Scientific American, v 51 (ns) no 4, p 48, 26 July 1884
Congress and the Patent Office
Congress has made a slight increase in the appropriation for the Patent Office for the year ending June 30, 1885. The Commissioner asked for $650,000 on account of salaries for those employed in the department, but was allowed only $597,170; this, with the various changes made, will give an actual increase of 52 in the number of employees. It is to be regretted that Congress could not have been induced to deal more fairly with the inventors of the country. The Patent Office badly needs more room, and its business should have been confided to a separate and independent department, as was so ably advocated by Senator Platt. But, even if such action was rather crowded over than fairly considered, on account of the nearness of the presidential campaign, there was no good reason for cutting down the appropriation asked for by the Commissioner to increase the force of the office.
The business of the Patent Office has been notoriously in arrears for more than a year past. According to a report made by the Commissioner in April, there were at that time over 5,000 cases pending in the different divisions of the office. A large proportion of these were cases which had not yet received the first inspection of an Examiner, applicants having to "wait their turn" in a manner but little less tedious than if they were litigants before the Supreme Court. In each one of the twenty-five divisions the Examiners also report an urgent need of more room, as well as of additional help, it being impossible to keep the records and the data for reference in proper order for executing the work. The injustice thus done to inventors is utterly inexcusable, for the receipts of the office above its expenses during 1883 were $471,000 and the surplus on the 1st of January last was $2,676,476. This is money which the Government has taken from inventors for the exclusive purpose of paying for the conduct of the business, and it is neither law nor equity to divert it from that channel. The inventors have paid enough to have their business not only done well but promptly; and for them to be compelled to wait for months to have their claims passed upon, from insufficient departmental facilities, is a great injustice. Some improvement may be possible with the increased appropriation for the ensuing year, although the increase is not what it should be, and it is more than likely that it will be overbalanced by the growth of the business of the Patent Office during the next twelve months.
Of the many bills introduced for the nullification of patents, not one of which was passed, it should be remembered that they did not die with the session. The snake is not killed, but was only scotched, by the indignant remonstrances which the proposed legislation elicited. These dangerous bills will remain on the calendar, and in the same position before committees, at the opening of the next session in December, as they were left at the adjournment. It behooves all who are interested, therefore, not to cease in their watchfulness, or in their active efforts for the prevention of such reckless legislation, while the present Congress is in existence, or until next March.
Delays in the Patent Office
We are in receipt of complaints from inventors and manufacturers of machinery because of the delay to which they are subjected in obtaining patent papers from the Patent Office in Washington. As a rule, an inventor cannot receive the adjustment of his claim in less than eight or nine months, and often the period is much further prolonged. One of the results of this is that serious injury is inflicted upon persons who desire to patent articles which are of temporary utility, and which cannot be marketed to advantage unless they can be offered for sale at once. The number of such articles for which patents are desired is by no means small, and the failure of the Government to grant patents promptly simply has the effect to rob the inventions of the whole of their value. These are the extreme cases. Not so much harm is done by delay in the cases of inventions which are of permanent usefulness; but even in these there are vexation, annoyance, and loss, for which no reasonable excuse can be offered, and to which no inventor should be subjected. The policy of our Government, based upon wise considerations, has always been to encourage invention by dealing liberally with inventors; and to this policy we may attribute much of the huge industrial advancement which has characterized the first century of our national existence. Any creation of obstacles to profitable invention would be a most grievous blunder, but the harassing delay now involved in the practice of the Patent Office is an obstacle of a very serious character.
There can be no difficulty in discovering the reason for this procrastination. The Patent Office simply has more work to do than can be done properly by its present clerical force. The number of applications now made every day is about 125. This is about twice the quantity that was offered a few years ago; but, while the population and the inventive effort of the country have largely increased, the force in the Patent Office remains as it was a score of year since. The Commissioner has attempted to bring some relief to applicants by taking up, out of their regular order, the inventions which seemed to him to be of most pressing importance; but this, of course, has worked injustice to the mass of applicants, and it has now been formerly abandoned. The Commissioner declares that he can make no expedition of procedure until Congress shall give him more money and more men; and so the blame for the whole difficulty comes back to Congress, and the remedy can be applied only by Congress.
It is always a hard thing to impress upon the average Representative the importance of reforming anything in which he is not directly interested as touching the needs of a large mass of his constituents. The ordinary Congressman is either a lawyer or a professional politician, and, as he has no interest in machinery, he is apt to regard inventors and inventions with nearly complete indifference. At the end of a session, he will vote to cut down every appropriation which he thinks does not concern him, so that he can increase every appropriation which will help him in his district. The way to enforce the attention of Congress to the needs of the Patent Office, and of the machinery builders, is for every man in the country who is in any way interested in machinery to write to his Representative, stating the case and demanding redress. The appeals of the Commissioner of Patents have been made in strong terms, and they have uniformly been disregarded; the average Congressman cares nothing for demands from that quarter. What is required is the active interposition of the voters in the districts. The fees demanded of patents are large enough to secure good and prompt service from the Patent Office, and such service is not only the right of individual inventors, but of the nation which profits so much from their ingenuity.
-- Textile Record
The Patent Office Surplus
There are some statements in the report of the Commissioner of Patents for the last fiscal year that demand the careful attention of Congress and of all who take an interest in the development of inventive genius. The receipts of the Patent Office in that year were $1,145,433, and the expenditures were $901,413, leaving a surplus of $344,020. The Patent Office is not supported by general taxation. Its maintenance is not a burden which the people bear. The receipts are paid in by inventors, and the money contributed by them in the form of fees, etc., is more than sufficient for the expenses of the office. There has been a surplus every year -- only eight years excepted -- since 11837. The report of the Commissioner for the calendar year ending Dec. 31, 1883, showed that in that year the surplus had been $471,005, of 41 per cent of the receipts. The report also showed that the average annual surplus for the five years ending Dec. 31, 1883, had been $285,992.
It was not intended that the Patent Office should be a source of revenue for use in other directions. It was to be made self-sustaining by the fees required from inventors. But it appears that the inventors of the United States, very many of whom are not overloaded with money, pay not only the expenses of the office, but from 25 to 40 per cent in addition to those expenses, piling up a surplus that has attracted the attention of liberal-minded legislators, some of whom have proposed that it should form part of a fund to be used in educating the illiterate in the South, without showing any good reason why patentees should be taxed for that purpose.
Now, if the Patent Office were so well equipped that applicants could not reasonably complain of delays, the inventors might fairly ask for a reduction of fees. But it is well known that its forces are not sufficient for the work that ought to be done every year. For example, the report published a few days ago says that there were on June 30, 1884, awaiting action in office, no less than 9,186 applications, or 5,087 more than were awaiting action on the corresponding date in 1883. The arguments in the telephone interference cases closed in November, 1881, but the decision was not reached until July, 1883, and was not confirmed, on appeal, until two or three months ago. Surely, if inventors pay so much more than is required for expenses, they have a right to ask that their applications shall be promptly passed upon. That the force employed is too small, and that the salaries paid are so low that many examiners resign as soon as they have become qualified by their experience to serve as patent attorneys, has been shown again and again by Commissioners.
Because there is a large surplus it does not follow that there should be a general reduction in fees, but it does follow that inventors should be given the worth of their money, and not be forced to submit to delays that sometimes very seriously affect the value of their inventions. It may be that more than one Government bureau can be found in which the number of clerks might be reduced without doing any harm, but in the Patent Office the number of employees should be increased, and it is folly for Congress to disregard the requests of the Commissioner and the arguments suggested by the annual surplus and by the figures which show an accumulation of untouched applications.
-- N.Y. Times
Congress and the Patent Office
The Hon. Benjamin Butterworth, Commissioner of Patents, labored earnestly during the last session of Congress to obtain from that body the relief which the Patent Office so sorely needs, in the way of increased appropriations for the employment of additional examining and clerical force, and urging the necessity for enlarged departments for the transaction of the steadily growing business of the office. Mr. Butterworth is now himself a member-elect of the next Congress. This body, however, does not meet, except it be called together in extra session, until December, 1885, and unless the present Congress takes some favorable action before its dissolution in March next, the Patent Office will continue to go on in its present crippled condition for a year, and perhaps a year and a half, to come. Mr. Butterworth succeeded last spring in getting a slight increase on the former appropriation, but his present position is such as to give added force to any effort he may make in behalf of the inventors of the country to obtain from the Government what has only thus far been withheld by the grossest injustice.
In the mean time we trust that inventors themselves will not be entirely idle. There are enough of them in each Congressional district who have been greatly annoyed or injured by former delays in the Patent Office to exercise a potent influence on the action of their representatives. Let all such inventors, as well as those who are expecting in future to have business relations with the Patent Office, write direct to their representatives, urging prompt action on this hitherto greatly neglected matter. The present session is a short one, lasting only till March, but the appropriations now made must govern the business of the office for the year commencing next July. It is evident therefore, that there is no time to lose, and interested parties should strongly urge that this appropriation should be one of the first considered, and not to be left to the hurry and accidents of the closing days of the session.
The Delay of Business in the Patent Office
It has become a matter of universal complaint among inventors and patent solicitors, that the business of the Patent Office in Washington is greatly delayed. Over thirty-five thousand patents per annum are now applied for. Soon the number will have increased to fifty thousand. In view of the immense number of interested parties, it may well be asked if there is no way of expediting the work of the Office, and the first remedy for the evil that presents itself is to increase the number of examiners. It is well known that there is a large annual surplus in the accounts of the Office, and it seems only just that this money, which is the contribution of patentees, should be used in furthering their interests. As it is now, it lies idle in the Treasury, and keeps on accumulating from year to year. But so much has been said on this topic that it has become a trite one.
If the Commissioner of Patents were a man of proved executive ability, one who had the power of systematizing work, and supervising its details as executed by a number of subordinates, it would probably make a great difference in the work. In selecting a Commissioner, other things being equal, a good lawyer is supposed to be the proper person. But while good legal attainments are desirable, the power of expediting work should not be underrated. With the same force an energetic business man, who would not occupy himself with unnecessary disputation, could certainly do much more than one who was only a lawyer. In an old established department like the Patent Office, everything is done by routine that has resulted from years of habit. The question is whether the routine could not be improved upon, whether more work could not be done with the present number of examiners and clerks than hitherto.
To bring about any such result, it would be necessary for the Commissioner to take charge of the whole system with its array of officers. He should consider himself the head of the examiners, not merely in a judicial, but in an executive sense. He should give personal attention to the work of each room, and try to bring on the most laggard, by transferring clerical or other aid; thus a great improvement might be affected. It is impossible to resist the impression that from a business point of view the office is allowed to run itself to too great an extent. The examiners are many of them old and tried servants of the government, whose long years of service have conferred upon them prescriptive rights. But the right of being left alone can hardly be included among these. They would undoubtedly resent any direction of their labors, even by their superior, the Commissioner, as an insult, or at least an unpleasant interference. But such interference should take place. The rule in all such offices is that a good shaking up is beneficial. The process should involve no hardship to any one beyond the disturbance of the mere sentimental part of human nature. That such a reorganization is periodically necessary in business offices is an old story. There seems little or no doubt that more could be done in the Patent Office without increasing the force.
The ordinary attorney's fee for soliciting a patent is twenty-five dollars. This is ten dollars less than the government charge for granting one. It does not seem probable that the Patent Office has as much work to do in the matter as the solicitor, yet the government receives nearly one-third more compensation. If a solicitor were to venture to conduct his business on the dilatory principle of the Patent Office, a very few months would be required to dispose of his clientele.
The examiner has simply to verify the general correctness of the solicitor's work, and make a search into the novelty of the device. He should be able to dispatch business unusually fast. Unfortunately, the rule of practice appears to be the reverse.
As the matter now stands, the letters patent granted give the merest prima facie evidence of novelty. They stand for very little in the courts, beyond a certificate of registration. It may, then, be questioned whether it would not be more satisfactory, and more in accordance with the spirit of the patent statutes, to abandon the long and dilatory search, and let every patentee do his own searching, or have it done by an attorney. If this course were followed, a patent would be just as good in the courts as it is today, and a very serious problem would be solved. For as the number of patents increases, not only does the work increase directly with the applications, but the magnitude of the records that are to be searched increases year by year. to add to this latter trouble, the English patents, under the new British law, are increasing almost as rapidly in number as our own.
If every patentee were allowed to be the examiner for his own application, he would have every inducement to do the work well, or have a competent attorney or expert do it for him. He would know, he knows now, that a patent for an invention not new cannot stand in court, and he would have every inducement not to waste his money on a worthless patent.