facts about the creation of the
U.S. Patent System by the
United States Congress in 1790.
||U.S. PATENT SYSTEM
|On April 10, 1790, President
George Washington signed the bill which laid the foundations of the modern American patent
system. The U.S. patent system was unique; for the first time in history the intrinsic
right of an inventor to profit from his invention is recognized by law. Previously,
privileges granted to an inventor were dependent upon the prerogative of a monarch or upon
a special act of a legislature.
shall have the power...to promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for
limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings
and discoveries." - U.S.
Constitution Article 1. Section 8.
||Young or old, most inventors are
thrilled when see their name on a patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark
Office in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
|In 1790, one Samuel Hopkins
of Pittsford, Vermont, was granted the first U.S. patent, for an improvement in the making
of potash (a substance derived from the ash of burned plant life and used to make soap and
The reviewer of this patent was Thomas
Jefferson, the Secretary of State and himself an inventor, whose work area was filled with
gadgets he had devised (perhaps he examined the patent on the famous portable desk that he
invented in 1775). Jefferson next passed the document to the Secretary of War for his
review and then obtained signatures from the Attorney General and, finally, from President
So began something bigger than the Founding Fathers had
ever dreamed. During that first year, Jefferson received two more patent applications,
both of which were granted after due deliberation and signature-collecting. But sometime
during 1791, as he scrutinized models and sorted through stacks of designs, Jefferson
realized that patent-examining was too much for busy Cabinet members. For as little as
four dollars, American inventors could seek patent protection for their inventions under
provisions of the Act of 1790. And seek it they did.
Jefferson found himself overwhelmed by an outpouring
of American inventiveness. By 1793, patent examining duties had been reassigned to a State
Department clerk, until the Patent Office was formed in 1802. Today there are more than
five million patents that have been issued to Americans and other nationals by the U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office.
to the Patent Act of July 4, 1836, patents were issued by name and date
rather than number. The Patent Office had already issued nearly 10,000
patents, when a fire destroyed many of the original records in December
of 1836. Using private files, the office was able to restore 2,845
patents. The restored records were issued a number beginning with an "X"
and called the "X-Patents." Thus the first patent ever issued was
actually designated patent X1. The patents that could not be restored
Book Resources on the subject of Patents. from The Great Idea Finder
of the Unired States from The Great Idea Finder
Patent Issued pot ash improvement from The Great Idea Finder
Patent Information including history and
purpose. from The Great Idea Finder
based upon the number of
from The Great Idea Finder
Has It everything has been invented.
from The Great Idea Finder
Web Resources dedicated to
Patents. from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Patent Guide: A Friendly Guide to Protecting and Profiting from Patents
by Carl W. Battle / Paperback - 192 pages (November 1997) / Watson-Guptill Pubns
Geared toward the businessperson and individual inventor, this overview takes the
reader from inception to patent drafting, follows an application through the Patent
Office, shows how to select legal representation if needed, and concludes with information
on infringement procedures, foreign protection options, and licensing and marketing an
Made Easy: How to Do Patent Searching on the Internet and in the Library
by David Hitchcock / Paperback - 208 pages 2nd edition (April 2000) / Nolo Press
This book should be a valuable aid to most inventors and an excellent starting
point for first-time inventors.
A History of the Early Patent Offices : The Patent Office Pony ( This title is out of print. )
by Kenneth W. Dobyns / Hardcover - 249 pages Reprint edition (1997)
Abraham Lincoln stated that the patent system added the fuel of interest
to the fire of genius. He was the only U.S. President who was a patentee (no.6,649, for
inflatable bellows that helped to buoy a boat over shoals). These and many other facts can
be found in this book, which relates a detailed history of the U.S. Patent System from
1790 to 1900.
Those Inventive Americans (
This title is out of print. )
by National Geographic Society / Hardcover - 231 pages (1971) / NGS-Special Pub.
ON THE WEB:
States Patent & Trademark Office
As expected, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) offers a plethora of
resources to the inventing community.
The Patent Office Pony; A History of the Early Patent
The Patent Office Pony, formerly available from Sergeant Kirkland's
Press, original text available online
U.S. Patent & Trademark Office
Federal data base of Patent information. A freely searchable database of information from
US patents issued since the first in 1790 up to and including the previous month. New, improved and expanded database! Effective 1 October 2000, the
database now offers all US patents issued since 1790, in the form of searchable patent
numbers and current US classifications hyperlinked to full-page images of each page of
Patent Searching Tutorial
Tutorial on how to select an appropriate patent Web site for research, with
specific help on searching the IBM Patent Server via patent number.
Listing of full text references provided on this website concerning
Patent Office History
WORDS OF WISDOM:
"The first thing you want in a
new country, is a patent office."
- Mark Twain, 1889
DID YOU KNOW?:
- Thomas Jefferson was the first Patent Examiner.
- In 1790, the cost to obtain a patent was between $4 and $5.
- The first U.S. patent was granted on July 31, 1790, to
Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford, Vt., for an improvement in "the making of Pot ash and
Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process."
- Mary Kies of Killingly, Conn., was the first women to obtain
a patent. In 1809 she received a patent for a way to weave "straw with silk or
- Chester Carlson was a patent agent who tired of having to
make multiple copies of patent applications using the only duplication method available at
the time: carbon paper. In 1959 he came up with a new copying system and took it to IBM
for evaluation. The "experts" at IBM determined potential sales to be only 5,000
units because people wouldnt want to use a bulky machine when they had carbon paper.
Carlsons invention was the xerography process, the company founded on the system is
- Abraham Lincoln, congressman from Illinois, received Patent
No. 6,469 for "A Device for Buoying Vessels over Shoals." The idea of the
invention was that if a ship ran aground in shallow waters, the bellows would be filled
with air, and the vessel, thus buoyed, would float clear. The model Lincoln whittled can
be seen at the Smithsonian's National Museum in Washington.
- Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) received Patent No. 121,992
for "An Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments." He later
received two more patents: one for a self-pasting scrapbook and one for a game to help
players remember important historical dates.
Sources in BOLD Type
page revised March, 2005.
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