Patent History Materials Index - Patent Materials from Scientific American, vol 35 new series (Jul 1876 - Dec 1876)

Scientific American, v 35 (ns) no 12, p 178, 16 September 1876

Why Not?

"Can any one give a sensible reason why a person who devises a new and patentable idea should not secure a patent upon it? I have ransacked the entire field of opposition without discovering a single reason that cannot be demolished by one whisk of the horse tail of common sense. Granting that all patents are not profitable, we must acknowledge that the expense of obtaining them, especially in the United States, is quite moderate, and that the chance of realizing from a patent is always worth the amount it costs to secure it; and I might state, as a rule, that the exclusive monopoly of any invention for seventeen years (the term for which patents are issued) is worth the price of a patent whatever may be its character, unless it is based upon a foolish or incorrect theory, or is practically inoperative. I do not intend by this statement to be understood that every such patent will yield a fortune, or even an independence for its owner, but that as an investment of so much money it cannot be regarded as a bad investment. Apathy, or rather a failure to properly put the patented article upon the market, and exaggerated idea of its value, which lead to exorbitant demands from any one who might desire to purchase, are the principal causes of inventors failing to realize from their patents. Many patentees prefer to let their patents lie unintroduced rather than dispose of them at sensible prices, when often these figures would yield a fair profit. Many a good patent is buried and forgotten until it runs out, and then some one, more sensible in such matters, as likely as not picks up the idea, manufactures the article, puts it upon the market, and grows wealthy upon the profits. Again, how often is it that we run across persons who regret that they did not secure patents upon their inventions when they first made them. Many an originator of an idea has failed to secure himself by a patent when he might have done so, and has seen his ideas appropriated, and the invented device finally became a standard article of commerce and trade. As likely as not, the dilatory individual spends the balance of his life in useless regrets that he missed a chance for securing a competence and probably a fortune. It was a neglected opportunity not only to become rich but to enroll his name among the list of men of genius. A few such instances as these are necessary and valuable to point a moral to our tale. Their experience is a living example to other inventors, and is one of the strongest arguments to support our 'Why Not?'

"Again, leaving profit entirely out of the question, a patent is a national record of the genius of the people, and every man who can do so should be proud to have his name placed upon the record. Is it not a fact that we feel a glow of pride when we run across the name of some ancestor among the names of patentees in the patent record? We at once feel that we have inherited the national Yankee characteristic of an American, and we grow tenderer and more sympathetic with our next door neighbor who has been spending all his time and money for years in a vain endeavor to invent a perpetual motion machine. It is the only chance a great many of us have to send our names down to posterity linked with a noble and public ambition to help ourselves and the world along. If the invention does not promise to be speedily remunerative when it is made, it should be patented nevertheless, as we do not know how soon the necessity may arise that will call for such a device. Most of the devices which the originators failed to patent and which afterwards went into general use have just such a history.

"Many people are so constituted that they never pay out a dollar unless they see an immediate prospect of two dollars being returned for it. Such persons will most generally miss the main chance and have the pleasure of regretting their folly ever afterwards. I therefore ask again why not patent your inventions? And I am sure every sensible person will reply 'why not?' -- Mining and Scientific Press


Scientific American, v 35 (ns) no 13, p 195, 23 September 1876

The United States Patent Association

The society meet on September 7, 1876, at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, Pa., for the purpose of suggesting means for the improvement of the patent system and the formation of an international association for promoting uniformity of patent laws in all countries. Among the members present were Hon. J.M. Thacher, ex-United States Patent Commissioner; Professor Hedrick, of the United States Patent Office, W.C. Dodge, of Washington, and John S. Perry, of Albany, N.Y., President of the Association.

President Perry called the meeting to order, and read an address, in which he took as subjects of consideration: First, the importance of the patent system in general; and, second, that of the United States in particular, viewed both in respect to the development of original invention and as inciting inventors to persevere in the perfecting of their plans. He showed the benefits which have arisen from the patent system by a review of the condition of Europe before the patent law was recognized. So long as the laws of property were neither recognized nor properly defined, there could be little inventive to invention or the pushing forward of appliances for the better comfort of mankind. Often an individual, like Roger Bacon, would be on the eve of an invention, and often for that matter did invent; but, well knowing that his rights would be unrecognized, he failed to make it public. Indeed it is well known that several inventions and discoveries of great value, which have since been re-invented, were really made, but suffered to die with the inventor or discoverer from this cause. The first trace of patent law is, he thought, to be found in the reigns of Henry III, and Edward IV, of England, in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, about which periods the services of the villains or serfs gradually became less onerous and uncertain.

He furthermore said: "Patents are sometimes characterized as monopolies and even as vicious monopolies. With equal reason might the possession of wealth honestly acquired be denounced as a trespass upon the rights of others. To take money unlawfully is called stealing; to appropriate an invention is not by some considered very dishonorable. The public seem to have lost sight of the fact that the inventor has taken nothing which it had before; that he has from his own brain brought into existence and perfected, at his own cost of labor and money, a production as new to the world, and perhaps as useful, as the gold which the miner brings forth from the hidden recesses of the mountains. The most bitter opposition the patent system meets is from the agriculturist, and they of all men are the most benefited by its provisions. With the high cost of labor that has existed during the past twelve years, the business of farming could not have been carried on without the improved machinery that inventors and progressive manufacturers have provided.

"The importance of the patent system in general is shown in that a vast number of articles have been through its instrumentality added to the means of human happiness, of which the latter must otherwise from necessity have been deprived. In reference to the importance of the patent system in the United States, the speaker argued that the history of patent protection is almost coincident with our existence as an independent nation. The law of patents, as it now stands in the United States, rests on the statutes of February 21, 1783, [sic, probably 1793 KWD] and April 7, 1800. These statutes have been modified several times, yet our patent law as it now stands is far from being perfect, and it is in the hope of aiding in correcting its errors, and giving it a wider scope, that the United States Association has formed."

Remarks: These views are in the main sound, although tinged with a few misconceptions. Patents, the chairman assumes, are not monopolies, but inherent rights. The poor miner, who controls the gold that his industry brings from the rocks, is just as much a monopolist, he tells us, as the wealthy patentee, who compels every poor woman to pay him forty dollars royalty, for the privilege of earning her living by means of his patent sewing machine. Such reasoning, Mr. Chairman, will not do. The people know better. They know by actual daily experience that patents are monopolies, some of them of the most oppressive kind; and no sugar-coating by any Patent Association will alter the fact. It is because patents are monopolies of the vicious kind, that they are valuable, and in such great demand. Of what account would a patent be, if the patentee were not clothed with authority over his fellow creatures to enforce his private demands, in respect to his patent? Of none whatever.

According to President Perry, the miner who first discovered gold in the Rocky Mountains was the natural patentee of the entire range, as respects the precious metal. He takes nothing that the public had before; on the other hand, by his discovery, he contributes to the general supply of gold. Therefore, no one but the discoverer, or the favored few whom he permits, ought to be allowed to work at gold mining on the premises. This is poor logic for the United States Patent Association to promulgate.

Patents, as we have stated, are pure monopolies. They are only tolerated and granted for reasons of public policy. They are issued solely as rewards; for the mere purpose of stimulating people to discover, invent, and study out new forms of industry. The general weal is promoted by increasing the number and variety of industrial arts, which all the people may freely and equally enjoy. Instead of rewarding the inventor by paying him by a sum in cash from the collected taxes in the treasury, the government gives him a patent, or, in other words, makes him his own tax gatherer; and authorizes him to compel the people, by force if necessary, to satisfy his demands.

The redeeming feature of our patent monopoly system is that it effects its object, it brings out new improvements and is limited to a brief period. Our patents run for seventeen years -- a short time in the life of a nation; the inventions then become public property, and everybody may enjoy them, free from the annoying whip and spur of any wealthy private corporation or patent holder. Great as are the inconveniences of our patent system, the benefits are amazing, and greatly exceed the drawbacks. So long as this continues to be the case, the patent laws will stand.


Scientific American, v 35 (ns) no 16, p 242, 14 October 1876

He Wanted to Sell a Patent Machine

Soon after dinner yesterday a pleasant-faced man, having something wrapped up in a paper under his arm, called at a Detroit hotel, and requested a few minutes conversation with the landlord. When they were seated, the stranger began: "I am an old landlord myself. I kept a hotel in St. Louis for twenty eight years."

"Yes," was the non-committal reply of the landlord.

"And of course I know all about the inconveniences of hotel keeping," responded the man. "There were bugs around the beds in my hotel, and there are bugs around the beds in any hotel, I suppose. Of course I used to lie to the guests, but the bugs were there, and I knew it."

"What do you mean?" demanded the landlord, growing red clear round to his neck.

"Just keep right still," replied the man, "for now I'm coming down to biz. this is the summer season, isn't it, and the only season when bugs bite? In the winter they are dormant, unless there's a fire in the room they don't care to get in their work on the weary traveler. Well, the summer season is the season for the mosquito also. All hotels and houses have mosquitoes, and nothing is thought of it. They seem to be a sort of necessity. Travelers will raise a howl over bugs, but they never grumble at anyone about mosquitoes."

"Sir! do you think I keep a junk shop?" roared the landlord.

"No sir; I don't. This is a regular hotel, and a very good one. As I was going to remark, I have invented and patented a machine, operated by a boy and a crank, which you and all other landlords want and will have. It is a machine to imitate the hum of the mosquitoes. Its notes can be heard all over each floor, and with a good boy at the crank there can be no failure. The traveler, just dozing off to sleep, hears the hum. At the same time a bug works out from under cover. Then more hums and more bugs. Actually, sir, without any lying or exaggerating, men will strike and claw the air all night long to kill imaginary mosquitoes, while the bugs go unmolested and grow fat. The hum is a perfect imitation, and has even deceived Yale College professors. Without it your guests will blow around about bugs. With it no traveler will mention bugs at all, but will rip and tear at the mosquitoes."

"Do you mean to insult me?" shouted the landlord.

"No, sir."

"But you talk as if I had bugs in my house!"

"I tell you what I'll do, landlord. I'll examine five beds, and if I do not find bugs in at least three of them I'll give you a machine for nothing."

It would have been a nip and tuck fight if the great big porter hadn't jumped in and hit the stranger with an iron bootjack. The inventor still lived, however, and within an hour was seen bearing down for another hotel under full sail.

-- Detroit Free Press


Scientific American, v 35 (ns) no 21, p 325, 18 November 1876

What a Patent Agent Ought to Be

A patent agent ought to be careful and honest, because he is the repository of his clients' secrets. No class of property is more highly valued by his possessors than that which derives its origin from invention. No matter how trifling the idea may be, the person who conceives it is apt to place a much higher estimate upon its value than others, and he is therefore jealous of its possession. This jealousy is excusable, however, on account of the fragile nature of the tenure by which he holds possession, and because his title cannot be permanently established until the patent is actually allowed and issued. An improper exposure or unwise placing of confidence in a third party by the inventor or his confidants is liable to, and often has cost the inventor not only time and money to obtain his rights, but has entailed the entire loss of his invention.

It is therefore necessary that the patent agent should not only have the confidence of the inventor, but that he should carefully guard the interest of his client, and see that no injudicious exposure or explanation is made that parties liable to create trouble can get hold of. The utmost confidence ought to be maintained between an inventor and his attorney or agent.

A patent agent ought to be patient. Inventors are proverbially tedious. They like to talk about their inventions, especially to the person whom they have employed to prepare their patent papers and attend to prosecuting their applications. This is also excusable, because it relieves the mental pressure. It is the inventor's safety valve. Fear of exposing his secret to others compels him to keep it locked up in his brain; and there it lies, unfolding itself, expanding in value and importance and permeating every tissue of the human anatomy until the accumulated pressure is relieved by a distribution of the burden with a confidant, and the patent agent is usually that confidant.

The agent should patiently listen, for the talk of an inventor is valuable to him. It gives him the inventor's peculiar ideas; and if he is a student of human nature, it enables him to frame the case so that the inventor will be satisfied with it in every particular.

The patent agent should be accommodating. Inventors are often whimsical; the very nature of their undertaking is apt to lead them to peculiar theories and incorrect conclusions, although the general result of their theories and conclusion may be correct. These theories the agent must not combat, unless they are vital and enter into the essence of the case. He had better let their possessor retain them than incur his distrust and possible enmity by opposing them. The inventor will find his errors when he comes to enter upon the actual and practical field of operation.

The patent agent must be familiar with the law of patents; otherwise how can he guard the vulnerable points of the invention? Every specification must be prepared with a view to its having to pass at some time through the ordeal of a judicial examination, and a judgment as to its validity and scope; and unless the person who prepares the specification fulfills the legal requirements, and in a legal manner sets forth the description and claims, the patent will not stand.

No general knowledge which he may possess will make up for the want of legal knowledge; this want is the one thing that may defeat the end sought, and the knowledge must be properly possessed and properly employed.

The patent agent must be a mechanic, theoretical, at least. In this particular, a patent agent must be qualified by nature, and not by education, although education is necessary to enable him to dress his mechanical points in proper language and render his points plain, certain, and intelligible. Technical knowledge of each particular art, trade, or profession is not required, but a general knowledge of the various steps and requirements is necessary. A person who possesses the inventive faculty, if otherwise qualified, makes the bet patent solicitor; he can then see each invention through the same medium and in the same light that the inventor himself sees it; he can pick out and embody the small mechanical points that form the real safeguards of a patent, and thus more absolutely prepare the case for the scrutiny of judicial investigation and the criticism of mechanical experts.

Few men possess all these qualities, therefore we might say that few men are competent to serve as patent solicitors. The want of proper qualifications in patent agents is the cause of so many worthless patents being issued from the Patent Office. The inventor must absolutely depend upon the preparation of his case for his security and defense, and it therefore behooves him to examine into the character and qualifications of the person in whose hands he places his invention and secret.

The safest and best guide for inventors who require the services of a patent agent is to choose those who have been long in the business and who have acquired a settled reputation for integrity and capacity. Mushroom patent agents exist everywhere. They employ the most specious means to entrap the uninformed inventor, but their services are an actual damage nine times out of ten. It is a hundredfold cheaper to pay a competent attorney or agent a fair fee than to accept the services of such men for nothing. -- Mining and Scientific Press


<< Return to Patent History Materials Index