Scientific American, v 48 (ns) no 9, p 136, 3 March 1883
Two Thousand Electrical Inventions in One Year
The Washington correspondent of the New York Evening Post reports the substance of a recent address by Mr. Edward M. Bentley, one of the examiners in the electricity division of the Patent Office. Speaking of the work of the electricity division and of the recent marvelous development of electrical inventions, Mr. Bentley said that about two thousand applications for patents in electricity were filed in 1882, of which about two-thirds were granted. To show how the subject had grown in importance within a very few years, he said that in 1877 electricity was a sub-class in a division. Now it is the largest division in the office and regarded as the most important.
This astonishing growth is due chiefly to two causes: first, the invention of the telephone; and second, the development of the magneto-electric machine. The telephone had opened, directly and indirectly, a wide field of invention. The minds of many persons throughout the country were turned to this class of inventions, and not only were improvements on the telephone itself attempted, but attention was given to a great many incidental appliances useful in its successful application.
The second great stimulus to invention was the development of the magneto-electric machine. For thirty years the world had been awaiting a cheap and convenient source of electricity. Immediately following the discoveries of Faraday and others, from 1830 to 1840, there was a wide-spread effort to make practical use of them and special activity was manifested in the line of electric lighting. The arc light was put into practical form, and the foundations of incandescent lighting were laid. But no economic source of electricity was at hand, for the galvanic battery consumed too much zinc for profit. The principle of the magneto machine had, indeed, been long known, but it was left for an Italian, Pacinotti, in 1860, to perfect a machine wherein continuous and constant currents were generated. The idea literally lay on the shelf, however, until 1870, when Gramme reinvented practically the same machine, and pushed it into notice. He was speedily followed by the Siemens brothers, of Berlin, and by Mr. Brush and others in this country.
The magneto-machine, affording a cheap and abundant supply of electricity, immediately rendered practical all the half completed inventions of thirty years, and opened the way to many new ones. Brush got his patent in 1877, Weston soon after, and the growth of the electricity division has been steady and marvelous ever since. The inventions have been, however, rather in the application of known principles than in the discovery of new ones; for, during the fifty years that have elapsed since the investigations of Faraday, little new has been added to the science of electricity. The present activity springs from the application of well known exhibitions of the still unknown force. And, moreover, only a few of these features of the science have been as yet made of practical use.
One of the broadest and most successful patents appears to be the telephone. The man whose name is perhaps more widely known that any other in connection with inventions in this branch of invention is Edison. The "Wizard of Menlo Park" is an inventor rather than a scientist. His most famous achievements have been in the improvement in telegraphy and in the incandescent light. The versatility and fertility of his mind are amazing, and he enjoys the distinction of being the man who has taken out more patents than any one in this country and probably in the world.
Generally patents do not discover and cover new fields. By far the largest part consist of improvements affecting details. Thus, of the twelve hundred or more electricity patents issued in 1882 only a few possess a general interest. A singular feature in patents is the tendency to come in groups. At one time some particular subject, such as electric bells, seems to occupy the attention of inventors; then their minds will be turned in the direction of motors or lighting. Perhaps the leading tendency of late has been toward secondary batteries, or what is called the "storing" of electricity. It is well known that if the two terminals of a circuit, each of which is tipped with a small lead plate, are inserted in a vessel of acidulated water, so that the water will complete the circuit. a passing current of electricity will rapidly decompose the water into its two constituents, oxygen and hydrogen, the oxygen collecting at one terminal and the hydrogen at the other. If now they are allowed to unite again, the recombination gives out a current into a wire which is the reverse of that which effected their separation. Thus, as this form of battery can be charged at one time or place and discharged at another, it forms a most useful portable source of electricity. The popular conception of a secondary batter as a store box, in which electricity is bottled up like soda water, and drawn off at will, is very erroneous. There is, to be sure, a "condenser," which actually stores up electricity, but a secondary battery, ready for use, contains no electricity whatever. It is simply an apparatus whose elements are in such a chemical condition that upon their being placed in external electrical connection a current will be generated therein.
There can be no doubt that galvanic batteries, both in the simple and secondary form, are destined to play an important part in the application of electricity to common use. It is to the magnetoelectric machine, however, that we look with most confidence. Electricity already is very serviceable to man. It sends out messages, calls the servant, gives an alarm of fire, announces the stealthy entrance of a burglar, regulates the temperature of a room, locks doors and windows, lights the gas, and does a hundred other services. In short, whenever it is wished to produce a mechanical movement at any distance, electro-magnetism is a ready, cheap, reliable, and tireless servant. ON a large scale electricity as a motor is only useful in transferring power to convenient localities, as when a machine which generates a current is driven by a distant waterfall, but the translation of power into electricity and then its retranslation from electricity into power entail such losses that the electric motor must remain subordinate to steam, water, or other original force until a new and cheaper source of electricity is discovered.
Status of the Telephone Patent Case
The great interference case in relation to speaking telephones has not yet been decided by the United States Patent Office, although the arguments were closed on November 10, 1881, or more than one year ago. The interferences were preliminarily declared on March 26, 1878, the interfering applications and patents being those of Messrs. A.G. Bell, E. Berliner, A.E. Dolbear, Thomas A. Edison, Elisha Gray, A.G. Holcombe, James W. McDonough, and George B. Richmond. These interferences apparently involved at the outset eight different portions, two patents, and fifteen applications. Subsequently, Messrs. Berliner, Holcolbe, and Richmond went out of the contest, either by default or their own concessions, and Mr. William L. Voelker was taken in. Recent developments in regard to transactions in telephone stock and other commercial movements in the telephone business give this great interference case an important which at one time it did not have.
There are apparently six parties to the case -- Messrs. Bell, Gray, Dolbear, McDonough, Edison, and Voelker. All had filed applications for patents upon inventions for transmitting speech by electricity, and to Bell patents had been issued. The interferences were declared by the Patent office, and the examiner was directed to determine to whom priority belonged. There are many complications in the case, and it is unnecessary to describe them now. A well informed electrician says that, in fact, there are only two parties to the case, and that these are McDonough and the interests controlled by the American Bell Company and the Western Union. Bell's application is, of course, in the interest of the Bell Company; Voelker, he says, is controlled by the Bell Company, through the Western Union, and by the Western Electric Company; Edison's interest is controlled by Bell, through the Western Union Company; Dolbear's interest is controlled by the Bell Company, and Gray's interest is controlled by the Bell Company, through the agreement with Western Union. So the fight, according to this gentleman's statement, is McDonough against the field and against the Bell and Western Union combination. This combination was established after the suit for infringement brought by the Bell Company against Peter A. Dowd. In that suit testimony was taken, and then an agreement was reached that the Western Union should turn over to the use of the Bell Company all the telephone rights and patents in controversy; that the Bell Company should not interfere with the Western Union's telegraph business; and that the Western Union, or that part of it known as the American Speaking Telephone Company, should receive twenty per cent of the Bell Company's gross earnings.
It appears, therefore, that McDonough is the adversary of the established telephone interests in the great interference case. McDonough's interest is controlled by the United States Telephone Manufacturing Company, of New York, and it is said that this company, which has no plant as yet, has more than eighty valuable patents, some of the absolutely essential to the telephone business. In support of these patents the company has sued the Bell Company for infringement in New York and New Bedford, for using the telephone switch, and in Hartford for infringement in using what is alleged to be the McDonough receiver. These suits are pending. When the interference examination began in the Patent Office, the Voelker interest was, it is said, controlled by the Western Electric Company, but the controlling interest of the Western Electric Company has since been brought by the Bell Company. No one seems willing to predict the result of the interference case, although advocates of McDonough seems confident that this decision will favor him so far as the telephonic receiver is concerned. It is probable that whatever the results may be, an appeal will be taken to the full Board of Examiners, and perhaps afterward to the Commissioner of Patents.
The most formidable adversary of the Bell Company, so far as patents are concerned, is the United States Company, which controls the McDonough patents. The Bell Company's success in the Dolbear suit is not regarded as an important victory by some persons in Washington, and the suit at Harrisburg, based upon an injunction secured by the Bell Company, relates to the inventions of Drawbaugh, who is so far behind in the Patent Office that he is not included in the interference case. The McDonough company is, however, aggressive, and the decisions in its several suits against the Bell Company are awaited with considerable interest.
-- The Operator
The Patent Office Surplus Fund
Referring to the fact that there is in the United States Treasury more than two millions of dollars to the credit of the Patent Office, one of our contemporaries aptly suggests that it is absurd that more than $400,000 should be added to the fund in a single year, when every employee in the office is overcrowded with work to such a degree as to cause unnecessary delays and hurried examination. A reasonable portion of the annual surplus in the payment of salaries to an additional force will do much toward reforming existing evils. The Patent Office should be provided with a sufficient examining force to enable every application for a patent to be acted upon within a fortnight at most after the filing of the papers. Inventors are naturally impatient to get a decision in their cases as soon as possible, and from their generous support of the Patent Office they are entitled to more consideration than it is possible for the present force of the office to grant them. If our legislators would take the trouble to investigate into the wants of the Patent Office, and then vote a sufficient sum from the Patent Office fund to enable the Commissioner to employ all the help he needs to keep the work of the office well up, they would be instrumental in doing some good.
The Assistant Commissionership of Patents
Mr. R.G. Dryenforth, late an Examiner in Chief in the Patent Office, has been nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for the office of Assistant Commissioner of Patents. Mr. Dryenforth is a man of ability, and well capable to fill the office. His confirmation was opposed before the Senate Committee. The principal objection came from a notoriously untrustworthy man. This fellow alleged crooked proceedings on the part of the Examiner in connection with the issue of certain patents; but it was a good deal like Satan rebuking sin.
The Drive Well Patent
In a recent trial in the United States Circuit Court, Des Moines, Iowa, the judge decides that the original drive well patent of N.W. Green is null and void. This decision might be important if it were not contrary to a number of other previous decisions by eminent judges of the United States courts, by whom the patent has heretofore been upheld. The present case will not go on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The invention of the drive well was made in 1861, by Nelson W. Green, an officer in one of the New York regiments then serving in the war. There was a rumor that the enemy had poisoned the wells. To make sure of a pure supply of water for his own regiment and for the Union forces generally, wherever they might march, he conceived the idea of driving into the earth small tubes of iron, perforated at the bottom, and of attaching a pump to the upper end of the tube. He reasoned that, when the pump was worked and suction produced, the water would rise in the tube, and thus serviceable wells might be made anywhere by a few minutes' work, at small cost. His invention was found to be completely successful, was immediately adopted in the army, and our troops seldom lacked for good water wherever it was practical to drive down Colonel Green's tubes. From the army the use of the invention quickly spread through this country, then to foreign countries; it was adopted by the British army; it is now an adjunct of the military equipment of all nations, and is in common use throughout the world.
The patent to Col. Green was not issued to him until 1878, owing to the inability of the inventor to attend to the business of taking the patent until his relations with the army were finally closed. Such, in brief, is the history of the drive well patent. It is one of the most useful inventions of the day, and has conferred vast benefits upon the people of this country and the world in general.
When Col. Green received his patent, he became entitled to demand compensation for the use of his invention from that time onward for seventeen years, and he established a general tariff or patent fee of ten dollars for each well made in accordance with his discovery. Many thousands of the Green drive wells were put into use before his patent was granted; for such prior use he could make no claim, but for the continued use of these wells after the grant of the patent, he was entitled to demand payment.
There are regions of the country where every farmer has from one to ten of the Green wells on his premises; where, in fact, people have them in their kitchens, cellars, yards, and fields; wherever they want water, they drive a tube and put on the pump.
These people knew nothing about the patent when they put in the wells; and the appearance of the patentee's agents, asking for ten dollars payment on each tube, with threat of a law suit if the demand is refused, naturally excites surprise and indignation. What business, they ask, has the Patent Office to grant a patent to prevent us from pumping water out of the ground? We have always been accustomed to stick a tube with its pump into our cisterns and cellars to draw water; and we claim a free right to stick the tube into the ground and get water wherever we can. For reasons such as these many have refused payment; but the courts have decided adversely test cases, and the legality of the patent has been fully sustained.
But the costs of the law suits, and the expenses of collecting the royalties have greatly diminished the patentee's receipts. The patent will expire by its own limitations on January 14, 1885. If the Supreme Court should decide adversely to the patent in the present case, the inventor and his associates will probably lose more money than they have received from the invention. If the court sustains the patent, they may possibly realize a profit, as they will be enabled hereafter to collect damages from all who made use of the patent during its lifetime.
The Age of Inventions
The number of inventions that have been made during the past fifty years is perhaps unprecedented in the history of the world. Of course inventions of benefit to the human race have been made in all ages since man was created; but looking back for half a hundred years, how many more are crowded into the past fifty than into any other fifty since recorded history! The perfection of the locomotive, and the now world traversing steamship, the telegraph, the telephone, the audiphone, the sewing machine, the photograph, chrome lithographic printing, the cylinder printing press, the elevator for hotels and other many storied buildings, the cotton gin, and the spinning jenny, the reaper and the mower, the steam thrasher, the steam fire engine, the improved process for making steel, the application of chloroform and ether to destroy sensibility in painful surgery cases, and so on through a long catalogue.
Nor are we yet done in the field of invention and discovery. The application of coal gas and petroleum to heating and cooking operations is only trembling on the verge of successful experiment, the introduction of the steam from a great central reservoir to general use in heating and cooking is foreshadowed as among the coming events, the artificial production of butter has already created consternation among dairymen, the navigation of the air by some device akin to our present balloon would also seem to be prefigured, and the propulsion of machinery by electricity is even now clearly indicated by the march of experiment. There are some problems we have hitherto deemed impossible, but are the mysteries of even the most improbable of them more subtle to grasp than that of the ocean cable or that of the photograph or the telephone? We talk by cable with an ocean rolling between; we speak in our own voices to friends 100 miles or more from where we articulate before the microphone.
Under the blazing sun of July we produce ice by chemical means, rivaling the most solid and crystalline production of nature. Our surgeons graft the skin from one person's arm to the face of another, and it adheres and becomes an integral part of his body. We make a mile of white printing paper, and send it on a spool that a perfecting printing press unwinds, and prints, and cuts, and delivers to you folded and counted, many thousands per hour. Of a verity, this is the age of invention, nor has the world reached a stopping place yet.
-- Cincinnati Times-Star
The World's Inventors
[fn.: from The Age of Steel]
Usually when a man has invented something novel and useful, and has obtained a patent therefor, he is possessed of a feeling of pride that raises him in his own estimation, and frequently in the estimation of some others, rather above the average of mortals. He imagines, or at least hopes, that his invention will prove to be a lever with which the world will be elevated to a higher sphere of usefulness and happiness, while at the same time and incident thereto he fondly dreams that he has entered on the high road to fortune and renown, and that he is to become a millionaire. He looks upon the letters patent that display the great American eagle in all of his gorgeousness, and that bear the signature of those high in authority, as a most precious document, that is either carefully laid away among his archives to be handed down to posterity, to show how great a man and how inventive a genius he was, or ornately framed and displayed in such manner that all may behold and admire. There is nothing wrong in any of this, but rather much that is commendable. Notable inventions have marked the march of civilization in all ages of the world, and the epochs of history are marked by great discoveries none the less important. In fact, discoverers and inventors should be classed together. Among the great discoverers of the world in physical geography the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492; of Florida by Ponce de Leon, 1512; and of the Mississippi River by De Soto, in 1541; and in the arts and sciences, of the circulation of the blood by Harvey, in 1619; of making pictures by the aid of light by Daguerre, in 1838; and of electricity by Franklin, 1752, were of the utmost importance to mankind, the beneficial effects of which are apparent every day. On the other hand, the world would not have arrived at the high zenith to which it has attained had it not been for the inventive geniuses who bestowed their wonderful gifts upon it. What would railroading be today without such an appliance for stopping the motion of trains as the air brake patented by Westinghouse in 1859, or steel rails, the cheap production of which was invented by Bessemer in 1856? The invention of breech-loading firearms, by Thornton and Hall, in 1811, revolutionized the methods of modern warfare, even as the invention of gunpowder by Schwartz, in 1320, compelled the abandonment of cross-bows, spears, and slings, and substituted the matchlock and blunderbuss. The second century of the Christian era (A.D. 130) witnessed the invention of the mariner's compass, without which Columbus would never have been able to find his way across the wide, wild western ocean, and without which, without any essential difference from that used by the ancient navigators, extended traffic on the ocean would be simply impossible. We all appreciate the value of Whitney's invention of the cotton gin, in 1794; of the grain binder by Gordon, in 1872; of the grain harvester, by Haines, in 1849; of the knitting machine by lee, in 1589; of the common match by Walker, in 1829; of the mowing machine by Scott, in 1815; of the machine for making pins by Wright in 1824; of the lumber planing machine by Bentham, in 1791; of printing by Gutenberg, in 1444; of the type-revolving printing press by Hoe, in 1847; of the safety lamp by Davy, in 1815; of the screw propeller by Stevens, in 1804; of the sewing machine by Howe, in 1847; of the first successful steamboat by Fulton, in 1808; of the first successful steam engine by Watt, in 1744; and of practical telegraphy by Morse, in 1837.
The world appreciates all these inventions and thousands of others of greater or less usefulness, and from which the inventors in many instances have obtained both fame and great pecuniary reward. And the field is a wide one yet, open and free to all, with as large possibilities for the future as the past has shown.
But there are thousands of inventors, who have never realized as much on their inventions as their letters patent cost them, and never will; not always because of lack of intrinsic merit, but that their merits were not properly made known to the public. A man who may have a patent for a thing, no matter how valuable it may be, and does not direct public attention to it -- does not "push" it -- resembles the man in the Bible, who wrapped his talent in a napkin and hid it in the earth. It occurs to us that the talents all men possess to greater or less degree, particularly as regards their capacity for business -- their adaptability for transacting the affairs of life -- are very much like the inventions of men. One man may possess sufficient talent to make him a successful merchant, or manufacturer, or mechanic, or artisan, and by "pushing" it he attains to eminence in his profession, while another with equal talent, who does not "push" it, lags behind in the race of life, and when the end comes is like the man who hid his talent in the earth. It is folly for any man to say he can never find employment, if he is possessed of average intelligence, sufficient education, good character, and an abundance of "push." With these qualifications entrance can be gained into almost any office, store, or workshop in the land, but the "pushing" must be done, even as the owner of a valuable patent must "push" it before he can hope to realize any profit therefrom.
An Interesting Patent Office Question
The applicant for a patent usually entrusts the management of his business before the Patent Office to a competent agent who acts under the authority of an ordinary power of attorney, which is filed with the Commissioner of Patents. It frequently happens, for reasons satisfactory to the applicant, that he desires to change his attorney, and heretofore it has only been necessary to file with the commissioner a revocation of the original power with substitution of the new.
The Commissioner of Patents has lately made a new rule which provides in substance that the Patent Office will not in future recognize any change of attorneys during the pendency of the case, unless reasons satisfactory to the commissioner are first presented to him. The commissioner thinks the new rule is necessary in order to facilitate the business of the Patent Office, as it saves the office the trouble of looking back to see if any change of attorney has been made, etc.
Several applications have been made to the commissioner for change of attorneyship, in which the applicants have represented to the commissioner, as reasons, that they were not satisfied with the manner in which their original attorney was managing their matters; or, for reasons personal to themselves, they could not consent to leave their business any longer in such attorney's hands. These reasons have not been accepted by the commissioner, and he has declined to permit the desired change of attorneyship.
On the other hand, when the applicant has stated as reasons for desiring to change attorneys, that his original agent has mismanaged the case or neglected it, or is unable further to prosecute it, then the new power has been received and the new attorney recognized; the original attorney not being allowed to be heard or defend himself against these imputations.
In other words, the only way at present by which an applicant for a patent may secure a change of attorneys is to file with the Commissioner of Patents an ex parte statement specially derogatory and damaging to the original attorney, if not libelous.
It has been specially objected to the Commissioner of Patents that he had no authority under the statute to make a rule that is inconsistent with law; that a rule which restricts the right to constitute and revoke powers of attorney is inconsistent with law; that it is a canon of elementary law that every power of attorney may be revoked at will, unless coupled with an interest; that the rule in question is mischievous because it encroaches upon private rights; that it is void because it is an attempt to legislate by one of the executive departments; that it is dangerous because, as seems probable, the courts will not recognize the commissioner's authority to prohibit a revocation of a power of attorney; and if the Patent Office should grant a patent upon amendments made by an agent whose power had been revoked by notice to the commissioner, the validity of such patent might be questioned.
In reply to these objections and to request that he would cite the law for his authority for upholding the rule, the Commissioner of Patents states that the rule was adopted after full consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, and since its adoption has been sustained by him on an appeal; furthermore, he, the commissioner, is of opinion that it is within his power and that of the Secretary of the Interior to say upon what grounds powers of attorney may be revoked and new powers filed. Here the matter rests, the commissioner not having given his special view as to the law of the matter.