Scientific American, v 19 (ns), no 6, p 89, 5 August 1868
Should the Patent Laws be Extended to Horticulture
Under the above caption The Horticulturist discusses the value of the Patent Laws and suggests an extension of their benefits so that they may do for the farmer, the florist, and the horticulturist what they have already done for the mechanic. Our cotemporary says, let there be, in connection with the Agricultural Bureau, an office of record, where the name, character, quality, description, etc., of new varieties of fruit and grain, originating in this country, shall be entered and secured to the originator. Let specimens be sent to trustworthy correspondents in the bureau in various sections of the country, so that its value for general cultivation may be determined. Let the result thus arrived at be publicly announced under authority of the bureau, and the right to vend the article in the originator and his licensees for a term of years. Something of this kind would wonderfully stimulate to continued improvement in the production of choice varieties of plants and grains to the great advantage and profit of the country. While it would secure to the originator the just reward of his skill and labor, it would protect the public from the thousand impositions now put upon them by the vendors of new varieties of untried and doubtful value. As this business is now conducted, we have no hesitation in asserting that many thousands of dollars are annually thrown away in the purchase and planting of fruits, for example, which, however valuable they may have proved in their original locality, are totally unprofitable and useless for cultivation in other sections under an altered condition of soil and climate.
We know of many instances where other deserving horticulturists and agriculturists, who have devoted their best years to the public good, have had only their labor for their pains; other persons, to whom they have sent specimens of their plants, in various sections, to test their value, having stepped in to rob them of their reward. Every year the nurserymen of the country are mulcted in large sums of money for the purchase of new and professedly valuable plants, which too often prove of little or no value. These being sent out at extortionate prices, for general cultivation, and failing to answer the expectations excited by the glowing descriptions published of their merits, tend to discourage cultivators and bring the profession of Horticulture into disrepute. Were some such system adopted as we have suggested, however, the honest experimenter would be protected in the product of his labor, and the prices of new plants would be set at a more reasonable figure, so as to be within the reach of all, because the originator would, instead of, as now, being compelled to realize his profits out of his first season's sales, be secured in their enjoyment for a term of years.
We know it may be urged that such a provision as this has never yet been incorporated into the Patent Laws of any nation; but of its necessity, its justice, there can be no question. As the United States, by its greater liberality to inventors, has stimulated the arts and sciences, and added to the industrial wealth and resources of the people more than any other government in the world, let it go one step further and by judicious legislation, stimulate the husbandman to take rank upon the highest order of productive agents, and elevate and dignify that profession which, however much lauded by poets and extolled by politicians as an ennobling one, has heretofore been of the earth, quite too earthy.
Reform in the Patent Office
Congress, in its last session, voted to take away the surplus fund of the Patent, and passed an act appropriating the sum of $250,000 to pay its current annual expenses, and simply for the good reason that during some years past the financial affairs of the Office have not been conducted with skill and economy. It appears from a report now before us of a Committee appointed to investigate the matter of printing done by authority of Commissioner Theaker, that within the space of two years the large sum of $181,000 was expended upon the items of books, paper, and printing, and among other transactions of a doubtful character, $48 per thousand were paid for manila envelopes having the Commissioner's frank printed thereon. The expenses of the Office also ran up from $274,199, in 1865, to $639.293 in 1867. We conclude, from these and other items in the Committee's report, that Congress was justified in interfering to prevent an extension of this system of wasteful -- we might almost say criminal -- misuse of the patent fund.
For some reason the surplus fund of the Patent Office -- taxed out of the pockets of inventors -- has furnished an easy opportunity for our Commissioners to gratify some very luxurious notions, as any one may see by a visit to the barbaric upper gallery, decorated under the supervision of Commissioner Holloway, whose knowledge of fine art must have been acquired in studying the faces and baskets of the aborigines who migrated west of the Mississippi before railroads had introduced a more refined and civilized art.
Commissioner Foote assumes the duties of his position hampered by the effects of maladministration and a procrastinating policy which well nigh destroyed the good name and efficiency of the Patent Office.
We are happy to be assured, however, that the new Commissioner is bending all his energies towards introducing much needed radical reforms. He has already cut down needless expenditure, and with a careful weeding out of all blockheads and suspicious characters -- if there are any -- to clog the business, and betray the sacred trusts, the public may expect to see the Patent Office restored to its ancient vigor and recognized usefulness. Commissioner Foote has the ability and energy to put the house in order, and inventors may safely repose confidence in his integrity and firm purpose to administer the affairs of the Office, not only in a generous spirit, but without fear or favor.
Changes in the Patent Office
Commissioner Foote, of the Patent Office, has promoted Samuel Duncan, First Assistant Examiner, to special duty in the Commissioner's room as his assistant, and V.D. Stockbridge from a clerkship to be Second Assistant Examiner. James L. Norris and Charles Page have also received promotion to the Examining Corps. J.H. Adams of Boston has been appointed to take charge of the annual "Patent Office Report," in place of Edward H. Knight, removed, rumor says on account of his connection with a Patent Agency. Mr. Adams is a very competent man, and, previous to his removal to Boston, was connected with the Examining Corps of the office for many years.
A Patent in 1655
Messrs. Editors: -- In the records of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay I find the following passage relating to a patent granted to Joseph Jencks, Sen., for an engine for the more speeding cutting of grass:
"In ans:r to the moccon of Joseph Jencks, Sen., itt is ordered that Joseph Jencks, Sen., and his assignes only, shall have libertje graunted to them to make that engine the said Jencks hath proposed to this Court, for the more speedy cutting of grasse, for seven Yeares, and that no inhabitant, or other person w:th:in this Jurisdiccon, during that time shall make or use any of that kind of engine w:th:out license first obtained from the said Joseph Jencks, on the poenalty of five pounds for every such engine so made or used, to be recovred at any Court in this jurisdiccon by the said Joseph Jencks Sen., or his assignes."
Can you inform me what sort of engines were made in those days?
[In "those days" all machines driven by any power except hand labor were called engines. The engine referred to, invented by Joseph Jencks, Senior, mentioned in the colonial records from which the above extract is taken, was one of a series of inventions made by him for the making of scythes and other edged tools with greater speed and perfection than had previously been accomplished. It was not an engine directly applicable to cutting grass, as the quaint language of the record might seem to imply. It was merely a machine, driven by water power, to manufacture scythes upon a new principle of construction, which gave greater length and thinness to the blade, the requisite strength being given to it by welding a rib of iron to the back of it, now done by rolling instead of welding. This was a great improvement upon the short, thick, and clumsy English scythes used at that period. Although many improvements have since been made in modes of manufacturing scythes, no radical change in their form has taken place.
Joseph Jencks, Senior, was one of the most skilled mechanics and inventors of his time. He was the first founder of brass and iron on the Western Continent. In 1652 he was employed by the Colonial Government, to make dies for the silver coins issued to supply the deficiency of specie which at that time embarrassed financial operations. The issue consisted of shillings, for which there were at least sixteen different dies, sixpences, threepences, and twopences. The coins were of very fine metal, but they were worth by weight two pence less in the shilling than the English coin. Mr. Jencks was the maker of the first fire engine ever used in America, anticipating their use in France nearly fifty years. -- Eds.
Special Correspondence of the Scientific American -- Affairs at the Patent Office
Washington, D.C., Sept. 2, 1868
You have already announced that Commissioner Foote is hard at work reorganizing the business of the Patent Office. His reform promises to be very thorough. Laziness is a thing not to be tolerated any more, expenses will be cut down to the lowest figure, and the Office be put upon a thorough working basis. The practice of paying forty-eight dollars per thousand for manila envelopes has been discontinued, and the daubing over of stone columns with cobalt blue is not likely to be repeated at present. The Commissioner has made several changes relative to preparing the annual report, printing specifications, etc., which will greatly reduce the expenses and advance the true interests of the office.
Among other reforms introduced, is that of examination of examiners, to see if they are qualified for their duties. W.B. Taylor and J.W. Jayne, Examiners, and B.F. James, of the Appeal Board, are appointed to examine applicants for positions in the Office, and hereafter, before any appointment can be made the candidate will be thoroughly examined as to his fitness for the place. He must possess at least some show of qualification or he cannot be appointed. All those now in the Office will have to submit to this examination, and if found unqualified will be discharged. They must have on the wedding garment or they cannot sit at the feast.
The Commissioner intends to raise the standard of principal examiners to that of the judges of our common courts, and means to do away with the practice heretofore in vogue of appointing persons to positions simply because they happen to be related to some M.C. or Senator.
It is not stated whether any examinations as to moral qualification is to be made, but it will do the candidates no harm to put to them a few questions from "Watts on the Mind," and the old-fashioned "Westminster Catechism," books too much neglected by officials now-a-days. There is considerable interest felt about this new procedure, and it is already reported that some of the officials with hair erect, are expecting momentarily to be summoned before the new Tribunal. Mr. Taylor, who has had long experience in examining shooting irons, is expected to throw in some sharp shots, Judge James will apply the legal rules, and Mr. Jayne will do his share of the heavy work. The board is really a very able one, and Commissioner Foote has shown wisdom in making the selection. The board will soon organize, and proceed secundum artem.
You have, for some time, been aware of the fact that the Examiners have been seriously hampered for room in which to transact their business, and owing to the lack of a little gumption on the part of former Commissioners, no efforts were made to remove the clog. I am happy to say that five rooms in the basement formerly occupied by the Agricultural Department, have been turned over to the Patent Office, and will be occupied by the chemical department under Professor Hedrick and other purposes.
The appointment of Judge Foote to the Commissionership, will do much to break up some mischievous cliques, which have swarmed about the Office like hungry flies -- this class of which I am now speaking are really a serious pest, and it wants a high-toned Commissioner to keep them in their proper places, and to teach them that the Patent Office can be managed without their assistance and advice.
The Office will soon be all that inventors have a right to expect; and that their claims will be liberally treated, no one need fear or doubt. Judge Foote is a warm friend to the inventor.
There is a report that Mr. Grinnel, at present an examiner, is to take the place of Gen. Stout, as Chief Clerk, but I think this is somewhat premature. Gen. Stout is now absent, and it is not likely that any change will be made, if at all, until his return.
After a very severe contest the Commissioner has decided to extend the Haywood India Rubber Patent, which is considered to be very valuable.
Patent Office Matters
Commissioner Foote has appointed James S. Grinnell chief clerk, in place of A.M. Stout, resigned. Mr. Grinnell was for several years chief clerk in the Agricultural Department, but more recently Examiner in charge of the class of Lumber in the Patent Office. He is a gentleman well qualified to perform the duties of the office, and his appointment, we are sure, will give satisfaction to inventors, and all others who have occasion to do business before the Patent Office. General W.H. Browne, of this city, has been appointed a First Assistant Examiner and assigned to Duty with General Schoepf in the classes of Land Conveyance and Mechanical Engineering. Horace Binney, of Philadelphia, Pa., has also been appointed a First Assistant, and Emmett Quinn a Second Assistant Examiner.
The Commissioner, in order to reduce the expenses of the office, has notified a number of those engaged in the model rooms that their services will not be required after the 1st proximo; and there will also, we understand, be a reduction of the clerical forces in the draftsmen's and other rooms, after that date.
The Board of Examiners in the Patent Office
Messrs. Editors: -- The new Commissioner of Patents has thus far exhibited a zeal and determination in the discharge of his duties which has arrested the attention of the public generally, and augurs well for the success of his administration. To none of his contemplated improvements, however, do the public give a heartier and more cordial endorsement than the resuscitation of the Board for inquiring into the qualifications of the Examining Corps. Those who compose this body, decide upon the merits and patentability of all inventions, and to them the law contemplated the application of a rigid and searching test-examination. While the form and letter of the law, in this regard, was for some years complied with, the spirit and substance was evaded, since those who were subjected to an examination declare it to have been a mere formality.
Of late years, however, it has been entirely omitted, and virtually declared obsolete. Its death and burial is believed to have occurred about two years ago. Upon the accession of Judge Foote, it was with commendable promptitude resurrected, galvanized into new life, and imbued with a true and catholic spirit.
The object of the law was manifestly to debar incompetent men from securing those responsible places, to cause emulation in the acquirement of an Examiner's duties, and to eliminate and bring to notice the men who possess capacity, educational acquirements, and aptitude. The duties of an Examiner are of a character complicated and diverse, so much so as to demand unusual qualifications.
He is called upon to analyze claims, to extract the meaning from specifications oftentimes diffuse and obscure, and to embody ideas in language exact and perspicous [sic]. This necessitates an acquaintance with the etymology of his own tongue, and the languages from which its compound words are derived; he must also possess some mathematical knowledge to enable him to understand readily the combinations of mechanism, and the infinite relations in which mechanical elements may be placed; he must be moderately well grounded in the general and leading principles of science, or he will not be able to penetrate and discern the purpose and gist of a large class of cases which come before him. He should therefore be a man of liberal education, and of more than ordinary capacity. Without these qualifications, he is unable to do justice to the public in whose behalf he acts, or to the inventor on whose rights he renders judgment. Without these qualifications, the spirit of the law cannot be carried out, but wrong and injustice must surely be done.
The Commissioner is responsible, whether he appoints incompetent men himself or retains the appointees of others in their positions. It is upon this view that the public has hailed with so much satisfaction the appointment of Messrs. Hodges, Taylor, and Jayne as a Board to ascertain the qualifications of Examiners and their Assistants. The men selected and the instructions issued indicate unmistakably that this is no sham, but that the Commissioner is thoroughly in earnest, and fully determined to raise the standard of qualifications to the point intended and contemplated by the law.
Thus far, then, those interested in the Patent Office have every reason to expect from the new Commissioner many and radical improvements, and to entertain the hope that at last the right man has been put in the right place.
It is true that there are those who seem disposed to doubt whether the Commissioner will apply this discriminating test without fear or favor, and to all alike; whether he can carry out, sternly, a revolution which will razee or throw out altogether some of the primary Examiners, men who, however incompetent, are morally and socially estimable. Nothing but a high sense of duty and a Roman firmness will enable any man, in such a position, to emancipate his judgment from the influence of his own feelings, and the appeals of interested parties. Such a "rara avis" the new Commissioner is believed to be, who, when he prepares for work, throws off his prejudices and predilections as garments that hinder and interfere with the performance of duty, and meets obstacles with stoical calmness and unflinching resolution. With such a man, it is not believed that exceptions of one and another will be allowed to fritter away the substance of the law, but that all will alike be subjected to the test-examination except those whose superiority is indicated and acknowledged by an appointment on this Board.
If this is done, a great reform will be inaugurated, a maximum in thoroughness and efficiency of examination attained, and a corresponding confidence in the decisions of the Office created.
New and Important Patent Office Rule
Commissioner Foote, in his firm purpose to break up certain practices in vogue in the Patent Office, has promulgated a very stringent and important rule, which ought to be understood by all inventors who intend to apply for Letters Patent.
It has hitherto been the custom of the Office to permit applicants, or their attorneys, to withdraw papers either before or after a rejection, for the purpose of making amendments. Hereafter this practice will not be allowed. Papers once filed must remain in the Office, and are not to be inspected for any purpose whatsoever, either by the applicant or his attorney.
The rigid enforcement of this rule renders it doubly important that specifications and drawings should be carefully prepared, in the first instance, by experienced and competent attorneys, and not by those who have little or no knowledge of the rules and practices of the Patent Office.
We admit that the new rule will operate somewhat severely upon such inventors as do not feel able to employ an attorney, yet we doubt not Commissioner Foote has had good reasons for promulgating the rule.
Patent Office Items
Messrs. James, Griffin and Peters, the board recently appointed at the Patent Office to examine into the manner in which all contracts with the office are filed, have begun the discharge of their duties, and heard some testimony. It will be several days before they will be prepared to make a report.
The Commissioner has refused to extend the patents of Theodore Weed and T.J.W. Robertson, but for sewing machines. He has also recently heard arguments in the case of Cyrenus Wheeler, for harvester, a machine that has been extensively used by farmers.
No decision has yet been announced.
A Significant Fact
During the week ending December 1st, there were filed in the Patent Office 255 applications and caveats. During the same week 103 applications and caveats were entered upon the records of this office. Inventors fully understand where their interests are best served.
Condition of the Patent Office
The Secretary of the Interior, in his annual report to Congress, states that during the year ending September 30, 1868, there were 20,112 applications for patents; 14,153 patents (including reissues and designs) were issued; 1,692 applications allowed on which patents did not issue owing to the non-payment of the final fee; 3,789 caveats filed; 180 applications for the extension of patents received, of which 133 were granted. The receipts were $696,786, being $171 less than the expenditures. The Secretary also renews his former suggestion in favor of repealing so much of the law as allows an appeal from the decisions of the Commissioner on applications for letters patent and in interference cases, and respectfully refers to the views on the subject presented in his former reports.
The Commissioner of Patents reports to the President of the Senate as follows:
By an act of Congress passed July 20, 1868, all the receipts of the Patent Office were directed to be paid into the Treasury, and the sum of $250,000 was appropriated to pay its expenses.
In pursuance of said act, I transmit herewith to Congress a detailed account of the receipts and expenditures of the Patent Office during the period from the passage of said act up to the commencement of the present month.
The payments of salaries and wages at the Patent Office are usually made at the end of each month. Those, therefore, that were paid after the 20th of July were for the services of the whole of that month.
The accounts of expenditures include about $35,000 paid for debts that had accrued before the commencement of the term. Other portions of such past indebtedness, amounting to about $27,000 still remain due and unpaid.
The Agricultural Department, during the past summer, has been removed from the Patent Office building. The fitting up of the rooms thus vacated, and furnishing them for the uses of the Patent Office have involved considerable expenditures beyond the ordinary expenses of the office.
Of the $250,000 appropriated by the act of July 20th, $43,490 remain unexpended. This sum, it is estimated, will about meet the expenditures of the present month.
The receipts of the Patent Office, since the 1st of July last, that have been collected and paid into the Treasury, exceed all its expenditures during the same period, ordinary and extraordinary, by the sum of $29,494.85.