Scientific American, v 2 (ns), no 4, p 57, 21 January 1860
A Law that Cannot be Executed -- Congressional Blindness about Patent Matters -- Reforms Wanted
The members of the last session of Congress appear to have been strong believers in astounding achievements in the art of book-making. A story is told of a London populace once flocking in crowds to witness an exhibition at which a mountebank, by flaming placards, had promised to perform the wonderful feat of squeezing himself in to a quart bottle. We do not think that the members of the last session were in London during this particular occurrence, but had they been there, in all likelihood they would have followed the multitude to the impossible bottle scene. We thus judge because, at the last session of Congress, a resolution was passed making provision for the publication of the mechanical portion of the report of the Patent Office, but containing the requirement that it was not to occupy more than 800 pages of the usual form and size. Into such a limited space, engravings of all the patents issued during the year, with their descriptions, were to be packed and printed -- a feat equally as difficult of execution as the promise of the quart bottle squeezer. The Secretary of the Interior, like a good public servant, endeavored to carry out the resolution of Congress, but in his report, published on page 19 of our present volume, he tells the members that, although he was very anxious to comply in all respects with their expressed will, and he had given the subject an unusual degree of attention, yet "a literal compliance with the law was a physical impossibility." This fact, we regret to state, affords disagreeable evidence of a great want of intelligence on the part of members of Congress in reference to the wants of inventors, the progress of American art and science, the operations of the Patent Office, and the legislation required to promote its best interests.
It is not out of place here to advise them to make themselves better acquainted with the beneficial operations of our Patent Office, and the great influence it exercises in developing the wealth and genius of our country. We are confident that if they investigate this subject with judicious care, they will enact such a bill at this session, for reforming the Patent laws, as will do them great honor. This is a subject altogether unconnected with party politics; it relates to national progress in art and science; and it is therefore of interest to every citizen, and should receive a prompt and generous consideration.
The Secretary of the Interior states that the attention of Congress has been earnestly invoked for several years past to certain amendments in the existing Patent laws which experience has proved to be "highly important, if not absolutely necessary, and committees have approved these amendments, and reported in favor of their adoption, but in every case Congress has failed to consider and act upon the reports." These are facts which cannot be gainsayed; they are blots upon the character of former sessions of Congress, which the members of the present session ought to wash out. Will they do it?
Two special reforms in the Patent laws are held to be early and absolutely demanded. One is provision for an increase of the examining corps, and other necessary assistance in the Patent Office, to execute the business which comes before it quickly and carefully. It has been found by experience that when the Patent Office drags behind in its work, so that it is unable to examine and set upon applications for patents promptly, invention and discovery drag behind in relative proportions. This is clearly set forth in the report of the Secretary of the Interior, and is a fact peculiarly deserving of great attention.
The other reform is a reduction of patent fees to foreigners. The attention of our government has lately been called to this feature of our laws by the British minister in Washington. The sum of $500 is now charged as the patent fee for a British subject, while in England there is no discrimination between an Americana and a native-born Briton. There are other reforms required in the Patent laws to which we may advert at some future time. Our object at present is principally to direct the attention of members of Congress to the necessity of an early examination of this subject. In conclusion, we must inform the members of Congress that the inventors of our country are now a large, worthy, and most useful class, and they have a right to claim a due share of legislative attention. They have also just grounds of complaint that their interests have been too long neglected and overlooked for discussions and legislation upon very paltry subjects compared with the encouragement of genius and the advancement of American art and science.
An Inventor Creating a Sensation -- At the President's levee, last week, a stranger in the room attracted considerable attention by the peculiarities of his attire, which consisted of a military uniform, with a silk scarf thrown over his shoulders. It was said that he had come to Washington as an applicant for a patent for a steam plow, and that his brilliant costume was worn in accordance with the advice of some of his boarding house acquaintances, who suggested to him that, to succeed in securing his patent, he must make himself somewhat prominent in Washington society, and thus attract the attention of the influential politicians.
Photography at the Patent Office
We understand that the Commissioner of Patents has made arrangements for the employment of the photographic process as a means of producing the thousands of copies of drawings so constantly required to be executed at the Patent Office.
The inventive public and all who have any interest or connection with matters relating to patents will hail the introduction of this improvement with great pleasure. Its immediate tendency will be to cheapen the cost and improve the character of the drawings, and greatly diminish the time required to obtain them. Two or three weeks are often required, at present, before orders for copies can be filled, and the charge, as compared with what the same work can be had for, outside the Patent Office, is exorbitant. For drawings which can be done elsewhere for a hundred dollars a charge of three hundred dollars is made at the Patent Office. The introduction of the photographic process, if confided to the care of experienced and prompt artists, ought to enable the Commissioner to furnish copies of drawings, or views of models, almost on the same day that the order is given; and ought also to enable him to reduce the charges, as compared with the present rates, at least from fifty to seventy-five per cent.
Another benefit which will attend the employment of photography will be found in the improved character of the cuts which illustrate the annual reports of the Patent Office. We understand it is the Commissioner's intention to have the drawings for the report photographed directly upon the blocks, ready for the engraver. This is a capital idea. The saving in time and expense is obvious, while the reports will be rendered much more valuable, because the engravings will be the facsimile of the originals, on a reduced scale; and, with care in the cutting, they will represent the invention much more clearly than heretofore. At present the drawings are all reduced by hand; but the small space into which they must necessarily be compressed renders clearness and exaactitude, in many cases, impossible.
Commissioner Bishop also proposes, we understand, to supply each of the Examiner's rooms in the Patent Office with photographic copies of all the patent drawings that pertain to their respective classes. This will be a most admirable improvement. It is hardly to be believed that, at the present time, the whole business of the Patent Office is transacted upon a single set of drawings and records. Yet such is the fact, and the delay and inconvenience thereby occasioned have become a serious drawback to the efficiency of the department. The officials are compelled to pass away a large portion of their valuable time in running hither and thither among themselves, searching for drawings or records, or waiting for them while in use by others. We believe that at least one-third the available time and business capacity of the Patent Office is at present wasted by this miserable "one-horse" system. Its removal as proposed would, unless we are misinformed, be equivalent to an increase of thirty-three percent in the working force of the department. We wonder that it has been allowed to continue so long; and we are not surprised that an efficient, enterprising officer like Commissioner Bishop should have observed the defect and sought the remedy so soon after his entrance upon his official duties. We trust that he will make a thorough and a speedy reform in the matter.
The New Commissioner of Patents -- At the moment of going to press, last week, we learned and accordingly published (in our first edition only) the statement that the Hon. Samuel C. Ingham, United States Commissioner of Customs, had been appointed to succeed Mr. Bishop as Commissioner of Patents. The appointment was tendered to Mr. Ingham, and we were informed that he had decided to accept it, which fact was also confirmed by the telegraphic correspondence of the daily papers. It now turns out that, upon further consideration of the matter, he thought it would not pay to "swap off" an office with whose duties he was familiar for another of the same salary but of more responsibility, and requiring more study to master its details. The latest and probably the most reliable phase of the matter is that Ex-governor P.F. Thomas, of Maryland, has been appointed Mr. Bishop's successor.
Uses of Photography to Inventors -- It is proposed to photograph copies of drawings sent from the Patent Office, instead of tracing them, thus very much reducing the expenses of supplying them to inventors and others who need them. Why not photograph the copies of specifications also? This is certainly cheaper than copying them with pen and ink. A good draftsman can, on the average, trace a patent drawing while a good copyist can reproduce a page of the accompanying manuscript. And by this process all mistakes would be avoided. It is likely that, by making the original specification on one large page, in a clear handwriting, a photograph considerably reduced would still be very legible; by a proper arrangement, the drawing, specification and all, could be copied at one operation. -- Railway Review.
A Chance for Inventors -- a Greater than Whitney Wanted
Messrs. Editors: Through the medium of your truly valuable sheet, I wish to call the attention of the inventive genius of some of your friends to an invention (yet to be made) that, if successful, will be to the inventor an everlasting fortune and an eternal income: I refer to the cotton gin. The plan now adopted for separating the seed of the cotton from the lint (and which has been in use from the first raising of cotton in the country to the present time) is, as you are well aware, the saw gin, and it does saw the cotton in every sense of the word. It cuts the staple, knocks it, tears it, and, in fact, in a great measure destroys it; and an improved cotton gin that would do away with these objections would enhance the value of cotton one-fourth at least. Here is a pretty margin, and some one must embrace it. Let the prime, main object of the inventor be to preserve the staple of the cotton entire. The staple of the cotton is what sells it; cotton may be unexceptionable in color, free of dust, leaves and all kinds of trash, and yet, with the staple destroyed, in a measure, by the process of ginning, the price obtained will be merely nominal.
I have made these suggestions with the hope that some scientific genius will give the subject a thorough investigation, and as I before remarked, whoever invents a cotton gin that will accomplish the ends required will be remunerated to an extent unheard of in the line of patents. I shall be happy to give information to any one as to any question that may arise concerning cotton in any or all its stages, or relating to the process now in use for ginning. There has been as little improvement made in cotton gins as ships' anchors. Who will reap the harvest?
Camden, Arkansas, March 14, 1860
[This has been a favorite field for inventors, and it is very remarkable that a merely mechanical obstacle to the accomplishment of so very great a desideratum should have so completely baffled the inventive genius of the country. In the winter of 1792, as Mrs. Greene, widow of the famous revolutionary general, was one day entertaining at Mulberry Grove (her place near Savannah) some gentlemen of the neighborhood, the conversation turned on the subject of the cultivation of cotton, which had been recently introduced to a small extent in the country. As it required the labor of an entire day to separate the seed from a single pound, it was manifest that unless some mode could be devised for doing the work more rapidly, the production of the article could never be carried to any great extent, and a strong desire was expressed by the company that some machine could be invented for ginning the short staple or green seed cotton. Mrs. Greene told the gentlemen that they had better apply to her young friend, Mr. Whitney; she presume he could do it, for he could do almost anything. Mr. Whitney was at this time studying law, having recently graduated at Yale College; and he was spending a short time with Mrs. Greene at her hospitable invitation, having made her acquaintance on their voyage from the North. On learning what was wanted he addressed himself to the task; and not being able to procure cotton with seed in the neighborhood, he visited Savannah for that purpose, and after a search through the warehouses of the city, he succeeded in finding a small quantity. Taking it home he soon devised that famous machine which has wrought such changes in the condition of this country and of the world. Whitney's machine cleaned 300 lbs. in a day, and did it better than one pound could be done by hand in the same time. In the saw the cotton is seized by rows of teeth formed of strong wires projecting from a roller, or by teeth like those of a saw made upon circular plates of iron. These pass between grate bars set so closely together that the seed cannot pass through, but the cotton is drawn in and swept off by a cylindrical brush. Notwithstanding the immense improvement which was embraced in this machine over the old process of cleaning by hand, we are informed (by the above correspondent) that it is still very imperfect, and that it destroys the enormous amount of one fourth of the value of the whole cotton crop. Here is a field for inventors! The practical mode for our correspondent to forward his object is to distribute samples of cotton in the seed to inventors, and it will be very wonderful indeed if they are not able to surmount a merely mechanical obstacle to the accomplishment of so great an object.]
Patent Extensions -- Curious Paragraph -- Commissioner Thomas
The Morse patent machine, for telegraphic operation, will soon come up for extension of five or seven years. It will meet with strong opposition from several parties. The principal of patent extension is adverse to the policy of the government in that department.
We find the above paragraph among the items of news in a recent Washington letter to one of the daily papers of this city. It is easy enough to understand the first two sentences, but it would puzzle a Philadelphia lawyer to unravel the mystery which envelops the last one. We can only conjecture that the writer means to say that the principal of the Patent Office, who is no other than the Hon. Philip F. Thomas, is opposed to the extension of patents. We could not have ciphered out such an inference, even from the above paragraph, but for a statement which has been made in our hearing, to the effect that Mr. Thomas was understood to be constitutionally opposed to the extension of patents, regarding them in the light of oppressive monopolies. We do not believe that this is true, although we have had no opportunity to test the truth or falsity of the matter. He cannot, however, remain long in his present position without settling, in a definite manner, his constitutional views on this subject. Probably the most delicate and responsible of all the duties of the Commissioner of Patents is to decide upon the interests of patentees in extension cases; and no man would be fit to hold that office for a single day who carried in his breast a prejudice against their rights and interests, which are too vast and important to be adjudicated upon, except by one who can bring to their consideration an unbiased judgment. If there is to be any constitutional prejudice in the matter, it ought to lean rather towards the inventor; for, certainly, his lot is a sufficiently hard one, as a general rule, without encountering at the doors of the Patent Office a spirit of even partial hostility. We do not write thus because we cherish the belief that the rumor concerning Mr. Thomas is well founded. We believe it is not; but his acts will speak his mind better than the mere gossip of newspaper writers.
When Commissioner Mason found the Patent Office little else than "noise and confusion," and exceedingly unpopular with inventors in all parts of the country, he became to them a sort of pater familias, and soon restored the office to credit and usefulness. His successors followed in his footsteps, and we trust the lesson will not be unheeded by the new Commissioner, all rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.
The Morse Telegraph Extension Case
Argument of Hon. Charles Mason
An erroneous impression seems to prevail to some extent in relation to this matter. One of our contemporaries states that this patent had been previously extended twice. This is wholly incorrect. The patent was granted in 1846, and was never until now extended.
In 1840, Morse obtained a patent for his first invention. That patent was extended for seven years in 1854, and will expire in June 1861. But the invention then patented, though inestimably valuable in comparison with anything previously known, and although it contained the germs of all its subsequent developments, was clumsy and of little worth when compared with the telegraph as now in operation. Before it was ever put in practice, Morse had made the improvements which perfected the instrument, and made it not only the first but also the most valuable of all the electro-magnetic telegraphs ever invented. Those improvements constitute the basis of his patent of 1846, which has just been extended for seven years.
The two patents were then constituent parts of one entire whole. Both were necessary to make the telegraph what we now see it. This of 1846 had never been used separately, and the Commissioner decided that it was meet and proper that both should be treated alike, and that this, as well as the other fraction which together make up the whole invention, should receive the favor of the office in the method provided by law. The public voice, with few and slight exceptions, will approve the action of the Commissioner. Believing it will be interesting to our readers to learn something more of the reasons which were presented to the Commissioner, and which doubtless in some degree influenced his decision, we append hereto a portion of Judge Mason's argument in the case, the substance of which was subsequently prepared and printed in pamphlet form. After showing in what the invention patented in 1846 really consists, that it was patentable, eminently useful, and that the inventor had not been adequately compensated, the argument proceeds:
And when the history of this wonderful discovery shall hereafter be written -- when Morse shall be placed by posterity alongside of the greatest of human benefactors, I trust your Honor will be found among the number of those who recognized and appreciated the magnitude and inestimable importance of this new power with which he has endowed our common humanity.
"But to come nearer to our own time and country. What has rendered the name of our own Fulton immortal? He did not -- as, in my childish ignorance, I once supposed -- invent the use of steam as a motive power. He was not the first even to apply that power to the propulsion of boats. John Fitch, and perhaps some others, were many years his predecessors in that effort.
"What, then, did he do? Little else, in fact, than to attach a wheel to the boat as a simpler and more practical means of propelling it. The wheel so attached was substantially the same as that which had long been used as a common water wheel to propel machinery, and Fulton merely placed the moving power at the other end of the apparatus. Instead of providing for the water to strike upon the wheel, he proposed to cause the wheel to strike the water, and then availed himself of the result.
"Fitch provided the means of moving by steam a series of side paddles, something after the manner in which an Indian paddles his canoe. He succeeded in running some five miles an hour, which is quite as much as Fulton accomplished in his earlier efforts.
"But Fulton had conceived the idea of a simple, strong and practical contrivance for the propulsion of boats -- one not liable to be deranged and inefficient. And although in recent times the contrivance proposed by him has been to a great extent superseded by the screw propeller, still to this day he is justly regarded as the father of steam navigation. He paved the way to the most brilliant success; and if he was now here asking a recognition of his merits, which it was in the power of the Commissioner of Patents to grant, can there be any doubt as to what would be the result? Has Fulton invented more than Morse? Has his invention been of more practical utility to the world?
"I have said that Fulton did little else than use a combination of the common steam engine and the common water wheel for the propulsion of boats. This observation should be qualified. He also exerted the energy and perseverance necessary to carry his idea into practical execution. The man who has made a valuable invention has only commenced his labor. He has not accomplished the most difficult and disagreeable part of his undertaking. It is the policy of the law to compel him to bring it into public and general use. This often calls for rarer qualities than are necessary in making the invention itself. The fortitude which no difficulties can appall -- the faith which no discouragement can change into doubt -- the firmness and energy which even poverty and derision can never induce to abandon the great idea which urges him forward as with the power of inspiration to its consummation -- these were the crowning glory of Fulton. They were equally conspicuous in Morse."
The United States Patent Office
Messrs. Editors: Presuming that the readers of the Scientific American will be interested in various matters transpiring at the federal metropolis, I propose to occasionally drop you a line, as circumstances will permit, concerning such things as I may deem of most interest.
Doubtless, a large portion of your readers are interested in patents and the Patent Office, and to such I would say that the building of that great establishment is nearly completed. The interior of the north front is in the hands of the plasterers and painters; the rooms in the basement and on the main floor are finished and are now receiving their furniture; they are to be occupied by the Department of the Interior, the Pension and other offices. There are forty rooms in those two stories, each about 21 X 24 feet square; also two large anterooms. The upper story will comprise a great hall, similar to and in continuation of the three great halls now used for the exhibition of models; when completed, all four will be thrown into one, which will probably be the largest and best exhibition hall in the world. I presume that, when the Patent Office needs the whole building, those portions now used by the Department of the Interior proper (the Land Office, the Indian Office and the Census Office) a separate building will be prepared for this trio. The large courtyard that is surrounded by the Patent Office is being handsomely laid out with flagstone walks, grass plats, and two fountains of Potomac water, which will add much to the beauty and health of the premises.
The business of the Patent Office goes bravely on, accumulating from day to day and from year to year; and the questions are often asked, "Will not the inventive genius of the country cease?" To both these interrogatories, we can only answer by saying that there appears to be no end to applications for patents, and it is well known that a vast number are granted. The issues, amounting to an average of one hundred patents per week, afford presumptive evidence that the value of patent property is duly appreciated by a large class of our citizens. What a contrast is apparent between the number now granted weekly and that which was issued seven years ago, when the patents averaged only about twenty per week, and then only after many of the cases had been pending for months! But about the time referred to, a strong arm, combined with a clear and energetic mind, took charge of the Patent Office and gave it a start -- an impulse -- a mighty bound forward, which carried it onward for several years with increased success; and through the same mind does not now preside there, the influence which it gave and the rules which it established are felt, and have been adopted and continued by all successors, much to their credit and to the benefit of all concerned. So may it ever be, and so many the benign influences dispensed by the Patent Office be seen and felt in the improved condition of all the mechanic arts, in the improvements and facilities brought to light and put into practical operation through the protection afforded to inventors, to the great advantages of our people generally!
Several members of the Japanese embassy have taken great interest in the Patent Office, and have visited the building several times; they appear very quick to comprehend the working of the various machines, as shown by the models, and inquire particularly for dredging machines, looms, oil presses and printing presses. The worthy Commissioner affords them every facility for examining both models and drawings, and they appear to appreciate every attention shown them. The attaches of the embassy seem to have the "freedom of the city," as they enter all places of business and manufacture and watch, with great attention, the labor and handiwork of the mechanics and the working of machinery by steam. It is said that some of the Japanese are learning the daguerrotype business at Brady's gallery, and that they are apt scholars. Quite a party of the officer and their artists have been witnessing the operations of the telegraph.
Washington, D.C., June 2, 1860