Scientific American, v 24 (ns), no 1, p 9, 1 January 1871
The report comes from Washington that Gen. M.D. Leggett, of Zanesville, Ohio, is likely to be appointed to fill the office of Commissioner of Patents, to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Hon. S.S. Fisher. For many years Gen. Leggett was superintendent of the public schools at Zanesville. He entered the military service as colonel of the Seventy-eighth Ohio Infantry, and by good service he rose to the several grades of brigade, division, and corps commander in the campaigns at the West, under Grant and Sherman, serving with distinction from the beginning to the end of the war. He has been employed, since the war, as superintendent of manufacturing works at Zanesville.
Patent Office Reports
Senator Anthony, from the Committee on Printing, has reported a resolution to print a condensed weekly report, and to send a hundred copies to the capital of each State, and to the Clerk's office for each judicial district. Provision is also made to enable every public library to possess itself of the books, simply upon the payment of the cost of binding.
A Defect in the Patent Law of 1870
Messrs. Editors:-- Allow me to call your attention, and that of your readers, to the closing paragraph of section 33 of the new patent law. The whole section reads as follows:
Sec 33. And be it further enacted, That patents may be granted and issued or reissued to the assignee of the inventor or discoverer, the assignment thereof being first entered of record in the Patent office; but in such case the application for the patent shall be made and the specification sworn to by the inventor or discoverer; and, also, if he be living, in case of an application for reissue.
The closing paragraph enacts that all applications for reissue shall be sworn to by the original inventor, if he be living.
This is not only a great hardship on assignees, but will probably prove disastrous to inventors, if it be not speedily abrogated. The hardship of it upon assignees is well illustrated by a case which has lately come up in my practice as an attorney. A manufacturing company paid some $30,000 to an inventor, for his patent of an improvement in the manufacture of an article which is one of their staples. He squandered the money, and then attempted to make precisely the thing he had before sold to the company, who, of course, resorted to legal proceedings and stopped him. This naturally left bad blood between them.
Now other parties, having discovered an oversight in this patent, have procured patents based thereon, and are proceeding to claim as their own that which plainly belongs to the company. To stop these pirates, it is first necessary to reissue the company's patent; but, under the present law, to do this, they must procure the oath of the original inventor, who would about as soon part with his right hand as thus oblige the company. It is useless to talk about bills in equity; he would soon put himself beyond the bailiwick of any officer, if this were attempted. Now, is this an isolated case? Probably four out of every ten assignees would at this moment find it very difficult to ascertain the whereabouts of their assignors, and equally difficult to procure their oaths when found, except upon payment of considerable, and oftentimes large, sums of money.
In just the degree that this provision is found a hardship on assignees, will it prove disastrous to the interests of inventors, as a rule. To a large majority of inventors their inventions are valueless if they cannot sell them, for very few inventors are, themselves, possessed of means to manufacture and introduce their inventions; and if purchasers are to be practically almost deprived of the right to reissue the patents they purchase, thus putting it out of their power to suppress ingenious evasions of their rights, they will be very slow to purchase even such valuable inventions. Poor inventors find abundance of difficulty now in disposing of their patents, and they can ill afford to have this heavy load put upon their camel's back. They will surely revolt when they come to understand the practical working of this seemingly harmless little enactment.
The new patent law was, probably, drafted by the late Commissioner of Patents; and this provision must have taken its rise in a curious hostility that he seems to have had against reissues, a hostility that he carried so far as to push him into -- as far as the writer believes -- an unprecedented overslaughing of the acts and decisions of his predecessors -- a charge which, when made, it is perhaps well to illustrate.
The writer had, during the late Commissioner's term of office, occasion to prosecute an extension case on a reissued patent, before the Office; it was favorably reported upon by the examiner who had it in charge, and on the last day before the expiration of the patent it came before the Commissioner in person for his final approval. He made no objection to the findings and decision of the examiner below, but refused the extension on the ground that the reissue contained new matter not in the original patent.
Now, as this very question had been expressly decided upon when the patent was reissued by one of his predecessors, every way competent and fit for his office; and as a Commissioner is not, in law, a court of appeal to overturn the decisions of his predecessors; and as the late Commissioner, being a trained lawyer, cannot be ignorant of the true doctrine of stare decisis, it is fair to put this act down as most arbitrary, and with his approval of the enactment spoken of above, as indicating a strong hostility to reissue.
Inventors and owners of patents should lose no time in pressing upon their Representatives and Senators in Congress, to have this enactment repealed, and that right speedily.
Patents, or No Patents
Messrs. Editors: -- I read in the Cincinnati Gazette for 1871, that the editors of that journal will oppose the present system of patents, and will favor the giving to inventors of improvements deemed valuable, a suitable reward down, and then give the invention to the public. It seems to me, that to a poor fellow without means, or friends to introduce his discovery to public notice, this scheme is very favorable if it can be properly carried out.
In order to do this, it would be necessary to have a committee or board perfectly competent to judge of the merits of every device submitted to them. They must know whether it be practicable or not, so as not to pay for a worthless invention. They must be able to judge of the extent of its usefulness, so as to reward according to merit, and not give to one a large sum for a small improvement, and to another a small sum for a great improvement. They must be thoroughly informed on all matters on which they have to act, so that they may not be imposed on by any one palming off another's discovery for his own. They must be men of impregnable integrity, who will not favor one more than another, nor take a bribe, nor be partial.
It will need a large appropriation of money to pay for all the good inventions that will yet be brought out. To supply this, a tax proportionate to the amount required will be necessary. And as it cannot be known which branch of industry will be benefited most, all must be taxed alike. The farmer must help to pay for improvements in manufactures. The artisan must help to pay for improvements in navigation. Users of steam engines must help to pay for improvements in windmills, and vice versa. If otherwise, the inventors must wait till their improvements are adopted, and the users of them taxed to pay for them. In which case, perhaps while the grass was growing, the horse might starve to death. or, to anticipate the time, he might sell his claim; and thus bring about the state of affairs complained of under the present system -- the inventor getting little, and the speculator getting all.
On the whole, the cure seems worse than the disease. I think the present plan the best. Let the fees be reduced as low as possible, that all may be able to secure a patent. Then it rests on its merit. If good, the inventor may reap his reward. If worthless, the people are not taxed for it. Those who use inventions are taxed for the benefit of the inventor. Those who do not like to pay this tax have only to refrain from using the article. If the sewing machine that is sold for sixty dollars does only cost twenty, and you find it to your advantage to buy one at that price, who loses by it? But somebody makes an enormous profit off it. And somebody ought to make an enormous profit off so useful an invention. Of course the inventor ought to have the lion's share. If he does not, more's the pity. I would hail any plan that would give it to him. But I feel sure, that that of the Gazette would not produce a result so desirable.