Scientific American, vol 31 (ns) no 5, p 65, 1 August 1874
Patent Office Justice
In the matter of the interference case between H.H. Bigelow and S.W. Baldwin, before the Patent Office, the Commissioner of Patents, acting as it appears illegally, refused to permit the case to go before the Examiner in Interferences, who is the special officer designated by law for the hearing of such matters, thus preventing a final decisions to the question in dispute. Mr. Bigelow thereupon applied to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, for a mandamus to compel the Commissioner to do his duty. Judge Carter, after a full hearing of the case and of the excuses of the Commissioner, concluded that a mandamus must issue. The Court decided that the examiner in charge of interferences in the Patent Office is exclusively authorized by law to examine all cases of interference, whether between two pending applications for a patent or a pending application for a patent and an unexpired patent, and primarily to determine the question of priority of invention involved in either class of said applications; and that the Commissioner of Patents is bound by law to direct said examiner in charge of interferences to proceed to determine the said question of priority in invention.
Applicants for patents will necessarily be subject to delays, expenses and troubles, so long as the Patent Office, with its battalion of examining officials and assistants, four hundred in all, are permitted to act as inquisitors of inventors. Questions about the novelty of inventions and rights of priority between claimants must, under the American system, be finally decided by the courts. The only unsatisfactory part of our patent laws is that which subjects inventors to so many troubles at the Patent Office, before they can reach the courts. The Bigelow case is only one of many others. Had this applicant been a poor man, as the majority of inventors are, he probably would have been unable to lose time upon the case or spend money to pay lawyers in arguing for this mandamus; and the adverse whim of a Patent Office official would have stood as a permanent bar to his suit. What is needed, is to eliminate all such objections from the patent laws, and make it the simple duty of the Patent Office to issue a patent to every applicant who chooses to ask therefor, on presentation of suitable documents in proper form, leaving all questions relating to the validity of patents to the courts of law for settlement. This is the common practice in nearly all other countries of the world, and is found to work well. But in Prussia and the United States, the inventor is obliged to submit to the costs and annoyance of official inquests before he can obtain the patent certificate. In Prussia, the patent officials manage to interpose so many preliminary objections that nearly all applications for patents are rejected, while the government retains the money paid. In this country we grant more patents, but we nevertheless inflict upon inventors an immense amount of useless trouble, before issuing the certificate. Our Patent Office officials would consider their occupations gone and themselves of no account in the world if they were not privileged to hunt up objections to excite and harass the applicants for patents.
The Commissionership of Patents
We learn that General M.D. Leggett, the present Commissioner of Patents, is about to resign the office, that he is to be succeeded by the now assistant commissioner, the Hon. J.M. Thacher.
We much regret that the country is to lose the services of General Leggett, who has labored indefatigably, from the hour he took office, to improve the working of the department. For the most part, his labors have been crowned with success.
But some of his rulings and decisions have been variable and peculiar, especially on questions of patentable novelty. At times, he has pronounced the most broad and liberal opinions in respect to the rights of inventors to receive patents, but they have been followed by recantations or reversals of these opinions. For example, in the case of the applicant for a patent for a knitted tobacco pouch, package, or sack, that is to say, merely a section of a stocking leg, he held, on the appeal to him in person from the Board of Appeals, that the Board was in error in deciding adversely to the applicant, and ordered a patent to issue. He said: "That the sack, for the use contemplated, is a new and superior one is clear, and it is the object of the law to promote the production of new and improved articles, for the use of the public. Very little analogy appears between a stocking or purse and a sack for a tobacco package. The principles controlling the case were clearly stated by Justice Blatchford, in Strong vs. Noble" -- whip case. After this clear and excellent decision, the applicant, having omitted payment of the second government fee, was obliged to renew his application, when the examiner again rejected the case, giving a new reference, similar in character to those previously presented, which had been overruled by the Commissioner. But General Leggett, instead of maintaining the excellent decision, first given, now went back on himself, and denied the patent.
In the case of Professor Hedrick, so long a favorably known as examiner-in-chief of chemical inventions, whose established policy was to grant patents where the case by any possibility admitted of the grant, Commissioner Leggett long maintained and approved that policy. But he has lately gone back on Professor Hedrick, removed him from his original position, and substituted an examiner whose policy in granting patents is diametrically opposed to the practice of Professor H. The new examiner has made some very stupid decisions, which, if continued, will be very likely to give so much dissatisfaction as to cause his removal. Both commissioners and examiners at the Patent Office should remember that the chief object of their employment is to grant patents, not to reject them. They should study out every possible way to encourage and assist the inventor, and allow claims upon every possible point of novelty, however small. This is the true and reliable policy, and the only one that can give permanent or general satisfaction. It is far better to err in favor of the inventor than against him.
Should Mr. Thacher become the Commissioner, as we are led to expect, he will have an opportunity of carrying into practice some of the advanced views by him enunciated in his address before the Vienna Patent Congress last year. He there expounded the necessity of the most liberal practice in the grant of patents, and went so far as to declare that they were to be considered as the simple recognitions of that right of property in the productions of the mind, which God Almighty had himself bestowed upon man. We hope that, during Mr. Thacher's official term, he will see to it that no narrowminded examiner is suffered to remain who takes it upon himself to deprive an inventor of his heaven born right, no matter how small the degree of the invention.
The foregoing comments upon one branch of Commissioner Leggett's administration are not made by us in any spirit of fault-finding, but simply for the benefit of his successor in office, whoever that person may be. It can be justly said of Commissioner Leggett's administration that, as a whole, it has been a splendid one. He has been an honest and faithful officer. He has inaugurated many noble reforms, and he will leave the Patent Office in a better condition of efficiency and usefulness than it ever before reached. At another time, we shall take occasion to particularize some of the many excellent improvements that are due to his assiduous labors. We will now mention but two of them, namely the production of the weekly Official Gazette, and the printing of the patents in popular form. The successful inauguration of this last named enterprise is an honor of which General Leggett may well be proud, and it will always redound to his credit. It is a benefit to this country of incalculable value.
A Panic at the Patent Office
General Leggett, the Commissioner of Patents, some time ago announced his resignation to take effect November 1, 1874, whereupon some of the lady clerks, with natural feminine impulse, made it the occasion of presenting to the General a testimonial of esteem from themselves and associate employees. The General has been instrumental in introducing female labor in almost every department of the Patent Office; the clerical work of nearly all the examining officers is now done, and very acceptable too, by women. The ladies procured donations from the various examiners and assistants, with which a handsome tea set was obtained and presented to the retiring Commissioner.
It is not perhaps strange that the General and his corps of ladies should have overlooked the law which forbids such doings, but that disinterested persons, like the Assistant Commissioner, members of the Board of Appeals, examiners in chief, and other legal minds connected with the office, should have been so unobservant seems remarkable. The provision of the statute is very stringent, and is as follows:
"Be it enacted, etc.: That no officer or clerk in the United States Government employ shall at any time solicit contributions of other officials or employees in the Government service for a gift or present to those in a superior official position, nor shall any such officials or clerical superiors receive any gift or present offered or presented to them as the contribution of those in the Government employ receiving a less salary than themselves, nor shall any officer or clerk make any donation as a gift or present to any official superior. Any officer or clerk violating any of the provisions of this bill shall be summarily discharged from the Government employ."
We believe it is not pretended that this statute is unconstitutional, or that for any reason it is to be treated as a dead letter. In refusing, summarily, to discharge the Commissioner of Patents and all the subscribers to this tea party, both the Secretary of the Interior and, through him, the President of the United States, are open to the charge of neglecting their plain duty.
A considerable time has elapsed since the knowledge of the above transgression of the law was made known, but the officers of the government have not as yet dismissed one of the offenders.
It is rumored that they are all to be discharged, and then all immediately reappointed. But this would amount practically to a nullification of the statute. The evident intention of the law was to place the seal of public condemnation upon all such transactions, and wholly to remove from the public service those who should be guilty of them.
In no other way can the observance of law be promoted. To dismiss and then reappoint would be to trifle openly with the law, a course which would assuredly meet with public condemnation.
There is but one way for the President to deal with this matter, and that is promptly to discharge all the parties involved from the public service, as the law specifies. To dismiss them in a body would be disadvantageous to the public service, and therefore unwise; but it should be done as rapidly as possible. He should begin with the most prominent offenders first. General Leggett, the Commissioner, should be at once dismissed, and a new commissioner appointed. Mr. Thacher's removal should follow, and so on, down, until the law has been entirely vindicated.
The removal of the Commissioner, the Assistant Commissioner, and some of the examiners would be of little personal inconvenience to them, as they can readily set up in patent business and make a living. But the affair will prove more serious to some of the other employees, who are, for the most part, honest, faithful, and deserving; and dismissal will be very inconvenient, especially at the approaching inclement season of the year. We deeply sympathize with them, and for their sakes wish that they could be excused.
Let us hope that the effect of this general change in the personnel of the Patent Office will be a benefit to that institution. Among its officers are many intelligent and valuable persons, whose departure will be a disadvantage to the country. On the other hand there are a number of officials whose ignorance, tardiness, and illiberality towards inventors make their removal greatly desired. By an entirely new organization, if intelligent care is taken in the selection of individuals, the Office will be likely to be benefited rather than damaged.
Competent persons who desire employment at the Patent Office may, we think, properly file their applications. We assume that nothing but a special act of Congress can relieve from dismissal or properly reinstate, only the very best and ablest of those now in the Office should be reappointed.
The poor material must be eliminated. All who have exhibited indolent or sluggishness in the discharge of duty, all examiners of every grade who have failed to act promptly on their cases, all who have tried to set up their dictum against the most liberal interpretation of the laws in the grant of patents to inventors: all such persons should be rigidly excluded from the service.
Operations of the Patent Office
We publish on another page an abstract of the annual report of General Leggett, now Ex-Commissioner of Patents, showing the operations of the Patent Office for the year ending September 30, 1874.
The Ex-Commissioner dwells with commendable pride upon the increased proportion of patents granted, and the diminished proportion of rejected cases -- a result due, he suggests, to the publication, in a popular, accessible form, of weekly abstracts of all new patents, together with the full specifications thereof. We have, on several occasions, expressed the opinion that the more widely the publication of the patents was extended, the greater would be the increase in the number of patents granted, and the less the necessity of maintaining so large a standing army of officials as we have now at the Patent Office.
We are glad to perceive that the Ex-Commissioner has at last reached the same view. He has heretofore been an advocate for the increase in the number of examiners; but his present conclusion is that, by extending the printing, the present large force of examiners may be diminished.
Since the presentation of this report, the Hon. J.M. Thacher has assumed the duties of Commissioner of Patents, and the public will look with interest for the development of the line of policy that is to characterize his administration. He has on former occasions given expression to views which would lead us to suppose that, under his rule, the Patent Office would surely be conducted in the interest of inventors. But there are some indications of a contrary policy. For example: In some of the classes, he permits inventors to be harassed by long delays; while in respect to that large class of applications known as compositions, especially medicines, he is daily sending out, under his official signature, decisions like the following: "This application is finally rejected on the ground that physician's prescriptions are not patentable."
The author of such stuff is evidently a quack in patent law, whatever may be his pretensions in medicine. Such decisions are not only absurd, but they are in direct violation of the law and the previous practice of the Patent Office. The 24th section of the patent law expressly provides that any person who has invented any new and useful composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereon, may obtain a patent therefor. Medical compositions or prescriptions rank among the most important of discoveries. Hundreds of such patents have heretofore been granted, and have resulted in the production of many new and valuable medical remedies, by which life has been saved and health promoted.
With a few exceptions, such as above indicated, we believe that the examiners of the Patent Office are animated by a desire to serve the country according to the best lights they have. But we fear they are not sufficiently awake to the real purpose and intent of the patent laws, which is to encourage and assist the inventor. There is a tendency to looseness, inefficiency, and injustice on the part of the Patent Office in its decisions. This is strikingly shown by the astounding fact that some 7,500 applications for patents were last year condemned to the category of the rejected. The conclusion is irresistible that, if the claims of these applicants had been properly considered, if the Patent Office officials had in every instance, as in duty bound, extended the encouraging word and the helping hand to these inventors, the number of rejections would have been far less. We earnestly hope that the new Commissioner will bestir himself and try to promote the needed reforms.
The Patent Office
There is a growing conviction that this great institution is not conducted altogether in accordance with the purpose of its creation. Instead of being made to encourage the inventor and aid him in obtaining his patent, it seems -- at least on the part of some of its employees -- to be administered in the very opposite spirit. Doubts are resolved against the applicant, unnecessary technicalities are interposed to prevent the consideration of cases on their substantial merits; and where patents can no longer be denied, they are often emasculated by some prescribed phraseology, instead of leaving to the applicant the largest liberty, in this respect, which is not incompatible with the rights of other parties. And even the astonishing doctrine has been avowed -- and more frequently acted on -- that the decisions of the courts are not to control those of the Office, and that a patent may be denied by the latter while admitting that it would be sustained by the former.
This tendency -- which is all the while increasing -- must be checked, or the whole system is in imminent peril. Already has it become a matter of serious consideration whether the present practice of examinations should not be discontinued, and the functions of the Office limited to those of an advisory character, leaving to the applicant the ultimate right to his patent in his own language, subject to such conditions as will prevent him from practicing successful frauds upon others. The present discontent cannot be greatly increased before some radical change in our system will be far from improbable.
These untoward results have been influenced mainly by the head of the Office. Commissioners have done more than any other individuals towards perverting the system from its legitimate purpose, so that, instead of being an instrumentality for promoting the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing to inventors the full enjoyment of their property, the Office is become a means of frittering away their rights to their smallest practicable dimensions, or for denying them altogether.
We do not intend to impeach in the slightest degree the integrity of any of the individuals above referred to, but merely to point out and account for some of the errors which we believe they have committed. Commissioner Fisher, who, more than any other individual, has contributed to this perversion of the great purpose of the Office, was placed at its head after an extensive practice before the courts in patent cases. His continuance in office was always regarded by him as a temporary means of securing a still more extensive practice in the future. Now the most profitable clients are the large companies, whose interests are adverse to the multiplication of patents, and who often feel annoyed at being obliged to pay royalties on the patented improvements which they desire to make use of. How natural that the attorney should sympathize with his clients and honestly imbibe their notions. How, most inevitably, will he take a one-sided view of the whole matter, overlooking the rights and interests of the inventor and contemplating in exaggerated proportions the inconvenience felt by the great manufacturers on account of the multitude of patents that are allowed to issue. To expect the most upright mind to be wholly unbiased under such circumstances would be to look for something more than human. This is not the right training for a good Commissioner.
The tendency thus communicated from the head of the Office operated in a greater or less degree upon all his subordinates, and has influenced the course of decision ever since. General Leggett seems to have done nothing to correct those errors of administration. He followed, quite implicitly, in the footsteps of his predecessor, and perhaps also felt himself further swayed from a just perpendicular by similar influences. The present Commissioner has been in his seat for too short a time to enable us to judge whether any change of spirit may be expected to guide his course. Let him be fairly tried, and honestly judged by the result of that trial.
But an influence of a character different from that above stated often operates to produce a similar result. When an application is rejected, the case is disposed of and the object sought for attained. Stimulated by the desire of thus ending the investigation, many minds grow more ingenious in tracing resemblances than in appreciating differences. At all events, they are apt to frame for themselves some technical rules, from which, as from official ruts, it is difficult to move them, however inappropriate to the case under consideration. One of the most common grounds for rejecting a claim is that it would amount to the granting of a patent for a function or a principle. The rule when rightly applied is perfectly correct; but when only half understood, is productive of much mischief. It ought to be remembered that, although an abstract principle or a mere function cannot be the subject matter of a patent, still, no patent can be valid that does not embody some new principle or exhibit some new function. The former is the uncaught wild horse of the prairie, which cannot be property; the other is that horse, caught, tamed, and harnessed, and therefore capable of being appropriated.
But the lesson which we particularly wish to inculcate on this and other similar subjects is that less fastidiousness should be evinced in relation to forms of expression, where substantial merits are manifest. It should be remembered that there are much better patent lawyers outside of the Patent Office than within it; and that where the subject matter of an application is patentable, its shape should be left to be molded chiefly by those by whom it must be defended in the courts. We shall probably have more to say on this subject next week.
We are informed that the Attorney General has considered the question, whether the subscribers to the Patent Office Tea Party Testimonial are liable to the penalty prescribed in the Act of Congress in such cases. If is further stated that, for reasons of state, the decision is withheld from the public. Can anyone inform us whether there has really been any official action in the matter?
Scientific American, vol 31 (ns) no 25, p 384, 19 December 1874
The Patent Office Again
We last week reviewed some of the errors which had crept into the administration of the Patent Office. We shall now refer to others which are embodied in the statute. Both these classes of errors have sprung mainly from the same source, and are alike prejudicial to the inventor.
The act of July 8, 1870, which was a revision of all our patent laws, corrected or removed some of the defects which previously existed, but it introduced more mischiefs than it cured. Its chief changes interposed needless and unreasonable obstacles in the way of the inventor.
For instance, nothing is more important to him than the right to amend his patent through a reissue. Rarely does a patent, as first obtained, embody the invention in a fully available shape, and often is its real gist mistaken altogether. The common law authorized amendments by means of a surrender and reissue, and the statute regulated and rendered more definite the rights of the patentee in this respect. The great purpose, in both cases, was to limit the new patent to the real original invention, giving the full benefit thereof to the inventor, but nothing more.
To guard against abuse and to prevent a patentee from enlarging the scope of his patent, or from wringing in a new subject matter through reissue, the courts have -- rather severely -- held that oral proof of the full scope of the original invention was inadmissible, and that nothing could be claimed in the reissued patent unless either the model, the drawings, or the specifications -- as originally filed -- showed the invention thereof.
The new law has taken a most indefensible step in farther limitation of a previously existing right, by rendering the most reliable of record evidence wholly incompetent in such cases. The model or drawings may still be called as witnesses, but not the specification. No matter how fully or how clearly the invention may be set forth in the latter, still, in cases where there are drawings, nothing can be claimed in reissue which is not shown in the drawings or in the model. A credibility is thus given to a sign or a mute device, which is absurdly denied to a written declaration. Pantomime is regarded as more reliable than articulate language. This is all wrong.
Again, it has always been considered a sound and just rule of practice that an application for a patent should be wholly ex parte, that no outsider should be allowed in any manner to interfere in the proceeding, and that he should not even know of its existence. The reason for this rule is that, as inventors are generally poor, if wealthy companies were allowed to interpose, such expensive controversies and harassing delays would result as would often prevent the obtaining of a just patent. After having obtained his patent, the inventor will be in better condition to face his antagonist by securing auxiliaries or otherwise.
The act of 1870 introduces the anomaly that, in all appeals from the Commissioner, he "shall notify all parties who appear to be interested therein." This would enable them to appear and oppose the grant of a patent. The applicant is also required in such cases to be at the extra expense of procuring certified copies of all the original papers and evidence in the case. Whether intentional or otherwise, these provisions would in many cases operate as the denial of undoubted justice. Quite as reprehensible is another provision connected with these appeals. When the act of 1870 was before the committee which framed it, the then Commissioner endeavored to so change the previously existing system as to render a decision by him final, by cutting off appeals to the court. This was, however, so strenuously opposed by those who sought to protect the interests of inventors, that the committee refused to adopt it. They even went so far in the opposite direction as to determine that -- in cases of interferences, where there are antagonist parties either of whom may appeal, and where cases of sufficient importance to be appealed to the Commissioner would generally be certain to be carried to the court -- the unsuccessful party, before the Board of Examiners in Chief, might appeal at once to the court, without the useless necessity of an intermediate appeal to the Commissioner. But when the act came to be published, all was found to be so far most unaccountably changed, that in interference cases not only did an appeal still lie to the Commissioner, but his decision was made absolutely final. The appeal to the court was thus cut off in those cases which of all others it is best qualified to decide, while in questions of mere patentability, with which the Commissioner may be presumed to be the most conversant, and therefore best qualified to judge, the appeal still lies to the court.
These are given as mere specimens of the mistakes and incongruities in the new law, not as an attempt at their enumeration. There are many others of no trivial importance, most of which equally militate against the interests of inventors. The only effectual remedy is to be sought for in a general change or codification of the statute. And in making this change, the spirit which dictated the provision is in the Federal Constitution by which the statute is authorized should never be lost sight of. The law should be framed in aid of the inventor, and not as an instrumentality for circumscribing his rights within their narrowest limits, or for annihilating them altogether. This is a dictate of sound policy as well as of the plainest justice.
There are many unreflecting minds who honestly regard the whole patent system as being founded on error, and who look upon a patentee as the possessor of an odious monopoly. If their notions are correct, the institution of property of all kinds should be abolished, for every kind of property is a monopoly. A patent for an invention is no more so than a patent for land. But who would build a house, or cultivate a field, or otherwise provide for the comforts or necessities of life, if he were denied all property in the fruits of his labor, in other words, if he were not to enjoy a monopoly in what he had thus created? Civilization could never have existed without the institution of property. It would soon take its departure from the earth if that institution should cease to exist.
These principles are as applicable to inventors as to tangible objects. The application of communist doctrines may sometimes seem enticing, but the general rule would operate as perniciously in the one case as in the other. Deny all property in inventions, and you paralyze the efforts of that class in the community which, more than any other, has contributed and is still contributing to human progress. The thousands of minds who are devoting their every energy to the promotion of human welfare would feel that their chief inducement to effort had ceased to exist.
Monopolies are justly odious when made applicable to what was before common property, but not when limited to the authors of new creations or even new discoveries. The government whose flag is first planted on an uninhabited island is, by common consent, the owner thereof. How much more complete would have been its title thereto had it created that island! Such is the title of the inventor. Under a proper administration of a sound patent system, the patentee is only protected in his property to his own discovery, and, more generally, to his own creation. He would be allowed a limited monopoly in what, but for him, might never have existed, or, at all events, was previously unknown.
But we have heard it asserted that the inventor is only entitled to protection in the machine he builds, and that any mechanic ought to be equally protected in the work of his own hands, though identical in form and operation with that of the inventor. But in what does a real invention consist? It is not in the materials, nor in the contrivances out of which the machine is constructed. These are the mere instrumentalities which give expression to the thought that lies beyond. They bear the same relation to the real invention that the visible Universe does to its Creator, or that the material body does to the human soul. An invention is a soul or principle, which has found a material means of evincing its existence and character.
That many wrongs have resulted from the defects and abuses of our patent system no one will doubt, but these are certainly not greater than the frauds and crimes which have had their origin in the institution of property in material things. In both cases these evils are infinitely overbalanced by the advantages which result from that institution. Correction, and not annihilation, is the appropriate remedy for these mischiefs.
Our conclusion, therefore, is: First, that a well regulated patent system is of incalculable importance to the public welfare; Secondly, that the laws on this subject should aim primarily to encourage invention by facilitating the means of obtaining patents and protecting property therein, and; Thirdly, that in administrating those laws the Office should be actuated by their spirit and purpose, and govern its conduct accordingly. To aid in bringing about these results has been the main purpose of these articles.
The Patent Office Clerks
We are informed by a Washington newspaper that the Commissioner of Patents is proposing to have the force in his office increased without increasing its expenses, by diminishing the pay of some of the old employees sufficiently to provide salaries for the new ones. We hope this statement is untrue. That the present rate of compensation in the Patent Office is not too great is proved by the fact that it is insufficient to secure the desired permanency in official station therein. When a clerk has acquired the experience and skill that qualify him for the effectual discharge of his duties, he soon finds some more lucrative employment elsewhere. These situations are thus often regarded as stepping stones to the real business of life, and are vacated as soon as the incumbents have fitted themselves for usefulness therein. This state of things will grow worse the more the rate of compensation is diminished. As the higher grades of clerkships require the highest order of talent and skill, they should be made the object of ultimate ambition and desire to those holding subordinate positions. These should not, therefore, be induced to seek more inviting situations elsewhere, in consequence of inadequacy of compensation here.
If, therefore, a larger number of employees is needed, let them be employed and fully paid; if they are not needed, they ought not to be employed at any price. It is a false economy to fix the scale of official salaries so low that they will not command proper qualifications in their incumbents, and it is almost an equal mistake to cumber the rooms and halls of the Patent Office with those whose services are not needed. Let all be diligently employed and fully paid.
If we are not misinformed, there are already nearly or quite five hundred persons now on duty in the Patent Office. With proper regulations, and under a well arranged system of labor, we believe that this number is fully sufficient for all the business that will be brought before the Office for many years to come. The funds of the Patent Office have been contributed by the inventors of the world, and should be devoted to their benefit. It is due to them that this fund should not be wasted or needlessly expended. If it is now more than sufficient to meet the annual expenses of the Office, a diminution of the office fees would be a proper corrective; but it ought never to be squandered on a multitude of officials who are willing to serve on half pay.
The Patent Office Tea Set
To the Editor of the Scientific American:
In answer to your inquiry as to what has been done in reference to the illegal presentation to Commissioner Leggett, I would say that it was stated on good authority that the Assistant Secretary submitted the question to the Attorney General for his opinion, and that it was finally concluded to drop the matter, and do nothing about it.
That it was a plain, open violation of the law is clear, and it is admitted by the more honest of those who participated in it. The leading ones -- those who headed the subscription and gave the most, some of whom are soon to come before the Senate for confirmation -- fearing the effect of their illegal act, now seek to evade it by denying that they gave any thing. The ground on which they do this is that, although they subscribed, they did not pay their subscriptions until after the 1st of November, which was sometime after the plate was purchased and presented. Possibly, in order to avoid the effect, they may not have paid it yet; but that the present Commissioner headed the list with $50, and the Assistant Commissioner followed with $25, or more, is not denied, and cannot be, truthfully.. This, to say the least, is a most cowardly and mean attempt to crawl out and leave blame to fall on the subordinates, nearly all of whom subscribed under compulsion; merely to retain the goodwill of those in authority, or to come in, and thereby retain their places or secure promotions.
Again, they urge that they did not violate the law, because the subscription, although made early in October, was dated November 1, so as to have it appear that it took place after the Commissioner was out of office. This only makes the matter worse, because it shows on its face a knowledge of the law, and a deliberate attempt to evade its plain provisions.
Again; they urge that it was at best but a technical violation, because, although legally Leggett's resignation did not take effect until the 1st of November, still practically he was already out of office. The trouble with this is that it is not true, for not only did he remain until after the presentation (October 19, I think it was), but the Office records show that he acted as Commissioner and made decisions after that -- at least so I am informed and believe. It has also been stated that this matter of the presentation, originated with the lady employees. This is not true, and it is all the more unmanly for these parties to seek to shift the responsibility from their own shoulders to those of the women. A certain woman did originate, or at least carry out, the plan of presenting the cane, but the tea set presentation originated with, and was carried out by, the male employees. A certain examiner, who hoped and expected to be made Assistant Commissioner, was the main mover in the matter, and personally circulated the subscription paper.
Not only was the whole proceeding a palpable and willful violation of the law, but they were so told at the time, by some who refused to subscribe, for that among other reasons. The whole matter, both in the transaction itself, and in the neglect to enforce the penalty of the law by the Secretary, is but a fair illustration of the contempt for the law manifested of late by the Patent Office officials.