The Mystery of the the Classified and Missing National Inventors Council (NIC) Files

By Professor Jon Cavicchi, J.D., LL.M. (I.P.)

In March 2003 I received several calls from Patti Young at the Patent Office Search Facilities. She had been contacted by an Inventor who had submitted an idea to help the World War II war effort. He submitted the idea to the National inventors Council. Neither she nor I had heard of citizen invention disclosures and files outside the Patent Office System. She called me because the only reference on the Web she had found was http://www.ptcforum.org which indicated that the NIC had been transferred to the public sector in 1973 under the auspices of the Academy of Applied Science and the Franklin Pierce Law Center. She had assumed that the files would be located in the Pierce Law Intellectual Property Library.

I had no clue. Our senior IP Faculty had no clue. Our founder, Dr. Robert Rines, declined to answer my phone call. He indicated through his secretary that he had no idea as to the location of the invention disclosure files.

Over the following days I traced the path of these files from the Commerce Department to the National Bureau of Standards to the National Archives. What I discovered raises many questions.

I spoke with Marjorie Ciarlante at NARA. My goal was to ascertain the extent of the collection to study the feasibility of scanning and posting the invention disclosures and the files on the IP Mall Website. Through Ms. Ciarlante and documentation she sent me I found that these documents have been classified and that portions of the collection are missing.

Why are these documents classified? Where are the missing files? When will they enter the public domain? According to NARA records : "As late as 1988, the National Bureau of Standards Records Officer Bernie Hale, reiterated this position, saying that the records could not be opened to the public "until after the turn of the century." The value of these records for research into the history of science and technology is undisputed, and these records are especially significant considering the impact of technology on WW II." It is now beyond the turn of the century and this information is still locked down at NARA.

I spoke with an Assistant General Counsel at NARA. She is looking into this matter but assures me that the process of declassifying these files is not a quick or easy process.

History of NIC from the PTC Website
The National Inventors Council


National Inventors' Council and the Academy of Applied Science
Remote Sector reorganizing charter members of the National Inventors' Council and the Academy of Applied Science who attended the 1981 Inventors Conference (pictured in the Franklin Pierce Law Center Library). Seated (left to right) Alan A. Smith, Donald B. Sinclair, Brooks Walker, Charles Stark Draper, Richard Walton, Kenneth J. Germeshausen, and Harry Saragovitz. Standing (left to right) Draper Harvey, Hugh Brett, John Lothrop, Isaac S. Blonder, Duane Marshall, Charles W. Wyckoff, William Yates, Lamar Washington, Nelson H. Shapiro, Jason Weisman, Samuel Nakasian, Robert H. Rines, Howard S. Curtis, Kenan Sahin.
During W.W.II, the National Inventors Council (NIC) came into being due to the recognition that inventions and ideas of U.S. citizenry could play an important role in the war effort. From the noble beginnings of producing ideas, such as a small mercury dry cell battery with a two-month life for walkie-talkie use a mirror signaling device for downed pilots; a substitute for kapok life jackets, the National Inventors Council continued as the only technology transfer link between the citizenry and the military and other government agencies.

During 1973, the NIC, then at the National Bureau of Standards, was transferred to the private sector under the auspices of the Academy of Applied Science and the Franklin Pierce Law Center. The focus was shifted from trying to answer the specific needs of a special group to developing a generalized approach to investigating the realm of innovation and invention.

Since that time, the NIC's goal has been to continue to help solve problems associated with technological creativity and transfer, particularly with those groups historically responsible for breakthrough innovations: universities and independent inventors.

In 1986, the NIC began a new phase of its continuing pursuit to assist technological innovation. Under the impetus of a new patent law program in the People's Republic of China, the Academy was asked to assist Chinese universities and independent inventors in bringing their ideas to American businesses. This assistance would also involve an information exchange to enable Chinese inventors to better understand the markets that they were trying to enter.

This venture was developed under the aegis of a program called PACT, an acronym for Promotion of American Chinese Technology. Like its progenitor, the NIC, which has continued to expand its charter, PACT has found that its acronym can now stand for Promotion of Advanced Commercial Technologies.

PACT became a natural outgrowth of the NIC as part of its activities, particularly as it has come to aid not only Chinese universities and ministries in protecting and licensing or otherwise commercializing upon their inventions and technologies, hopefully with American companies, but also faculty and graduate students of American and United Kingdom universities, as well - and an occasional independent inventor or small company.

The History of the NIC Files from NARA

National Institute of Standards and Technology
WNRC Project
RG 167 records stored at WNRC

  1. National Inventors Council Files, 1940-53 Classified Records

    National Inventors Council committee files, arranged by Committee number, thereunder by a NIC numerical designation, thereunder alphabetically by name of inventor. Each Committee was responsible for evaluating submisssions for a specific area of science and technology, such as ordnance and firearms, metals and metalurgy, signals and communications, etc. The files contain explanations and evaluations of the more significant proposals received by the Council, which was established in 1940, under the Office of Technical Services, Department of Commerce, to provide a clearing house for inventions that might be useful for national defense, and to bring such inventions to the attention of the armed forces. The NIC was most active during WW II but continued to solicit inventions into the mid-1950s. When the OTS was abolished, the Department of Commerce transferred its functions to the National Bureau of Standards, which had provided both technical and administrative support to the NIC. AUTHORIZED DISPOSITION: PERMANENT. Transfer to the National Archives in FY 1999.

    Justification: These records were appraised as permanent in an appraisal report dated March 25, 1971 (NN371-166). The appraisal report was not formally approved because of the restrictions imposed by the agency, which strongly believed in the proprietary nature of the records, precluded accessioning at that time. As late as 1988, the National Bureau of Standards Records Officer Bernie Hale, reiterated this position, saying that the records could not be opened to the public "until after the turn of the century." The value of these records for research into the history of science and technology is undisputed, and these records are especially significant considering the impact of technology on WW II.

  2. National Inventors Council Plans and Drawings

    Largely oversize plans, drawings, and supporting documents arrange alphabetically by last name of inventor. Files include photostats and blueprints. The plans and drawings were removed from the incoming correspondence files. AUTHORIZED DISPOSITION: PERMANENT. Transfer to the National Archives in FY 1999

    Justification: These plans and drawings visually, supplement the inventions files documented in item 1 above, and were part of the original inventors submissions.

    Added in handwriting on the original document: "According to Donna Miller, NIST Records Officer, the first two boxes (A & B) were missing when she went to look through them. They were charged out but no employee name given (10/2/02)

  3. Nations Inventors Council Chronological Files 1947-54

    Chronological correspondence files ("Day Files") of the National Inventors Council, 1950-1958, and of John C. Green, 1947-1958. Green served as Chief Engineer for the Council during WW II, and was head of the Department of Commerce's Office of Technical Service, under which the NIC was established. Tissue copies of outgoing correspondence, including both form letters and substantive replies to inventors concerning the utilization of their submissions as well as entitlement due them. AUTHORIZED DISPOSITION: PERMANENT. Transfer to the National Archives in FY 1999.

    Justification: These correspondence files relate to the inventions documented in item 1 above. Given the lack of an index or other finding aids to the NIC files, these correspondence files should be permanent. They also provide a useful supplement to the invention files, because they document both NIC's post-war existence and continued interest by inventors in their submissions. Any duplicative files should be destroyed during archival processing of the records.

  4. National Inventors Council Incoming Correspondence

    Incoming correspondence files of the National Inventors Council, 1940-1953, largely inventors submissions and inquiries, arranged alphabetically by inventor's last name. All that remains of this is mid-T through rest having been destroyed. The bulk of this file had been permanently withdrawn by the age and returned under a different accession number. That accession was destroyed under N1-40-90-2, the disposal authority for patented invention case files of the Office of Chief Counsel for Technology, Department of Commerce, which appears to have been inappropriate for these records. AUTHORIZED DISPOSITION: PERMANENT. Transfer to the National Archive FY 1999.


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