Scientific American, v 18 (ns) no 2, p 25, 11 January 1868
The Commissionership of Patents
We learn that Hon. W.D. Bishop, formerly Member of Congress from Connecticut, and also Commissioner of Patents for a while, is likely to be nominated as Commissioner of Patents again. He is now President of the N.Y. and N.H. Railroad, and has had large business experience. He formerly held the office of Commissioner of Patents, and his administration was characterized by marked ability. Mr. Bishops appointment would give general satisfaction. The name of Mr. Alfred B. Ely, was largely mixed up with that position last week, but we believe he has retired from the field. The name of Mr. Fox, of the Interior Department, has been suggested; also ex-Gov. Farwell, who is now an examiner in the Patent Office. Governor Farwell is able and experienced. We should be glad to see him in the Commissioner's chair.
Commissioner of Patents' Report
On another page may be found the annual report of the Patent Office for the year 1867. Persons versed in mechanical matters will be interested in examining the statistical portion of the report, which exhibits such a remarkable increase in the number of patents issued from year to year. The submitting of this report was about the last act of Commissioner Theaker before retiring from the Patent Office, and is a document very creditable to its compiler, being short and still comprehensive enough to contain everything of interest or importance to the public.
The financial condition of the Patent Office is most satisfactory, the surplus funds after paying the expenses continually augment. As in years past, the Commissioner shows the necessity for more room and justly pleads to Congress for relief in this respect. We hope the pressing necessities of the Office for additional space will be appreciated by Congress and that another session may not close without providing some remedy for the over-crowded state of the Office.
We observe that the report states, on the authority of the examiners, that the business of the Office is up to date. This is undoubtedly correct as applied to nearly all the classes, but there are a few out of the thirty-six which, to our certain knowledge, are not up with their work to within two or three months.
The present force is no doubt adequate to keep the work promptly up, and, if ample room can be provided, the business of the Office will be greatly facilitated.
Importance of a Commissioner
We notice, among a large number of names sent by the President to the Senate for confirmation, that of W.D. Bishop, of Bridgeport, Conn., for Commissioner of Patents. Mr. Bishop filed the office acceptably about the year 1860, and, if he is confirmed and accepts the appointment, he will give satisfaction to all having business with his department. Mr. Bishop is by nature and taste a mechanic, by profession a lawyer, and at present he occupies the important positions of President of the Naugatuck and New York and New Haven Railroads.
It is very important that the place made vacant by the resignation of Mr. Theaker, be filled without delay; and it is equally important that the office be filled by a competent person. Intricate questions arise every day, which require prompt and correct decisions; and, that uniformity of policy may exist throughout the office, it is important that it should not remain without an executive head longer than necessary.
Cases of extensions and reissue of vast importance to the patentees are coming up constantly for adjudication, and it is important in many cases, and desirable in all, that the Commissioner should review the decisions made by the examiners before they receive the official seal.
The office should be filled by a man of integrity, ability and executive force. Give us a Commissioner, possessing these qualifications, and that right early.
The Commissioner of Patents
Judge Charles Mason of Iowa was Commissioner of Patents from 1853 to 1857, and inventors and business men well know that his wise administration was a beatification. He rescued his Bureau from disorder, brought up the work, made new and important rules, and secured uniformity in the actions of the several examiners, settled vexatious question in Patent law and practice with such wisdom that his decisions are followed as precedents, suggested reforms in the law, established the wholesome system of appeal to the Commissioner in person without any extra fees, and worked fourteen hours a day to accomplish the tasks he imposed on himself. To be sure he was singularly fitted for the office. He was educated at West Point, standing at the head of his class, and after graduating, served as one of the Professors for several years. When he resigned his commission he studied law and became eminent in that profession. His scientific and legal acquirements were of great value to the office and all men look back to his administration with regret that it was interrupted through the action of the notorious Jake Thompson then Secretary of the Interior, and so far as we know, it is the unanimous wish of inventors that he be reinstated.
We hope the President will nominate Judge Mason for the Commissionership and that Congress will not delay confirming him. Politics should not influence either the President or Congress in this appointment. Legal and executive ability are most required after integrity, in filling the Commissioner's chair. Judge Mason possesses all these qualities to an eminent degree. The interests of inventors and all persons doing business with the Patent Office are suffering for the want of a head. We trust that the President and Congress will agree in this matter and see that the vacancy is immediately filled.
Patent Bills before Congress
A report of the Congressional proceeding in the House of Representatives on the bills for the relief of Professor C.G. Page, and the heirs of Thomas W. Harvey, the former on his Induction Coil, and the latter for a re-extension of the Screw Machinery patent, is published on another page. The petition of Harvey after some spicy debate was rejected. The application of Dr. Page passed without discussion. This permits the Commissioner of Patents to grant a patent to Dr. Page if satisfied that the applicant was the original inventor of what is known as the "Induction Coil." In other words the length of time since the invention was made and introduced to the public shall not be a bar to the issuing of the patent.
We disapprove of special legislation on patents, but if any one is to be privileged by relief of this kind we are glad Dr. Page is to have the opportunity of proving his claim to an invention which he has stuck to with pertinacity for so many years.
But the thought arises in this connection who is to decide in the Patent Office the claim of Dr. Page to a patent? The bill says the Commissioner of Patents, but will the Commissioner personally examine the evidence or will Dr. Page who is the Chief Examiner in the class under which his invention comes make the examination and report to the Commissioner the result?
Patent Bills before Congress
On Friday February 14th, petitions were presented and discussion was had in the House of Representatives on the following bills for the relief of inventors and their heirs:
Professor Page's Induction Coil
Mr. Myers, of Pa., from the Committee on Patents, reported a bill authorizing the Commissioner of Patents to receive and entertain a renewed application of Charles Grafton Page, of Washington, for letters patent for his induction apparatus and circuit breakers, known as the "induction coil," and if he be found to be the first inventor thereof to issue a patent, reserving the rights of persons now owning and using such apparatus. After explanation by Mr. Myers and the reading of the report, from which it appeared that the induction coil of Rhumenkorff, for which he was in 1864 awarded the French imperial prize of 50,000 francs, was substantially the invention of Page. Exhibited by him in 1839 and 1840, but not patented because he was in the Government employment. The bill was then passed.
Harvey's Screw Machinery -- Application for Re-extension
Mr. Bromwell, of Ill., from the same committee, reported a bill authorizing the Commissioner of Patents to hear the application of the widow and heirs of Thomas W. Harvey for the re-extension of the patent of 30th of May, 1846, re-issued on the 28th of December, 1858, for an improvement in the machine for cutting screws; and of the patent of the 18th of August 1846, re-issued on the 4th of January, 1859, for an improvement in the machine for drilling screw heads, the re-extension to be only for the benefit of the widow and legal heirs.
[Report of discussions in Congress omitted here. KWD]
After some further discussion the House proceeded to vote on the bill, and it was defeated -- yeas 58, nays 70.
Proposed Reduction of Patent Fees
We observe with much pleasure that the Hon. W. Lawrence, of Ohio, has introduced a resolution in Congress instructing the Commissioner of Patents to inquire into the expediency of reducing the official fees. It appears that there is a large and constantly increasing surplus of funds, the accumulation of the moneys paid by inventors, over and above the actual costs of carrying on the business of the Patent Office.
We hope the Committee will make thorough inquiry. If they do so, we have no doubt but they will be fully satisfied of the expediency of a reduction. We would call their attention, as a point of beginning, to the propriety of at once abolishing the fees for appeals. Prior to 1861, the patent fees were $30, without extra charges for appeals. In 1861, the fees were raised to $35, and $20 extra on appeal to the Commissioner. In 1866, another fee of $10 on appeal to the Examiners-in-chief was added.
The great majority of applicants for patents are poor, hard-working people, to whom the payment of these extra fees is a matter of greatest difficulty.
We believe that there is no other department of the Government except the Patent Office where an extra fee is charged for a review by the chief to correct the errors or injustice of his subordinates. But at the Patent Office, no matter how obvious the error of the primary examiner, the applicant cannot open his mouth for redress without paying $10; nor can he get the Commissioner's attention to the matter without paying $20 more.
Mr. Lawrence, in the course of his remarks before Congress, presented the following statistics:
Table exhibiting the business of the Patent Office for twenty nine years ending December 31, 1865
Years Applications Caveats Patents Cash Cash Filed Filed Issued Received Received 1837 435 $29,289.08 $33,506.98 1838 520 42,123.54 37,402.10 1839 425 37,260.00 34,543.51 1840 765 228 473 38,056.51 39,020.67 1841 847 312 495 40,413.01 52,666.87 1842 761 391 517 36,505.68 31,241.48 1843 819 315 531 35,315.81 30,766.96 1844 1,045 380 502 42,509.26 36,244.73 1845 1,246 452 502 51,076.14 39,395.65 1846 1,272 448 619 50,264.16 46,158.71 1847 1,531 553 572 63,111.19 41,878.35 1848 1,628 607 660 67,576.69 58,905.84 1849 1,955 595 1,070 80,752.78 77,716.44 1850 2,193 602 995 86,927.05 80,100.95 1851 2,258 760 869 95,738.61 86,916.93 1852 2,639 996 1,020 112,656.34 95,916.91 1853 2,673 901 958 121,527.45 132,869.83 1854 3,324 868 1,902 163,789.84 167,146.32 1855 4,435 906 2,024 216,459.35 179,540.33 1856 4,960 1,024 2,502 192,588.02 199,931.02 1857 4,771 1,010 2,910 196,132.01 211,582.09 1858 5,364 943 3,710 203,716.16 193,193.74 1859 6,225 1,097 4,538 245,942.15 210,278.41 1860 7,653 1,084 4,819 256,352.59 252.820.80 1861 4,643 700 3,340 137,354.44 221,491.91 1862 5,038 824 3,521 215,754.99 182,810.39 1863 6,014 787 4,170 195,593.29 189,114.14 1864 6,972 1,063 5,020 240,919.98 229,868.00 1865 10,664 1,937 6.616 348,791.84 274,199.34
"It is here seen that the number of applications for patents received in 1865 exceeded, by nearly forty percent, the number filed in any previous year, and the number of caveats filed exceeded those of any previous year by more than seventy five percent. The number of patents issued exceeded those issued in 1864, the highest previous year, by more than thirty percent.
"The receipts into this patent fund exceed those of any former year by more than thirty six percent, while the expenditures were only increased a trifle over eight percent, and a considerable surplus is left to the credit of the patent fund.
"I think it is manifest that the inventors of the country ought not to be taxed as heavily as they are now. In other woods, the fees for procuring patents should be reduced."
A Most Important Patent -- Great Lawsuits Ahead
One of the most important pieces of apparatus employed in the operations of the magnetic telegraph in this country, called the automatic circuit breaker, was invented by Charles G. Page, recently one of the examiners in the Patent Office, but who departed this life on the 5th May. From his official position he was not permitted to take out a patent for the invention, and it has been used by all our American telegraphers, for many years without compensation. Shortly before his death, however, Congress, by a special act, removed the disability under which he labored, and granted to him the requisite patent, which is now vested in his heirs for fourteen years to come. Henceforth, no company or individual can use the circuit breaker without paying those heirs for the privilege; and thus the reward of Prof. Page's ingenuity, denied to him in person, seems likely to be reaped by those he leaves behind him.
To the general reader, unacquainted with the practical details of telegraphy, it is impossible to fully describe the nature of the invention, which we refer to, and the extent to which it applies to the business of our telegraph companies. We can only quote the admission of the Journal of the Telegraph, which is the organ of the Western Union Telegraph Company, to the effect that the bill granting the patent to Prof. Page practically puts American telegraphy into the hands of his heirs. it says: "All automatic closers, repeaters, local circuits, registers, printing machines, etc., are covered by this sweeping patent. Circuit breakers in actual use, or manufactured April 15, are exempt from its operation; but no machinery after that date can be employed without the consent of the patentees." So that these patentees can dictate their own terms, and make our American telegraph companies pay them almost any price they choose to ask for permission to make use of the invention.
It is not likely that so immense a claim will be conceded without resistance. When Ross Winans undertook to enforce his sixteen-wheel car patent, all the railroad companies in the country banded together to contest it, and succeeded in showing that it was invalid for want of entire novelty. So it may yet possibly be proved that Prof. Page was not the first man to devise the automatic circuit breaker, but that the idea was already known before it occurred to him. We may, therefore, expect some interesting litigation on the subject, and a rummaging around among old telegraphic literature, which has not taken place since the suits brought by Samuel F.B. Morse, and in which he was defeated, upon his patent for the general application of wires and magnetism to telegraphic purposes.
-- N.Y. Sun.
The Induction Coil Patent of Prof. Charles G. Page
Some excitement has been created in telegraph circles by the statement that the heirs of the late Prof. Charles Grafton Page claim that the special patent granted to him, by Act of Congress, covers all known forms of telegraphy, except the simple closing of a circuit by the key and hand, practically putting American telegraphy in the hands of his heirs.
We apprehend that there must be some misunderstanding in regard to this matter. We have carefully examined the claims on which Prof. Page's patent was granted (and which have already been published in our columns), and the only clauses on which such an assumption can possibly be founded are the fourteenth and fifteenth, and these could not, in our opinion, be sustained against any of the numerous telegraph instruments invented and in use at this time. We have not room this week to go into a discussion on this subject, and must content ourselves with a few general obligations.
The object of Prof. Page in obtaining the special Act of Congress referred to, was doubtless merely to obtain honorable recognition of the fact that he was (as has been demonstrated) the original inventor of the so-called Rhumkorff coil, and a vindication of his right and title to that invention. It is not probable that the idea of gain, or of making the telegraphic interests of the country tributary to him, actuated him in seeking this recognition and vindication; it was the desire to establish his reputation as a scientific man, and expose the pretensions of Rhumkorff and others, who had acquired great and honorable reputation at his expense. And even if the patent could be construed to cover all that is understood to be claimed by the heirs of Prof. Page, we doubt whether it could be maintained in a court of law and equity. Congress has no right to legislate away the vested rights of the public or of private individuals. Such legislation is doubtless unconstitutional, and would be so declared by the Supreme Court.
Prof. Page, in his position as Examiner of Patents, has passed on and approved hundreds of patents for electrical and telegraphic improvements and inventions, which now, it is claimed, are tributary to his heirs.
The Sale of Patents in Ohio
The General Assembly of Ohio, at its last session, enacted a law regulating the sale of patent rights in that State. The law renders it necessary for the patentee, or his authorized agent, to produce his documents to be examined by the Judge of Probate of the county, who issues a certificate authorizing the sale of rights, providing he is satisfied of the good faith of the parties. It is questionable whether any State has the constitutional right to impose restrictions upon the sale of patents granted by the United States government, but as the law was enacted for the purpose of preventing swindling, it cannot affect unfavorably legitimate and honorable enterprises.
Commissioner of Patents
A recent telegram states that a movement is going on at Washington to secure the appointment of Hon. Elisha Foot -- now of the Appeal Board -- to the office of Commissioner of Patents. Judge Foot has a thorough knowledge of the patent law, and is well versed in mechanical science. The selection would be an excellent one.