Scientific American, v 12 (ns), no 6, p 87, 4 February 1865
Amendment to the Patent Laws -- Important to Patentees
The editorial letter from Washington published in our last number refers to an amendment now pending before Congress, designed to relieve a very large number of inventors who have failed to pay the balance of the patent fee -- twenty dollar -- within the six months as provided by law, thereby forfeiting their rights.
The language of the act of March 3, 1863, which requires payment of the balance fee within the six months after date of allowance, is peculiar. It provides that in default of said payment the invention shall become public property as against the applicant. The public acquire no rights in the invention as against another and subsequent inventor, leaving the original and first applicant only to suffer the consequences of not having paid the second fee within the time specified.
The rule of the Patent Office treats all such lapsed patents as judicially dead upon the record, and examiners are not allowed to refer to them under any circumstances, even though an application be made by another inventor for the same thing. Though this rule may be correct as based upon the language of the law of March 3, 1863, it nevertheless contravenes the plain intention of the statute of 1836, which requires that patents can issue only to the original and first inventor of the art, machine, composition or improvement. The same statute provides that whenever, in the Commissioner's opinion, two pending applications are adjudged to interfere with each other, that officer shall declare an interference, and require testimony with a view to determine the question of priority as between the applicants.
The amendment of 1863, however, conflicts with the law of 1836, inasmuch as it shuts off from this interference the unfortunate first applicant who has not paid up within the six months. Many might hastily jump at the conclusion that it would be serving an inventor right who had thus failed to comply with the inexorable demands of the law; but we think no unprejudiced mind will thus reason, when a fair statement of the case if presented.
If an inventor willfully neglect his duty as prescribed by the law, he is entitled to no sympathy, and ought no to ask for it; but the records of the patent Office show most conclusively that there are hundreds of cases in which the applicant could not comply with the law. Many inventors just plead inability to make the payment in time; some are entirely ignorant of the law on the subject, and for want of such information do not pay up in time; but it bears with particular hardship upon persons residing in foreign countries and upon those who are engaged in the military and naval service of the country. Inventors of this class are subject to all the changes and vicissitudes of the service, and are rarely ever stationed for a long time in one position.
There are many very aggravating cases, involving the interests of our brave soldiers, which appeal with great force for such relief as will be afforded to them by the bill now pending before Congress.
The act in question provides that an applicant whose patent has elapsed under the operation of the law of March 3, 1863, shall have the right to renew his application within two years after date of allowance, upon the payment of fifteen dollars, and to use the papers and model originally presented to the Patent Office. This we regard as fair and equitable treatment of all such cases, and we trust that it will meet the approbation of Congress.
The bill has been carefully considered in all its bearings, and has received the unqualified sanction of the Hon. Commissioner of Patents. It now only awaits the action of Congress to become a law of relief. It is vastly important, however, that it should pass at this session in order to allow all such cases to be included within its provisions. If it be put over till the next Congress, the term of two years, as provided in the bill for the renewal of applications, will have expired before favorable action can be had.
Inventors who are suffering under the operation of this law of limitation ought to write to their members of Congress to look after the bill, and not allow it to slumber for want of attention.
The Patent Office
We have heretofore spoken of the prosperity which attends the present administration of the Patent Office. Some statistics which we have recently obtained will be of interest not only to inventors but to the nation.
During the period of 8 years, from 1853 to 1860, the number of applications examined was 39,417 -- being an annual average of 4,925.
During the same period were patented 23,363 -- an annual average of patents of 2,920.
During the last four years, 1861 to 1864, the applications examined were 22,687 -- an annual average of 5,672.
During these four years were patented 15,761 -- an annual average of patents of 3,938.
This exhibit is highly gratifying when we reflect that throughout this latter period a civil war has been in progress, which has thrust its bloody fingers into every hamlet and brought waste and expenditure into every household. It proves that the rebellion has not broken the prosperity of our country, nor shaken the confidence of artisans and men of science in our future career. These two classes furnish the greater part of these inventions which are of intrinsic value, and their belief in Liberty and Union has never faltered. Even from the army and navy they send the results of their genius and studies. It is creditable to the gentlemen of the examining corps of the Office, as it is also to its administrative head, that with greatly reduced numbers they have accomplished such a vast amount of work.
In 1861, Commissioner Holloway, fearing a deficit, reduced the corps from 31 Examiners to 23. This reduction is fully justified by events, for the revenues of the Office are largely in excess of its expenses, and show a large surplus; and the statistics show that two-thirds of the old force have examined an average of 750 cases annually during the last four years, against 159 cases during the preceding eight years. Every inventor is personally and deeply interested in the prosperity and faithful administration of the Patent Office, and in the industry and integrity of its Examiners and employees. And this exhibit will renew their confidence in the gentlemen to whom their inventions are submitted for examination. For ourselves we are not given to dictating or even suggesting what ought or ought not to be done in Patent Office matters, but from long acquaintance with its business and practice we are convinced that it would be well to increase the number of "Rooms," and to give each Examiner and First assistant Examiner a separate class. This plan was begun by Judge Mason, and has been since continued to some extent in order to keep the Office from being overwhelmed with unexamined cases, and we believe it is the only plan by which to avoid the numerical increase of the force. Congress has twice sanctioned this plan by directing the Commissioner to put those who acted as full Examiners upon the same footing as to salary while they so acted. [See Acts of Aug. 18, 1856, sec. 10, and June 25, 1860]. We hope that Congress will continue this authority to the Commissioner, and thus enable him for a while longer to keep up the work with his present economy of force.
Debate on Patent Extensions
The Scientific American has very freely discussed the subject of patent Extension by special act of Congress, and as it is a matter of considerable public interest we transfer to our columns the debate that sprung up in the House of Representatives just before the close of the last session, on the application of Delia Jacobs for the renewal of a patent for dressing treenails. Mr. Chandler of New York, who was directed by the Committee on Patents to report the bid, said: --
[Remainder omitted. This runs four columns and is interesting, but not interesting enough to copy. KWD]
The Rebel Patent Office
The report made by the Commissioner of Patents of the Rebel States shows the receipts of his office for 1864 to be $27,192.32; expenditure $9,896.22. Forty two patents were granted during the year for useful inventions.