patents a rosin-oil lamp in 1854. 22 Design Patent for the Congressional Medal of Honor was granted to George Gillespie in 1904. 23 Andrew Beard granted a patent in 1898 for a railway car coupler. 24 Patent #157,124 granted to Joseph Glidden in 1874 for barbed wire fencing. 25 Robert S. Ledley for granted patent #3,922,522 in 1975 “diagnostic X-ray Systems” know as CAT-Scans. 26 Russell Penniman received patent in 1895 for transparent photographic film. 27 Mildred Lord granted a patent for a washing machine in 1894. 28 ARM & HAMMER baking soda, trademark registered in 1905. 29 Francis Blake was granted a patent in 1881 for the speaking phone. 30 John Mason patents the screw neck bottle – the Mason jar – in 1858.

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