Scientific American, v 16 (ns), no 1, p 9, 5 January 1867
Condition of the Patent Office
The Patent Office building was commenced in 1836, and 270 feet of the south side of the block were finished and occupied within four years of that period. It is one of the most magnificent public buildings in the world, an ornament to any age or nation.
The order of architecture adopted for the exterior is the Grecian Doric of the age of Pericles, when the fine arts in Greece, particularly architecture and sculpture, had reached the highest excellence. The details are models after the celebrated Parthenon, erected on the Acropolis at Athens, which is now in part standing, the marbles having indurated to such a degree by an exposure to more than 2200 years to the atmosphere, as to resist the action of a chisel.
It was the intention of the projectors of the Patent Office, that it should be employed exclusively for the legitimate purposes of its creation, and from time to time as the work progressed Congress appropriated from the surplus patent fund the money necessary for its completion. The last grand hall of the north wing was fitted up in 1865, and formally taken possession of as a receptacle for models. In 1851, Mr. Stuart, at that time Secretary of the Interior, fixed his eye upon the Patent Office and coveted its spacious apartments for the use of his department. At that time it so happened, unfortunately, that we had a very weak person as Commissioner of Patents, who coolly and deliberately reported to Congress, "that the two wings of the Patent Office be finished, and that they be appropriated to the accommodation of the Department of the Interior and the different offices attached thereto." The Scientific American protested most energetically against the proposition. We thought of the old fable of the porcupine who, wanting shelter for himself, was admitted to share the hospitality of a nest of snakes, but they were so annoyed with his sharp, prickly quills, that they soon repented of their easy compliance, and entreated the porcupine to withdraw. "No," says he, "let them quit the place that don't like it; for my part, having got in, I am well enough satisfied as I am." When this scheme was maturing, we stated in the Scientific American, Vol 7, 1851, that "the wings of the Patent Office should belong to the Patent Office and no other Department, for if absorbed by any other Department now, when they are required for patent purposes, it will be no easy matter to get them, and required they must be at no distant day." The very number of the Scientific American which contained these words, published a list of only ten patents for the week ending January 21, 1851.
The condition of the Patent Office today, furnishes a powerful confirmation of the warning we then uttered against surrendering any portion of the Patent building to the Department of the Interior; and although Aesop has been dead over two thousand years, unless inventors and those who feel an interest in the future of the Patent Office, unite in firm opposition, his old fable of the porcupine and the snakes is likely to be repeated. In the year 1850, just before the plan was held to plunder a large share of the Patent Office for illegitimate purposes, there were about twenty-two hundred applications for patents. In the year 1866, when the Patent Office is cramped into the stocks like Titus Oates, the President informs Congress in his annual message that over 14,000 applications for patents were filed during the year ending Oct. 1st. A recent visit to the Patent Office and a careful inspection of its condition revealed to us a state of things which demands an energetic remedy.
It is the duty of Congress at its present session to appoint a committee to inquire what further legislation is necessary to provide for the present and prospective wants of the Patent Office.
The committee will find upon investigation that the Commissioner is very conscientious in the discharge of his duties, anxious to satisfy the pressing demands made upon his time and patience, and to do justice to all who have claims before his department; they will also find some of the Examiners happy and contented, others sullen and moody; the state of mind very much depending upon the pressure of cases referred to them for examination. By calling on Mr. McCormick, the committee will find that the balance sheet shows a surplus fund of about $230,000; an increase of $100,000 in the past year, an amount cheerfully paid by inventors, who are entitled to much better facilities than they now receive. The committee should then look into Prof. Page's room, where they will find six clerks and six Examiners breathing a stifling atmosphere and occupying a space just about large enough to accommodate comfortably two Examiners. In Dr. Jayne's room are four tables and four Examiners, where there should be but two; and as for Dr. Hedrick's room, we undertook to visit him and were repulsed by the formidable front of bottles, documents, desks, etc. His bureau resembles Holbein's picture of the old Alchemist. In short, not to speak of Peale's sepulcher of fine arts, the examining force of the Patent Office is wholly inadequate to do the duties imposed, and wretchedly uncomfortable, and unless a remedy is at once applied, the business will decline.
The Commissioner ought to use all the power he possessed under the law authorizing temporary clerkships, to meet and remove one of the difficulties of which we complain. The examinations are much further behind than they ought to be.
The committee will also find that the Patent Office at this very moment actually needs nearly, if not quite, every available room in the building, and no time should be lost in preparing for the removal of the Secretary of the Interior with his pension bureau, land and Indian traps; they have no business to encumber the Patent office, and if Congress means to legislate wisely and well, for one of the most precious boons ever conferred upon the people, provision will speedily be made to relieve the Patent office from present embarrassment and its forces strengthened by adequate legislation. The Patent Office is a self-supporting institution -- will not Congress pay some little attention to its wants?
Reforms in the Patent Office
In our last number we called the attention of Congress to the condition of the Patent Office, and urged upon that body the importance of appointing a committee to inquire what further legislation is necessary, to provide for the present wants and future expansion of that department. We hope some member of Congress will take hold of this urgent matter, and move a committee.
Pending such an inquiry, we wish to offer a few additional suggestions. An immediate relief can be given to the Office by the prompt removal of the Agricultural Bureau. A temporary building might be constructed for its use and convenience in the inchoate Geographical and Agricultural Park on Rock Creek. What more graceful or appropriate suggestion could be made? The usefulness of the Bureau could be much strengthened by such change. Commissioner Newton and his able staff could spend much time in that rural spot in experimenting upon vegetables and plants. He would be able to see how the seeds of the common egg-plant are made to produce the prince's feather -- a change which we were astonished to witness in our garden the last season, the product of a few seeds kindly supplied to us from the Patent Office.
Another thing, still more important: the Patent Office, instead of being a mere dependency of the Interior Department, ought to be an independent bureau. The Commissioner should have full control of its details and its appointments. The Patent Office is no place for mere office hunters, but it always will be subject to this baleful influence so long as the Commissioner is held subordinate to the Secretary of the Interior, who cannot resist the clamor of his supporters for situations at his disposal. Whenever vacancies occur in the Patent Office, the Secretary -- with the best intentions -- is liable to repeat the error of appointing men to positions who might be more profitably employed in pulling stumps and hoeing corn. An Examiner in the Patent Office should bring to its duties a mind well instructed in physics and mechanics. Unless he possesses these qualifications as a basis, he can never render such service as the law contemplates. The salaries now paid are beggarly. There are old and faithful Examiners in the Patent Office who are barely able to support themselves and their families on the pay they now get. This is a disgrace to the Government, and ought no longer to be tolerated. Valuable talent cannot be permanently secured unless the salaries are raised. We don't wonder that many changes occur in the Office; the wonder is that there are no more.
The Government is building a new office for the Secretary of State, and a new War office is also to be built. This is all right; the old buildings were unfit. NOw let us have a new building for the Department of the Interior, and another step will have been taken in the right direction.
Canadian Patent Laws
We have requests from four different parties, residents of Canada, asking us to urge their authorities to change the Canadian patent system. The shoe pinches just here, that these parties have applied for patents in the United States and have been compelled to pay in advance a patent fee of $500, simply for the reason that the patent laws of Canada discriminate against the citizens of the United States to such an extent as to wholly prevent them from obtaining patents in those provinces. They very naturally dislike to pay this fee, and especially with no prospect of getting a cent in return if their claims are refused. Now we freely confess that this is a very awkward thing, but the remedy is simple. Whenever the Legislature of Canada enacts a law that will permit our citizens to take out patents there upon the same footing as resident subjects, that moment Canadian inventors can come here and get out patents on the same terms as citizens. The remedy is in their own hands and at their own option. We therefore urge our correspondents to turn their attention to the proper authorities and demand a remedy. The present Canadian patent system is a legalized bid for thieving upon the genius of our people. There is neither justice nor comity in it, and we shall be glad to chronicle the introduction of a patent code more in accordance with the spirit of the times. The same remarks apply equally to Nova Scotia. The system there is exclusive to residents, and belongs to the age of Queen Bess.
Condition of the Patent Office
The caloric class, under the charge of Examiner Deane, is, we learn, close up with its work, as are some other classes.
There was a time when applications for stoves, furnaces, etc., remained unacted upon for several months, but thanks to Mr. Deane's industry the large batch of cases in his department have been worked off.
We hope soon to be able to report as satisfactory a condition of some other classes which are now sadly in arrears. If the fault rests with the Commissioner in not supplying adequate force, we hope he will see to increasing it. If it rests with Congress, in not legislating to pay ample salaries to the Examiners to stimulate them to perform their duties properly, we trust that body will authorize an increase of their pay which is unquestionably inadequate for the talent needed, and labors required. The inventors are taxed sufficiently already, but they are willing to pay more if necessary to insure the prompt action of the office upon their cases. Many applicants for patents in some Classes quietly demur at the delay in the examination of their cases, others impatient or less amiable, are more imperative and demand a reason for the seemingly partial action of the patent Office in examining some cases about as soon as the application is filed, while others remain unacted upon for several months.
Such disparity in the time taken for a decision under the different classes causes much dissatisfaction which would be obviated by keeping every Class on the same level.
The examination of cases in the following Classes are those most in arrears, some of which are sadly so: Metallurgy, which includes Locks; the portion of Hydraulics which embraces Water Wheels; Farm Gates, Wearing Apparel, Fibrous and Textile fabrics, and Fine Arts, which includes games, toys, printing, copying presses, etc.