Scientific American, v 26 (ns) no 10, p 151, 2 March 1872
Publication of the Patents
Our readers will remember that the publication of the diagrams and abstracts of the patents, in the annual Patent Office reports, was discontinued by Congress some three years ago, much to the dissatisfaction and inconvenience of a large portion of the public. But there was a good reason for the discontinuance. The printing entailed an immense cost upon the government, while large quantities of the books, given over as they were to members of Congress for free distribution, were thrown away and wasted, or gathered into the cellars of wrapping paper dealers.
After the discontinuance of the reports, the Commissioner of Patents began the weekly publication of the patent claims in a special pamphlet, which has proved of much value, and is in a measure a substitute for the annual reports. This weekly pamphlet has lately been styled the Official Gazette, and it is furnished to regular subscribers at $5 a year. To make the Gazette still more complete, the Commissioner of Patents now proposes to publish in it, weekly, the drawings, with abstracts of all patents issued. For the information of members of Congress and to illustrate the proposed method of publication, the Commissioner has caused to be issued one number of the Gazette with abstracts of the specifications, claims, and drawings of the patents for one week, the drawings being lithographed on a reduced scale. This number is now before us, and it is altogether the most concise, economical, practicable and valuable form of patent publication that has yet been produced at Washington. It reflects the highest credit upon the Commissioner of Patents, and we trust that Congress will promptly grant the necessary authority and means for its continued and regular issue.
The present number of the Gazette presents the abstracts, claims and drawings of 205 new patents, and they occupy 26 pages. All the drawings are perfectly clear, and yet so compact is the printing that a single volume of 1,600 pages would suffice to contain the drawings and abridgements of all the patents for an entire year, or about thirteen thousand in number. The last complete Patent Office report, that of 1868, consisted of four volumes, comprising over 3,500 pages, and in it were illustrated not quite thirteen thousand patents. To be sure, the pages were a little smaller than those of the Gazette, but the economy of space, of paper, and consequently of expense, is considerably in favor of Commissioner Leggett's present plan of printing.
We earnestly hope that Congress will authorize the proposed publication. Nothing contributes more directly to the growth and prosperity of our varied industries than the general circulation of intelligent descriptions and drawings of the latest improvements. All our artisans are interested in them; they stimulate thought, they encourage industrial progress.
Having thus signified our approval of the Commissioner's project, for we regard it as a step in the right direction, we will now suggest, to him and to Congress, some reasons for advancing a little further. Instead of giving only abstracts of the specifications, we ask the Government to print the specifications in full.
The Commissioner shows us, in his specimen, how readily the drawings may be reduced and printed, and how compactly the abstracts may be presented. We ask him now to compact the publication a little more, and print the specifications and drawings in full every week, thus placing them conveniently before the public.
The chief defect in our present patent system consists in its lack of provision for the full publication of existing patents in a condensed, cheap and popular form, so that everybody may possess them. This once accomplished, patents may be granted to every applicant, the present cumbersome and defective system of Patent Office examinations, with all its delays, expenses, injustices, and unnecessary prosecutions, may be discarded. Instead of a small corps of official examiners, we should then have twenty thousand examiners, every applicant for a patent being his own examiner.
In no country in the world is there so much patent litigation, or so much time and money wasted in procuring, defending, and wrangling about patents as in the United States. The value and validity of a patent rests upon the clearness of its statements and its priority over other patents. But when these other patents are unknown or difficult of access by the people, as are our patents, quarrels and confusion are the natural result.
It may be laid down as an axiom in regard to patents that, where the full specifications and drawings are easily accessible to the public, there will be little or no patent litigation.
In England, the drawings and specifications of all patents are printed in full and are, to a considerable extent, accessible to the public. The practical result is that England is almost exempt from patent litigation, although patents are granted to almost every person who chooses to file a patent application.
The evidence recently presented to Parliament shows that in all England the average number of patent cases in which proceedings are commenced before the courts is only eighteen cases per annum!
To say nothing of our courts, there is more trouble and litigation over patent cases before our Patent Office in one month, than there is in all the courts of England in an entire year! It is true that five times as many patents are granted here; but the excess of American litigation is out of all proportion to the augmentation of patents. We apply the term litigation to all contested patent cases.
The remedy is simple. 1. Print the patents in full, at the cheapest rate, so that everybody may possess them. 2. Grant patents to every applicant who presents proper papers. 3. Dispense with models, official examinations, rejections, appeals to the Board of Examiners, appeals to the Commissioner, appeals to the District courts, and all the other cumbersome machinery of the Patent Office which now burdens the inventor with expense and annoyance.
Congress and Patent Extension Cases
As will be gathered from the letter of our special correspondent at Washington, published at length in another column, there is at the present time an unusual number of applications before the Committee on Patents in Congress for extensions of patents. The success of a few of the applicants, and the apparent facility with which those presented are reported upon by the Committees and passed by Congress, is giving encouragement to those disappointed in their efforts to obtain extensions before the Patent Office, and so increase the demands upon Congress for special legislation as to threaten to become a serious evil.
It has always been our opinion that Congress ought not to meddle with these cases, an opinion to which we have given the most clear and emphatic expression in these columns. We have never seen cause to change our views upon this subject, and we now repeat that the only proper action on the part of the National Legislature in regard to such applications is to authorize the Commissioner to take cognizance and act upon applications which for valid reasons have not been presented during the time fixed by our patent laws. An application that the Commissioner has refused should never receive the sanction of the Committee on Patents, nor the time of Congress be used in discussing such claims. In the first place, that body has not the requisite knowledge, or time to obtain knowledge, on which to act intelligently. Second, the presentation of such applications is like those of claims, a great opportunity to the lobby, who will either enforce inventors to entrust these camp vultures with the prosecution of applications, or strive to defeat any favorable action. It is well known that the merit of a claim is seldom what passes it. We were once, when pressing the merits of a claim upon the mind of a distinguished member of the third house, interrupted by the bluff assurance that "bless your innocence, the merits make no manner of difference. Claims don't go through on their merits; but they do go through, and if you can spend enough yours will go through, and not without." We would not spend money enough in this way, so our claim still stands unsatisfied.
It will not be long, if this sort of patent extension legislation continues, before it will become a matter of lobbying altogether, and it is not much better than that now. Occasionally the maladroitness of some blunderers gives the public a peep into the mysteries of lobbying. Some of our readers -- not the oldest by any means -- will recollect how one of these "too smart" manipulators, who pressed an application for the third extension of one of the most valuable patents ever granted, invited the lawgivers with their wives to a feast, and how beside each gentleman's plate was placed a handsome revolver mounted in the richest style, enveloped in a handsome case, and how beside each lady's plate was a box of the finest kids, and how, the fact being published abroad by the watch dogs of the press, the storm of protest thus evoked, through the lobby man's overdoing, made that gentleman's anticpataed cake turn out the most underdone kind of dough. This thing was not done in a corner; that is probably the reason why it failed so signally in its desired effect, but it indicates the existence of the probabilities referred to. Skillful lobbyists understand more thoroughly the value of corners, both literal and figurative, than did the bungler who afforded the public an insight into the way things may be accomplished by demonstrating how not to do them.
The kind of action which we consider legitimate, namely the authorization of the Commissioner to act on applications after the legal time has expired, may be exercised with justice and equity, and it gives less rise to jobbery; but the reasons for such exceptions should be good, and if, as in some cases, the fault rests with the party who has omitted, through simple carelessness, to apply, within the period limited by law, to the Patent Office tribunal for his extension then we contend the applicant has no right to the attention of Congress to remedy his own heedlessness. The passing of an act to extend a patent, after the application has been refused by the Commissioner on grounds deemed valid and derived from thorough investigation, seems an insult to the intelligence of that officer, and is a kind of special legislation which must inevitably lead to corruption and foster monopolies. We see no reason why Congress should not as soon give a patent to a man who has been refused a grant on an original application as to extend a patent to one who has not only enjoyed all the privileges pertaining to his original patent, but has in the opinion of the Commissioner, who has the opportunity to know, reaped an adequate, or more than an adequate reward for his invention and the labor and expense of introducing it to the public. But this is not the worst of patent legislation; after an extension of seven years by the Patent Office, making the monopoly enjoyed by the patentee 21 years -- the limit allowed under the patent law -- the patentee, or more usually the manufacturer monopolist in the name of the patentee, goes to Congress and asks a further extension for the poor inventor! Not because he has not been amply rewarded, but because he has made so much out of the invention as to enable him to afford the large expense necessary to enforce his claim. Those persistent applicants are the ones most likely to succeed before Congress, and it is against legislation in such cases that we most specially protest. Instead of encouraging and fostering inventions and manufactures, such legislation discourages the poorer inventors and brings into disrepute our patent system.
Printing the Patent Drawings
We are indebted to the Hon. L. Meyer, M.C., of Pennsylvania, for a report of a recent discussion in the House of Representatives on the bill to provide funds for the publication weekly of the drawings of patents, recently alluded to in our paper.
The project of the Commissioner, which is to publish an abstract with the drawings of all the patents, in the Official Gazette at $5 a year, meets with general favor and has passed the House. It now goes to the Senate for concurrence. In the course of the discussion Mr. L. Meyer, among many other reasons for advocating the publications of the drawings, said:
"By placing every particular relating to our patented inventions before the people at the earliest possible moment, many a man will desist from mental labors which he may find to have been anticipated, and turn his genius into other channels; while on the other hand, by a close study which only this information and especially these illustrations will permit, many scientific and valuable improvements will be given to mankind. The project, I think, must commend itself as a most judicious one. Certainly it will have the approval of the people, and I hope there will be no dissenting voices upon its passage.
"The publication of discoveries generates in others the desire and the ability to add to the inventive arts. These inventions should be placed before the country in the cheapest manner, but, at the same time, in such form that not only justice shall be done to the genius of our inventors, but credit and honor secured to the country."
The Hon. Mr. Hoar, of Massachusetts, said:
"There are inventors all over this country who are engaged either in perfecting old machines or inventing new ones, and to whom a lifetime of laborious industry of mind and body may be saved by a prompt and perfect diffusion of this work.
"These gazettes, if deposited in the public libraries of the country, will be in a place where inventors will know where to find them, and they will keep themselves posted in regard to particular inventions, and they can send to the Patent Office for particular sheets which contain the lithographs and drawings and the printed statements of the inventions in which they are especially interested.
"Now, sir, this is a matter of immense importance to the people of a district like mine. It is of importance not only to the people of that district, but also through them to the people of the whole country. To show how important is this matter of inventions, even to the agricultural districts where not many mechanics live, I have only to relate one fact to the House. Ten miles from where I live, within the limits of my district, was born a man who by a single invention doubled the value of every acre of land producing cotton throughout the entire South. Twelve miles in another direction lived the inventor of the sewing machine, which has had an almost equal effect upon the industries of the country. Ten miles in another direction was born the man who practically introduced chloroform to the knowledge of mankind, which for the entire world has lightened the pains of death, removed the pangs of labor, and made surgery a blessing instead of an agony to the patient.
"Now, sir, each of those men -- and I might introduce several other instances of almost as much importance -- was a benefactor to the entire civilized world. Each of those men would undoubtedly have found an arrangement of this kind of immense benefit to him in his study of inventions."
A Patent Office Curiosity, and a Specification in Rhyme
Among nearly 20,000 specifications, including substitutes, now on file in the United States Patent Office, the following is one of the most remarkable and amusing. In this case, a late Commissioner decided that no patent should issue upon a poetical specification which was in other respects entirely sufficient. This specification was written by the inventor, Dr. D. Breed, late of the Patent Office.
[Six illustrative figures of the application are given]
To all those whom it may concern:
By this description, you may learn
That I, D. Breed, a District man,
Have made invention of a plan,
Both new and useful, of a trap
For catching roaches while you nap.
In setting forth my new invention,
Of first importance I would mention
My trap's a novel earthen cup
Outside of which the roach creeps up
And, jumping in to eat molasses,
The well glazed mouth he ne'er repasses.
In drawings, figures one and two
Show simple forms, yet something new;
The first has rough outside or way;
The next, an inclined path at A.
The central stem (in dots you see),
Is crowned with bowl like half a pea,
To hold molasses, say a drop,
And smoothly glazed from base to top.
But this is no essential thing:
Without it, the roaches spring.
If in the bottom of the cup
You place the sweet whereon they sup.
The figure three shows a form unique
Of which in highest praise I speak;
'Tis glaze on in and outer sides,
Except between the handle strides
Where creep the roachies up a track
Without fear of sliding back.
In figure four, at B, a spout
Is made, to wash dead roaches out;
This form is glazed entire within,
also the mouth up to the brim
but on the outer side, all round,
No trace of glazing can be found.
In five and six, a septum, C,
Cuts full two thirds the cup from three,
The smaller part has open door
At letter D, close to the floor,
And inclined way to top of cup
Where Mr. Roach with cane walked up;
Nor needs his wife or child his hand
To reach the highest brink and stand,
A little trip is balance hung
May o'er the mouth of cup be swung;
But that, an almost useless thing,
To save expense, away I fling.
Of varied traps, with spiral walk
And sundry forms, I yet might talk --
Of clay or other mortar made
To suit the fancy or the trade:
Forms now conceived, yet not revealed,
That sleeping lie to fancy's field.
From this description,you may make
Whatever form you choose to take,
From figure one to six, made part
Of this to aid the potter's art,
I recommend said figure three
Of porcelain, like cup for tea.
As manufacture new, I claim
Said pottery trap, or porcelain.
If, while you sleep,
The roaches creep
Into your sugar bowl,
And, when you wake,
They quickly take
Safe to their Hiding hole,
Before your head,
Upon your bed,
Again you lay to nap,
Be sure to get
And bait and set
The rhyming roaching trap.
Timely Hints for Patent Office Examiners
The Commissioner of Patents, in a recent decision on a case appealed to him, gives expression to the following timely and common sense views respecting the duties of Patent Office examiners:
"Where two parts of a device co-act to produce a useful result, they should not be separated for the purpose of rejection. A legitimate combination must be met as such or the claim admitted.
To dissect a claim and reject it piecemeal is not admissible.
The invention claimed in this case is for the double purpose of preventing the losing of the key that holds the standard and beam of a plow together, and of strengthening the beam at its point of greatest weakness.
The device consists of a notched key to pass through the standard and a wedge shaped plate having a slot to receive the standard, the slot being considerably longer than the width of the standard. The slotted plate is then dropped over the upper end of the standard and so adjusted as to bring the thinnest end of the wedge under the keyhole, when the notched key or gib is inserted and the wedge plate drives under it firmly and then fastened to the beam by a screw.
The application was rejected by a reference to Fowler's patent of March 26, 1867, which, it was thought, showed the wedge shaped slotted plate, and to various classes of machinery for the notched key. The key is not separately claimed, neither is the slotted plate, and if they co-act to produce a useful result they should not be separated for the purpose of rejection. A legitimate combination should be met as such or not at all. The practice of dissecting a machine and rejecting it by piecemeal is without sanction of either reason or law. Under such practice, the Office might very soon close its doors, for the lever, the inclined plane, and the pulley are all very old and very well known, and might soon become sufficient reference for every possible mechanical device; but in this case applicant's invention is not met even by the fragmentary mode in which it was examined. The wedge in Fowler's patent is a fork driven under a pin in the standard, for the purpose of regulating the pitch of the plow point and the draft of the plow. It has no other use, and is not designed or adapted to serve the end sought by the applicant. It has no influence whatever in retaining the key in its place more than the beam would have without the plate. It resembles the plate in this case in being wedge shaped, and in being fastened to the beam with a screw, but in no other respect. The key, when considered by itself, has no element of novelty, and the applicant sets up no claim to novelty in either the plate or key. His claim is for a novel combination of the two in such manner as to secure a single and desirable end. It is well known that the alternating strain and relaxation on the beam of a plow while at work has a very troublesome tendency to looses the pin that retains the standard and beam in their proper relative positions. If the pin drops from its place, the plow is in danger of being seriously damaged. To obviate this danger and trouble is the sole end of applicant's invention, and it was no part of the object of Fowler's invention; neither would nor could his invention accomplish such purpose.
The key and slotted plate in applicant's device clearly co-act in securing this end, and seem to be admirably adapted to the purpose. The notched key could not be successfully used except with a plate substantially in the form described, and the plate would be worthless for the desired purpose except with the notched key. When acting together, the end is attained. Hence the combination is legitimate, and is not answered by references that apply only to the parts when separated from each other.
The decision of the Board of Appeals is reversed."