Scientific American, v 13 (ns) no 7, p 103, 12 August 1865
Examiner in Chief
It is reported the Hon. Elisha Foot, of Saratoga, N.Y., has been appointed by the President an Examiner-in-Chief, in the Patent Office, in place of Mr. Coombs, resigned. We have known Judge Foote for many years, and can speak in unqualified terms of his character and qualifications. For many years he has been employed as senior counsel for Burden, of Troy, in his famous spike suit against Corning, Winslow & Co.
Conditions of the Patent Office -- Suggestions about Amending the Patent Laws
We copy the following extracts from the Report of the Secretary of the Interior:
During the year ending September 30, 1865, there were received at the Patent Office 11,860 applications for patents, and 70 applications for an extension of patents; 6,292 patents (including reissues and designs) were issued, and 61 extensions granted; 1,538 caveats were filed; 741 applications were allowed, but no patents issued thereon by reason of the non-payment of the final fee.
On the first day of October, 1864, there was a balance to the credit of the fund of $56,117.39. The fees received for the succeeding twelve months amounted to $316,987.27. The expenditures during the same period were $262,445.47, leaving a balance on the first day of October, 1865, of $110,659.19.
The law provides that in interference cases, or where Letters Patent have been refused, an appeal lies from the decision of the primary examiner to the examiners-in-chief, and from their decision to the Commissioner of Patents. According to a judicial construction of existing laws, an appeal may be taken from the decision of the Commissioner to the chief justice, or one of the associate judges of the Supreme Court of this district. This procedure is unnecessarily circuitous and protracted, and should be abridged by an amendment of the law so as to allow an appeal from the decision of the primary examiner or the examiners-in-chief directly to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, if the party against whom it is rendered so elects.
The Commissioner of Patents is clothed with unrestrained discretionary power in all cases of application for the extension of patents. His decision, whether favorable or unfavorable, is final, and frequently involves private interests of enormous value. It is submitted for the consideration of Congress whether it is wise to lodge so large a power with a subordinate officer, without subjecting its exercise to the supervisory control of the head of the department.
History of the American Patent Office
By act of Congress in April, 1790, entitled "An Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts," the Secretary of State had assigned to him, the duty of receiving applications for the discovery of any useful art or invention; said officer, with the Secretary of War and the Attorney General, constituting a Board for that purpose, who issued the "Letters," which, upon examination by the Attorney General of the United States within a given period, were signed by the President of the United States.
To a single clerk in the Department of State, then held in Philadelphia, was assigned the duty of filing papers and copying schedules of patents. The destruction by fire of the public archives, in 1814, renders it difficult to give his name.
The act of February 21, 1803 [sic, actually 1793] repeals that of April, 1790, yet all patents issued under the former act were valid, and the labors of preparation of the "Letters" were assigned to the Department of State, under charge of a clerk.
In 1800, when the seat of government was removed to Washington from Philadelphia, a distinguished man of genius, a fine writer and scholar, and a great lover of the fine arts, Dr. William Thornton, was appointed the clerk. He was born in the island of Tortola, in the West Indies, of American descent. [No! KWD] He enjoyed the confidence of General Washington, and his design of the east front of the original capitol was adopted by the Great Chief. Dr. Thornton was an intimate friend of John Fitch and Robert Fulton of steam notoriety. The doctor was wealthy, and fond of fine horses. He was one of the original commissioners of the city, and General Washington had a great regard for him.
The Patent Office was then located in a large three-story building, known as "Blodgett's Hotel," which was on a part of the second story, and the mail department of the Post Office filled the remainder. In the northwest room of the third story was a fine musical instrument of Dr. Thornton's. The old "Blodgett Hotel" stood upon the site of the present south front of the General Post Office.
When the British, in 1814, proposed burning the building, Dr. T., in the most fearless yet gentlemanly manner, rode up to Admiral Cockburn, and ejaculated, "Is the character of the British to rival the Vandals in a war upon the fine arts, by the destruction of this building?" which he then first called the "Patent Office." (It had been known as "Blodogett's Hotel." The effect was electric, for while the capitol and navy yard and rope walk were in flames, the British sailor rode off and quaffed his wine in Capitol Hall, at no time expressing any regret that "Thornton's toy shop" was left standing
This building was afterwards occupied in the winter of 1814-1815, by both Houses of Congress, when the Patent Office writing was done at the house of the clerk, George Lyon, who resided nearby. It was reoccupied in 1816 by the Patent Office, Congress having secured accommodations in the "Brick Capitol."
George Lyon, clerk in the Patent Office, died in 1817, and William Elliot was appointed first clerk under Dr. Thornton, known as the "Superintendent." Dr. T. died in 1827 [actually 1828 KWD] and is buried in the Congressional Burying Ground; and he and his friend Elliot, mathematician and astronomer, lie within a few yards of each other.
Thornton and Elliot were assisted by another clerk, R.W. Fenwick, and this constituted almost the entire force of the establishment.
In 1828 Thomas P. Jones was appointed to the Superintendency, and he was succeed in 1830 by Dr. J.D. Craig, who remained in office till 1836. On July 4, 1836, a law was passed entirely remodeling the Office, and repealing the former acts. The law provided for a Commissioner, Chief Clerk, an Examiner, and three other clerks, one of whom must be a competent draughtsman and a machinist. There are other important provisions relating to the application for patents still in force, but which are not necessary to be repeated here. The Commissioner of Patents, unlike the heads of other bureaus, reports annually to Congress, and not to the Secretary.
On the 15th of December, 1836, fire was discovered in the building occupied by the Patent Office and Post Office. Amos Kendall, Postmaster General, with some assistance, was enabled to save records and documents from the Post Office, but so rapid were the flames that nothing was saved from the Patent Office.
Hon. M. Ruggles, Chairman of the Investigating Committee of the Senate, in his report, alluding to the destruction of the models, drawings, and records, says: "They not only embraced the whole history of American invention for half a century, but were the muniments of property of vast amount. The Patent Office contained also the largest and most interesting collection of models in the world."
Henry L. Ellsworth was the first Commissioner. He devoted himself with industry and ability to the organization of the Office. He also established the agricultural division, now become so useful and important. He remained in office seven years, and was succeeded by Mr. Edmund Burke, who bestowed so much labor on the Office.
Mr. Thomas Ewbank succeeded Mr. Burke in 1845; his reports evince industry and ability. His successor was Mr. Silas H. Hodges, who was appointed by President Fillmore. He remained, however, but a short time in office. Mr. Hodges now holds the position of Examiner-in-Chief in the Patent Office, and is highly respected. Hon. Charles Mason was the next Commissioner, and, we may say without disparagement to his predecessors, brought to the office eminent acquirements and ability. He was succeeded by Hon. Joseph Holt, who was a most popular and able Commissioner. Mr. Holt, since his retirement from the Patent Office, has held, with general acceptance, the offices of Postmaster General and Secretary of War, and is now Judge Advocate General of the army. Mr. Holt was succeeded by Hon. Wm. D. Bishop, of Connecticut, who discharged the duties, for a brief period, with ability. Ex-Governor Thomas, of Maryland, was Mr. Bishop's successor, we of his administration we never could form a very decided opinion. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, Hon. D.P. Holloway, of Indiana, was appointed Commissioner, and held the office upward of four years. Mr. Holloway was succeeded by Hon. Thomas C. Theaker, of Ohio, who now worthily fills the position. The present incumbent is peculiarly well qualified to discharge the duties of the Commissionership. For a period of over four years he was Examiner in Chief of the Appeal Board in the Patent Office.
The first patent was issued in July, 1790; from that date to 1800, the average annual number issued was ninety one; in 1820 it reached two hundred; and in 1830 it was five hundred and thirty five. But a change of principle and rigid examination took place, which led to a reduction in the proportion of patents granted, as compared with the number of applications. In 1845, only five hundred patents were granted. The Scientific American was started in this year, and its influence upon inventors soon began to be felt at the Patent Office. In 1855, there were four thousand four hundred and thirty five applications. The number went on increasing, so that in 1865 over eleven thousand applications were made.
The salary of the Commissioner is $4,500. The salary of the Examiners-in-Chief is $3,000. From time to time, the clerical force has been increased, until now there are sixteen Principal Examiners Principal Examiners, at a salary of $2,500 each; sixteen Assistant Examiners, at a salary of $1,800; a superintendent of the "Agricultural Department," a librarian, some seventy five clerks, machinists, etc.; still, so great is the business that this force is inadequate to the requirements of the Office.
British Patents -- A Comparison
From January 1, 1865 to the 1st of December, the whole number of applications for patents to the British Patent Office will not have exceeded three thousand. Within the same period the applications made by Munn & Co. to the United States Patent Office number at least three thousand five hundred; thus showing that our professional business considerably exceeds the entire business of the British Patent Office.