Scientific American, Vol 34 (new ser) no 7 p 97, 12 February 1876
Patent Matters before Congress
Our abstract of the patent bills now before Congress, given in another column, exhibits the opening raid of the sewing machine monopolists, proving that these indefatigable individuals, nothing daunted by repeated defeat in previous Congresses, are about to bring all their forces to bear on the present one. The country is indebted to Mr. Dobbins, of New Jersey, for the presentation of the Wilson petition, which aims at a third term of seven years for the feed motion patent, used in the Wheeler and Wilson and other machines. The effect of this job, should it succeed, will be to render the whole sewing machine trade of the country tributary to the owners of the patent, and thus to saddle the people with a most oppressive and irksome monopoly, but little less obnoxious and gigantic than the old combination; in fact, it is advocated by, and in the interests of the same parties. The second term ended November 12, 1871, and every Congress since that date has been besieged to give the expired patent new life; but, to their credit, thus far they have refused. It is to be hoped that the bill will meet a like fate this winter. Senator Logan revamps the Akin and Felthouser sewing machine compensation grab, which the Congresses of 1873 and 1874 rejected. Both of the above measures are presumably well known to the older members of the National Legislature, and it behooves them to keep watch that no ingenious lobbying or parliamentary sharp practice results in the passage of either of the bills. For the benefit of newly elected members, who may not be familiar with the tactics of the sewing machine monopolists, a brief statement of the merits, or rather demerits, of their claim may prove suggestive. A.B. Wilson's patent was granted for one of the first abortive attempts to make a sewing machine. This patent was construed to cover all styles of feeding devices in which the cloth can be turned round the needle, or in which the cloth is fed between two clamping surfaces. It was extended for seven years, and then, for the small sum of $50,000, Wilson transferred all his rights to the trustees of the Wheeler and Wilson, Grover and Baker, and Singer companies, in the hands of which corporations the patent has proved an effectual instrument for the complete monopoly of the sewing machine business. Now because Wilson got but $50,000 for his patent, he asks Congress for another term of seven years for the benefit, there is but little doubt, of the same combination. Wilson might, from other capitalists, have obtained probably twenty times the above named sum for his rights; but so large a consideration would not look so well when the next application to Congress for a second extension was to be made, so the payment of a small amount to the patentee was a necessary part of the job.
In previous years, members of the lobby have been unsparingly retained, and large sums have been spent in attempts to secure a patent of the bill. It is probable that still further and more determined efforts will be made this year. It remains, then, for every congressman who has the interests of his constituents at heart to scrutinize keenly and narrowly every move made by those who are manipulating this gigantic extortion, and to oppose its progress by his vote at every point. It remains, beside, for the people to let their representatives understand their will in this matter in a way that cannot be mistaken. As matters stand now, the patent is public property, free to all users; the door is open to fair competition, and the sewing machine, which has been somewhat reduced in price since the expiration of the patent, will be furnished to the public at a still lower price when the manufacturers outside the ring are insured, against injunctions and suits by the monopolists, by Congress rejecting the petitioner's application. Every housewife, every seamstress, every philanthropist, is interested in having all bills defeated which have for their purpose the protection of any combination of sewing machine manufacturers.
We shall watch with interest the discussion and votes on these bills when they are reported from the committee.
Jay Gould Defeated
About a year ago, the then Commissioner of Patents ordered a patent to issue to T.A. Edison and G.B. Prescott, for quadruplex telegraph instruments, the latter individual being part assignee. Edison sought, by appeal to the Secretary of the Interior, Delano, to set aside the Commissioner's decision and prevent Prescott from obtaining his share in the patent, on the pretense that, before selling to Prescott, he had sold the invention to certain other parties, who were known to be in the interest of the notorious Jay Gould. Delano entertained the appeal, held the papers, and refused to decide the case; subsequently, he resigned the office. The new Secretary of the Interior, the Hon. Z. Chandler, has recently decided the matter by dismissing the appeal, which he thinks was unauthorized by law; and he sustains the Patent Office in issuing the patent jointly to Messrs. Prescott and Edison.
The Pay of the Patent Bureau
The policy of reducing the salary of office holders, generally, which has occupied considerable attention in our present Congress, we do not intend to discuss; but we agree with the sentiments of a Washington correspondent of the New York Tribune in the opinion that a generous policy should be pursued by Congress toward the Patent office, which not only is self-supporting, but has acquired a large surplus fund. The inventors pay all the expenses of this department; it costs the government nothing to run it; and it would be poor policy to reduce the expenses attending its management if inferior talent is to take the place of the present efficient Commissioner and his force of assistants, which will be the natural result. Inventors were never more active than now; and it would be a bad commentary on our Centennial year if any steps should be taken to lessen the enthusiasm of our great body of inventors, to whom is due so much of our nation's progress.
R.H. Duell, Commissioner of Patents, thinks, states the same correspondent, that it will be very unwise to cut down the expenses of a self-sustaining bureau like his. He says that the United States Patent Office has long had a large annual surplus, that its business is increasing, and that there is no reason apparent for reducing either the number or pay of its officers. "The work of the office requires special training; even with the present pay, it is not possible long to keep in government employ many of those best fitted by talent and experience for the duty; the credit of the office and the interest of inventors, whose money supports the office, and of manufacturers, whose capital to the extent of many millions is involved in patents, are imperiled by inefficient work; and the increased number of patents and the general progress of the arts render the proper examination of applications each year more difficult. The erroneous issue of a single patent may easily involve the loss of ten times the amount of the yearly pay of an examiner. These examiners are not only to grant patents, but to see that none are improperly granted. Inventors pay to the government more than enough to afford the small pay now allowed. To take possession of this fund, and then furnish half paid (and consequently poor) service, seems like a fraud on inventors. Should the proposed reduction be made, it will be impossible to keep up the business of the Office." The receipts from applications for patents have run up from $703,191.77 in 1873 to $743,453.36 in 1875, and the surplus last year was $21,795.65. The appropriation for 1875-6 was $436,400; the House bill proposes to cut down the appropriation to $370,220, and the working force from 351 to 294.
The Patent Office Appropriation
No better evidence of the progress of invention is needed than the fact that the receipts of the Patent Office for the month of March were the largest ever known. They exceeded eighty thousand dollars, which is in excess of the same month last year by ten thousand dollars; and Congress will act very unwisely if it reduces the appropriations for this department. Such a step would necessarily decrease its working force, which is now hardly sufficient to permit prompt action and careful research on the part of the examining officers. The salaries of the examiners are at present so small that it is impossible to retain for a great length of time those best qualified for the work; and the prosperity of the Patent Office department and the interests of inventors depend largely upon the efficiency of the Commissioner and the examiners, the latter of whom decide upon the patentability of all inventions submitted to the Office.
Commissioner Duell has proved himself one of the best executive officers since Judge Mason was Commissioner; and the liberal construction of the laws, inaugurated by the last named gentleman, allowing inventors to receive patents for improvements without regard to the degree of invention, is the wise policy of the present Commissioner. This liberal interpretation meets the approbation of inventors, and at the same time largely increases the revenue of the department.
Since the above was in type a correspondent of one of our daily papers -- the Graphic -- writes from Washington that, "since it has become generally known that our reform House of Representatives has proposed cutting down the appropriation for the support of the Patent Office, every mail has brought to Commissioner Duell letters, from inventors, manufacturers, and business men in all parts of the country, protesting against such retrenchment. It should be constantly remembered that the overburdened taxpayer, about whose sad conditions such jeremiads have been chanted in Congress and on the stump, does not pay anything to support the Patent Office. That institution is self-supporting, and, as I showed in a former letter, has over $750,000 to its credit in the Treasury. It is carrying retrenchment a little too far to deny the inventors of the country speedy and intelligent action at the hands of the government while taking their money for it. In some of the communications sent to the Patent Office, the writers say that, if Congress cuts down the salaries in the way proposed by Randall's committee they will favor the starting of a subscription to pay the examiners proper salaries, so that the Officers may not lose their services."
The latter named proposition is, of course, not feasible, and those who have written letters offering to subscribe for such an object cannot but know that no employee of the Patent Office would be allowed to receive any contributions from inventors or others doing business with the department, but that such a thought has entered the heads of a considerable number of persons indicates the objection, felt by persons interested in the prosperity of the Patent Office, against Congress reducing its appropriation. We are not among those, however, who think that there is no room for further economy or improvement at the Patent Office. We hope that Congress will carefully look into the institution, and faithfully do whatever may be necessary to increase its usefulness and efficiency.