Scientific American, v 3 (os), No. 2, p 13, 2 October 1847
The Patent Office
Numerous complains have been made by applicants for letters patent on account of the great length of time between the period of application for, and the granting of, the patent right. Some have bitterly and invidiously vented their wrath against the manner in which the business of the Patent Office was conducted, attributing all delays, and all their misgivings to carelessness or partiality. Whenever any complaints have been made to us, we have always corrected mistaken notions in regard to all delays and the impossibility of any partiality. Every application for a patent is examined in its proper order, and upon no consideration whatever would this rule be subverted. The Commissioner, the Hon. Edmund Burke, is no gentleman, and like his great namesake, "no man can talk with him five minutes without being impressed with the idea, that he is a remarkable man." The reason why, that it is five and six months after application is made for letters patent, before they are granted, is because the Patent Office has too much labor to perform according to the number of assistants allowed. In the last report of the Commissioner of Patents to Congress he eloquently alluded to the great necessity of an increase in the examining corps of the Patent Office. Congress, however, has made no provision for the necessary increase, and perhaps will not until some torpedo inventor sends some strange locomotive thundering through the Capitol with a broad banner waving boldly amid the din of dismay, the wreck of overturned inkstands, singed wigs and broken winded speeches, and on which shall be inscribed "immediate patent rights to prevent further damages."
In 1846, the number of applications were 1272, and the applications this year will probably be increased twenty five to thirty percent. Now, how can these be carefully and critically examined (as they are and must be,) in the Patent Office in a short space of time, unless there are a competent number of Examiners? It is stated that there are about 580 applications now on hand and that the office is about half a year in arrears in examinations. We are sorry that such is the case. We feel with the members of the Patent Office and with inventors, and hope that the next Congress will act promptly and generously for the encouragement of American genius. The Hon. Zadoc Pratt, Senator from this state, proposed that drawings and description of every patent should be deposited as they were issued, in every Congressional district in the Union, or at least at the seat of each State government, that would provide for their safe keeping. We had some conversation with Mr. Pratt on this subject last January, and we certainly concur with him in his excellent plan for a reform in the Patent Office.
There was a surplus of $186,565 of the Patent Office funds last January. If this sum was invested in productive funds, the interest would go far toward defraying the expense of republishing the specifications and drawings of patented inventions. And if such descriptions could be deposited in each Congressional District in the Union, as he suggests, they would be productive of immense good to the community. They would tend to introduce into public use valuable inventions. It would enable inventors to see what has been patented, and save them the trouble and expense of applying for patents for inventions which are old, and must be rejected.
It is well, says a correspondent of the Albany cultivator, to preserve the memento of implements useful to the farmer, and as the farmers of America have profited very largely by the advantage derived from the horse rake, I deem it but justice to the inventor (a poor son of Africa,) to treasure up its history.
A black man, who lived at Hempstead Plains, Long Island, says the Farmer's Cabinet, invented the horse rake. He died in 1821. It was first introduced into Pennsylvania in 1812. The first one was destroyed by a malicious person, who feared its innovating effects on the price of labor. It is now becoming universal, and many a patent instrument is to be found while the inventor is forgotten. It saves at least one half the expense of gathering hay.
The Patent Office
The business of the Patent Office is six months behind the age in examinations and five years behind the wants of our people. After an application is made for a patent, no examination is had upon said application for six months after. The reason is that there is not a sufficient number of Examiners to investigate the claims of applicants. The delay of examination and decision is most harassing to the minds of inventors. Six months are they kept in suspense relative to a favorable or unfavorable report, and all because there are not a sufficient number of Examiners appointed by the Government, while there has been $200,000 in the Treasury of the Patent Office, the revenue of invention, the interest of which at 6 per cent would be $12,000, which should have been paid to four extra Examiners last year, in order that justice might have been done to those who have applied for patents.
We have received communication after communication on this subject. Some inventors have called upon us and expressed themselves most bitterly against the manner in which business was conducted at the Patent Office. It is a rule that we have laid down in the management of our business, founded upon the principles we have laid down as the rule of our lives, never to indulge in a spirit of railing against men or institutions, unless that broad and open facts requires broad and open strictures. We therefore will not say any more at present on this subject, than that in justice to inventors Congress should immediately adopt measures to examine the six months accumulated applications for patents at present on file in the Patent Office, and never for the future allow the business of examination to be more than one month behind the period of application; also never to apply for the future any of the revenue derived from mechanical invention to any other purpose than to spread a knowledge of the Mechanic Arts.
Patents and Patent Laws
It is well known that many inventors who have produced valuable machines which have benefited the whole world, have never received much pecuniary benefit themselves. Fitch, Evans, Annesley, and host of others might be mentioned. Other inventors again have been well paid for their discoveries. Arkwright died worth hundreds of thousands. Watt was rich, and Blanchard we believe, and many other inventors in our own country have become rich. .... There is much prejudice we believe against purchasers of State and County patent rights, but were it not for the sale and purchase of these rights, the inventor perhaps from personal circumstances, could not have been the least benefited, from inability to manufacture his own invention. ...
The Patent Office
Mr. Editor: I am a constant reader of your valuable paper, and am always pleased to meet in your columns with any article expressing sympathy with inventors.
You have recently alluded to the importance of the bill now before Congress, for the appointment of additional Examiners in the Patent Office. The importance of such an alteration in the present system, as to facilitate the business of the office, is certainly not only desirable, but due to the hundreds of inventors who desire to avail themselves of the protection guaranteed by the Patent Laws.
I am informed that the time now devoted to the business of the Office by Examiners and Assistants per day, is but five hours; if this is so, let it be increased to ten hours and with reasonable allowance for relaxation, the efficient force will be nearly doubled. May of the hard working inventors are compelled to toil fourteen hours of the twenty four with but a scanty support, and it may surprise them to learn that the respectable Examiners at $2500 a year devote but five hours out of the twenty four in attending to duties for which they are well paid.
I agree with you, that none but men of superior talents and sterling integrity should occupy so important a position, but surely it is but just that their time and talents should be entirely devoted to the work.
You will confer a favor on several of your subscribers by informing them, through your columns, whether I am rightly informed in this matter.
[We would inform "Inventor" that the corps of the Patent Office labor frequently twelve hours per day, although not required to do so by law, and we have lately received information from Washington of their continual labor for twelve hours per day during the past two months. Our views accord exactly with those of "Inventor," with but one exception. We believe that nature claims only eight hours daily labor from man and that the majority of our working people labor three and four hours per day more than they should. The business of the Patent Office has increased for years at the rate of thirty per cent, without any addition to the examining staff. This is very unjust, not only to the members of the Patent Office, but to inventors and the cause of science. Congress will banter for days upon some unimportant -- sometimes very foolish point, and yet bestow but little attention upon matters of invention. This should not be. -- Ed.]
The Patent Office
Mr. Editor: I observed in reply to a communication in your valuable paper signed "Inventor," you state that the Examiners in the Patent Office have, during the past two months devoted twelve hours each day to the business of their desks. Designing to injure no one, but merely to subserve the cause of truth, I feel bound to correct the error into which you have fallen.
It is not true that the Examiners, during the last two months, have labored twelve hours each day. I suspect your error originated from the fact that the Commissioner tried the experiment of prolonged hours of labor, but failed even in getting so much work done, as was done in the usual hours.
I understand the facts to be these: Mr. Burke, observing a great increase of new applications and a less number of examinations, during the months of December, January and February, determined to try the experiment of increasing the hours of labour in his office. All the clerks, therefore, were required during the month of March to be at the Office at 9 o'clock, labor until 3 o'clock P.M., then take a recess until 6 o'clock in the evening. He was present with them to show that he was ready and willing to share their labors and privations. He continued this arrangement during the entire month of March, and found at the end that with all the increased hours of labor no more, if so much, work was done as under the old arrangement. And he was even importuned by honorable Senators, (whether or not on the complaints of the Examiner and Clerks is not known,) to discontinue the practice. Finding that no more business was accomplished he did discontinue it.
These, I understand, are the facts, and their weight should rest where it ought to rest. The unwillingness of the Examiners and Clerks to second the praiseworthy efforts of the Commissioner to advance the business of the Patent Office, will not, I am confident, be forgotten by Mr. Burke. And when the bill increasing the force and the salaries of the Examiners, shall pass, and the Office shall be fully organized under it, Mr. Burke is not the man who will forget to reward appropriately those who have so nobly seconded his efforts to do the public business.
The hours of labor in the Public Offices in Washington are regulated by law. From October 1st to April 1st, the clerks are required to labor not less than six hours a day. From April 1st to October 1st, they are required to labor not less than seven. Of course the heads of the Public Offices may require more labor of their clerks if the public interest require it. And the examiners and clerks in the Patent Office have never labored more than the hours absolutely required by law, except during the month of March as above mentioned. You and your readers can, therefore, judge whether they are entitled to the praise of doing so much extra labor as you give them credit for doing, and whether they are the proper persons to receive the greatly increased salaries provided for in the new bill.
As I want no imposition upon the public in this matter, I have made the above exposition of facts, which, I am confident, will be found to be substantially correct.
The information which we previously received was from a source which we thought entitled to credit. It was not an intentional mistake. The above is prima facie evidence and can be confidently relied on.
The Bill for creating additional Examiners in the Patent Office passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday the 17th instant. Mr. J.W. Farrally of Penn., chairman of the committee of conference reported the Bill to the House in its original shape, creating two Examiners at $2500 salary per annum, and two Assistants at $1500. The bill has therefore passed in the form advocated in the Scientific American, "The sober second thought of the House of Representatives was right." Inventors will be glad to learn that the bill has at last passed. As the business of the Patent Office increases at the rate of thirty per cent, it would be well to have either regular additions to the staff every year, or else to increase the hours of labor to eight per day.