Scientific American, v 55 (ns), no 3, p 32, 17 July 1886
Recently Proposed Patent Legislation
In many cases, improperly drawn specifications, with drawings not acceptable under the Patent Office rules, have been forwarded to the Commissioner of Patents, accompanied by the preliminary fee of fifteen dollars. Of such applications, some have gone no farther, the necessary alterations and amendments not having been made. In other cases, inventors, ignorant of the laws relating to patents, have sent to the Commissioner a simple statement to the effect that they proposed to take out a patent for certain inventions, and with this statement have forwarded the preliminary fee of fifteen dollars. Again, it often happens that the final fee of twenty dollars is paid in, and the application abandoned after such payment. Sometimes the entire fee of thirty-five dollars is sent in advance with the application, which is subsequently abandoned. Hitherto, and at present, in such cases the amount received in excess by the Commissioner cannot by law be returned. Much injustice is apparent in these transactions. Money is received by the government, and retained by it, for which no equivalent is given. There are now many thousands of dollars in the Treasury received from these sources. It seems clear that it is a case for legal relief.
On the 22d of March of the present year, Mr. Ormsby B. Thomas introduced a bill designed to remedy the evil. In general terms, it authorized the Commissioner of Patents to refund these fees where possible, and in all cases to make efforts to do so by writing to the applicants. The bill was twice read, and referred to the Committee of Patents, who reported a substitute (H.R. bill No. 9,474) on the 16th of June. It is for the purpose of authorizing and directing the Commissioner of Patents to notify the class of applicants in question that their fees are subject to their order. It classifies the fees, 1st, as those sent to the Patent Office with applications which have never been completed or placed in condition for examination, and have become abandoned by lapse of time; 2d, as final fees of twenty dollars paid on applications which have never been patented, and which have become abandoned.
In all such cases, the Commissioner of Patents is ordered to mail to the last known post office address of the person entitled thereto, informing him of his right to the sum in question, and stating that the amount will be forwarded to him on his written request for it. When the request is received, the Commissioner is directed to return the money, under such rules as may be required to efficiently and safely carry out the provisions of the proposed law. In order to prevent any further accumulation of fees paid by mistake, the Commissioner is authorized to refund them, for the future, as soon as received, drawing upon the current receipts of the office.
The provisions of the bill above summarized seem eminently just ones. The fees of thirty-five dollars received by the Patent Office are intended to pay for the cost of searching for novelty, for clerical expenses, printing, lithographing, and the like. There was never any idea of making them a source of profit or of general revenue to the government. Under equitable management, the amounts received by the office should be spent upon forwarding its business, and expediting the issuing of patents. When, therefore, through error or otherwise, fees are paid for which no return is given in the way of a search for novelty, and other work involved in the completion of the application, or for which, as in the case of final fees, no issuing of a patent has been effected, it seems unjust for the government to retain the amounts so received. A large surplus exists today in the Treasury of the United States to the credit of the Patent Office. Much of it has been derived from the sources described. The repayment of as many inventors as could be found would not, we are convinced, seriously deplete this idle amount. For the future, if the revenues were somewhat reduced, it would be only equitable and just to submit to such reduction. The government should in no sense be a money maker, and should receive no fees that it is not justly entitled to.
There are a good many useful inventions which are the outcome of some boy genius, and the records of the Patent Office shows that quite a number of patents have been issued to minors through their guardians. The invention of the valve to a steam engine is said to have been made by a mere boy. The story runs that Newcomen's engine was in a very incomplete condition, from the fact that there was no way to open and close the valve except by means of levers operated by hand. He set up a large engine at one of the mines, and a boy (Humphrey Potter) was hired to work these levers. Although this is not hard work, yet it required his constant attention. As he was working the levers he saw that parts of the engine moved in the right direction and at the same time he had to open and close the valves. He procured a strong cord, and made one end fast to the proper part of the engine and the other end to the valve lever, and the boy had the satisfaction of seeing the engine move with perfect regularity of motion. A short time after, the foreman came around, and saw the boy playing marbles at the door. Looking at the engine he saw the ingenuity of the boy, and also the advantage of his invention. The idea suggested by the boy's inventive genius was put in a practical form and made the steam engine an automatically working machine.
The President's Message and the Patent Office
In a short clause of his annual message, presented to Congress on December 6, President Cleveland commends the bringing forward of the business of the Patent Office, and promises still more for the future. On the 4th of March, 1885, he states the current business was in arrears on an average of five and one-half months. Several divisions were twelve months behind. Three months is given as the average of the arrears at the close of the last fiscal year, and the prediction is made, substantially, that soon only a nominal delay will precede the examination of each case. This will be most cheering news to the inventor, who hitherto has been disheartened in his work by the endless delays in obtaining protection for his invention.
The Treasury Department receives this year a surplus of $163,710.30 from the Patent Office, the receipts of the office aggregating $1,205,167.80. The large volume of its business appears from the number of patents granted -- 25,619. Notwithstanding its growing business, no increase of force is asked for, the Commissioner apparently feeling able to cope with the work with the present number of employees. The tendency to reduction of expenses is shown in the estimates for three successive years. For the year ending June 30, 1886, $890,760 was estimated; for the year ending June 30, 1887, $853,960; and for the year ending June 30, 1888, the estimate is only $778,770.