Scientific American, v 13 (os) no 1, p 8, 12 September 1857
The Late Commissioner of Patents
The readers of the Scientific American have been made so familiar, through our columns, with the name and official acts of the Honorable Charles Mason, late Commissioner of Patents, that we have thought they would be interested in knowing something of his personal appearance and history.
[Includes portrait of "Hon. Charles Mason"]
We accordingly present herewith an engraved portrait of the distinguished gentleman, together with a few facts concerning his public life and his administration as Commissioner. The likeness is an excellent one.
Judge Mason is a native of the State of New York, having been born in Onondaga county. During his early life he spent four years at the Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1829, with a considerable honor, receiving immediately afterwards an appointment as Professor in the same institution, which he held for about three years. After this he engaged in the study of law, and for some time resided in the village of Newburg, N.Y., where he carried on the duties of his profession.
After this he removed to New York, and for a time took editorial charge of the Evening Post, during Mr. Bryant's absence. It is generally allowed that he discharged the duties of an editor with that same thoroughness, earnestness and excellence which has characterized his life in every situation in which he has been placed. Subsequent to this he removed to Iowa, and in 1838 was appointed Chief Justice of that Territory, which office he filled for nearly ten years, with great credit, and to the manifest advantage of the public good. It was in this manner that he obtained the title of Judge Mason. During the period of his employment as Commissioner of Patents, he was engaged as Law Commissioner to prepare a code of laws for Iowa, which has received the unqualified approbation of all who have examined its various requirements.
Judge Mason was appointed to the office of Commissioner of Patents in March, 1853, and held the post for a little more than four years.
The Patent Office was in a state of great confusion when Judge Mason assumed its administration. This was due, in part, to incongruity in its rules and regulations, and also to a want of numerical force in its employees. Applicants for patents were compelled to wait from six to twelve months before their cases received examination. One of the earliest acts of the new Commissioner was to double the examining corps, and to augment the help in other departments. New and efficient rules were adopted, and the workings of the entire business were made better to harmonize. Under the new regime, the previous confusion and delays wholly disappeared, and the Patent Office became distinguished for the promptness and regularity of its transactions.
Appeals, formerly heard by examiners, after long delays, were now listened to by the Commissioner in person, at a moment's notice. The ease with which he penetrated the mysteries of chemical inventions, or unraveled the complexities of difficult mechanical improvements, astonished every one. He was prompt and fearless in his decisions. He believed that the Patent laws were instituted for the benefit and encouragement of inventors, and he interpreted them accordingly. If he was uncertain as to the novelty of an invention, he gave the benefit of his doubt to the inventor, and ordered the patent to issue. The inventor, sensitive and smarting under the sting of some ill-judged decision of an examiner, found soothing balm for all his woes when he came into the presence of Judge Mason. He was as a father to inventors. He never knowingly allowed an unjust rejection to stand. Much of his time was devoted to the repeal of decisions by illiberal examiners. He paid no attention to office hours. Many a midnight hour has found him industriously engaged in the examination of appeals, solicited, perhaps by some humble, unpretending applicant. To him all applicants for patents were alike. If he manifested any partiality at all, it was in favor of the poor and helpless.
The number of applications for patents made during the year preceding Judge Mason's appointment was 2,639. The number of applications for the present year is estimated at 6,000. This remarkable increase may be attributed, to a great extent, to the wise government of the affairs of the department by the Commissioner.
The annual Patent Reports were formerly meager, uninteresting volumes. Judge Mason caused them to be illustrated with diagrams of all the inventions patented during the year. His report to Congress for 1856 will consist of four handsome volumes. It was his desire to see all the patents, with their drawings, published in full by the government. But he did not remain long enough in office to carry out this gigantic enterprise.
The following extract from a contemporary gives a correct idea of Judge Mason's personal appearance:
"In person, Judge Mason is tall and erect, with strong, thick, brown hair, a countenance highly expressive of rapid and energetic thought, cheerfulness, benevolence and lofty feelings; his frame indicates considerable power of physical endurance; his carriage is easy and graceful, and his whole appearance at once prepossessing and calculated to inspire feelings of respect. In his conversation he is frank, plain, concise and methodical, seeming always to be self-possessed, and seldom hesitating in a reply. His perceptions are remarkably quick, and like Mr. Calhoun, he seems to come to conclusions almost instinctively. All accord to him great powers of perception, quick, close, and powerful reasoning faculties, and all that suavity and genuine good breeding which usually mark the accomplished soldier and scholar. In short, no one can be in company with Judge Mason, even for a few minutes, without being fully satisfied that he is a man of exalted mind and character"
The father of Mr. Mason was an honest, hard-working man, and his more honored son followed the same laborious occupation from the early age of twelve to his seventeenth year. Judge Mason is emphatically a self-made man.
The New Commissioner of Patents
We announced in our last number that Joseph Holt, Esq., of Kentucky, was tendered the office of Commissioner of Patents, and promptly declined it. It now appears that he has reconsidered the matter, and finally accepted the appointment. He entered at once upon the discharge of his duties, and is now busy in making himself acquainted with the details of his new position. Mr. Holt is a lawyer, and for many years practiced his profession in Mississippi, where he distinguished himself, and took rank with Prentiss, McNutt and others. He was at one time Prosecuting Attorney, but has never, we believe, held any other public office. He is a brother-in-law of Senators Yulee and Wright.
It is stated in one of the daily papers that Mr. Holt contemplates several removals from the Examining Corps. We think, however, that this announcement is premature, as we presume he has not had time even to consider this matter at all, and will not, until he shall have become better acquainted with the details of his office. At the proper time, no doubt, he will be called upon to inquire into the fitness of some of the examiners, as there is an urgent necessity that this should be done.
We shall probably recur to this subject again, but at present we have no desire to disturb the new Commissioner with any matters which may in any degree interfere with his expressed determination to become master of his new duties.
We cordially wish Mr. Holt success, and shall take pleasure in extending to him every possible aid in our power, in his endeavors to make the Office more and more the nursery and protector of American genius. To do this successfully, Mr. Holt must be the [the emphasized KWD] Commissioner of Patents, and not permit himself to be wheedled into the notions and whims of examiners or officious patent agents.
It was one of the peculiarities of Judge Mason that he patiently listened to suggestions from all, without permitting himself to be unduly influenced by them. If, "in the multitude of counsel there is wisdom," so also is there mischief, if visionary theorists and impracticable schemers are permitted to gain their ends.
Activity at the Patent Office
Within two weeks past, the Examiners at the Patent Office, under the supervision of the new Commissioner, have evinced a marked degree of alacrity; and at the rate they are now progressing, the back work of the Office will soon be brought up. The Chief Examiner of the Agricultural Class has recovered from his illness, and is back at this post again; and we are assured that those who have had cases long pending in this department will speedily obtain decisions.
There is not the usual number of applications made, at present, owing, probably, to the closeness of the money market; but we can assure inventors that there never was a better time to apply for patents, and to get justice done in the examination at the Patent Office, than at present.
[Remainder omitted -- advertisement for Munn & Co.]
An English Opinion of the United States Patent Office Management
The London Engineer, in copying an article from the Scientific American, in reference to the question of priority of invention between Kelly and Bessemer, for improvements in the manufacture of iron, (which question, as many of our readers will remember, was decided against Bessemer,) indulges in the following comments: --
"We trust our readers will not for one moment conceive that our admiration of the Patent Office of the Americans extends to their mode of granting patents either to their own countrymen or to foreigners; or that it will be thought that we look upon their mode of charging English inventors about six times as much as native ones with any other feeling than that of disgust. considering it most unjust, and especially so as we make no difference with regard to American inventors and those of our own country. Neither have we failed to notice the late proceedings of the American Patent Office in relation to Mr. Bessemer's patent. We have no hesitation in saying that the annulling of a patent once granted, or the refusal to grant a patent, upon the ground that some person in some remote age made experiments involving the principles contained in the patent granted or applied for, is adopting a most dangerous and unjust principle, and one which cannot fail to be productive of the most baneful consequences. There is one gratifying circumstance attending this annulling of Mr. Bessemer's patent, which is this, that the American press seems ashamed of it, for it has stated its conviction of the necessity for reform in this respect, and that a certain time only should be allowed to elapse after a discovery or invention has been made, during which the discoverer or inventor should obtain a patent or else lose the right of doing so, and that if he eventually gives up the idea of applying for a patent, his experiment being made should be no bar to another person, native or foreigner, obtaining a patent for the same thing, provided it be a bona fide invention. There can be no doubt that this is a just view of this case, and we are very glad to find that if American inventors are ignorant of what is right, they cannot plead ignorance in the future. In another column will be found the remarks of our scientific cotemporary upon this subject, and we trust that they will not be the only ones made in Mr. Bessemer's behalf. We should very much like to know the exact meaning of an original or first inventor, or how it is possible to ascertain whether an inventor is an original one or not; further, we should like to know whether there are any cases on record of an American inventor having obtained a patent, and of his patent having been annulled by the discovery that drawings of his invention were made by somebody else eight years before. We would almost undertake to say that the American Commissioner of Patents could point to no such case. We are not disposed to be too harsh, nor do we wish uncharitably to interpret the decision of the American Commissioner of Patents, inasmuch as it would appear clearly to be American law that one patentee can supersede another, if he can succeed in fishing up a few old drawings, and getting a few persons to swear that what was just patented was nothing more than what their friend did eight years before. It is stated in this case that Mr. Kelly's testimony appears to be reliable in every respect, and for the sake of American inventors we hope it is; but we cannot help condemning, in the strongest terms, the principle upon which Mr. Bessemer's patent has been annulled. We think it would be well for those who have the interest of American inventors in their keeping, to show what precedents there exist of patents being annulled after the lapse of so long a time; otherwise we much fear that, on this side of the Atlantic, many will suspect that the case in point is the first of its kind. For our own part we sincerely hope it is not."
In reply to the above, we desire to say that it has been the uniform practice of the U.S. Patent Office, since its establishment, to grant patents to the original and first inventor; it matters not to what clime or nation he may belong. In pursuing this old practice in the case of Kelly vs. Bessemer, the American patent Office only obeyed the high requirements of the law, without regard to Mr. Bessemer's nationality. Therefore, the Engineer betrays inexcusable ignorance when it says that "if American inventors are ignorant of what is right, they cannot plead ignorance for the future." American inventors are not responsible for the good or bad character of our Patent system. They had no more to do with its framing than Dick Turpin had to do with the preparation of the Westminster Catechism; and to brand them with ignorance of what is right, or to hold them responsible for the defects which are known and severely felt by them to exist in the workings of the American Patent law, is as destitute of justice, as it would be to accuse English inventors of inciting the Sepoys to their recent rebellion. Unfortunately, our Congress is made up of politicians who seemingly care but little for inventors, any way. The present Patent laws were enacted more than twenty years ago, and, although defective in some respects, they will yet bear comparison with those of any other country. In fact, they are superior to the English Patent law of 1852, or the one which preceded it, inasmuch as our laws recognize the legal and moral rights of the first inventor, and do not hold out the slightest encouragement to outside parties to steal and patent inventions not their own.
Mr. Bessemer has not been defrauded of his invention by any trickery on the part of the American Commissioner of Patents. He carefully weighed the facts elicited in the evidence offered by each party; and if our cotemporary has any curiosity to examine the testimony, copies can be obtained from the records of our Patent Office, just the same as in the case of any other legal proceeding. A question of priority between the applicants is always a question of fact, and is ascertained by testimony to which both parties contribute. The above case is not an uncommon one; we occasionally meet with similar ones in our professional experience; and as law, the Commissioner of Patents has no other alternative but to obey it, until Congress (not American inventors) shall amend the same.
Two years since, when discussing the proposed changes in the American Patent system, we took decided ground against the existing law and practice on the subject of priority of invention, and also against the clause in the law which discriminates in reference to the fees to be paid by citizens and foreigners. On these two points, we entirely agree with our cotemporary, for we are unwilling to encourage the slightest shadow of unfairness in such matters.
Changes in the Patent Office
Our Washington correspondent informs us that Dr. Gale of the Chemical Department of the Patent Office, and Mr. Lane, of the Household and Telegraphic Class, have been removed from their positions as Chief Examiners, and that Horatio King, of Louisiana, and James S. French, of Virginia, have been appointed to supply these vacancies. Mr. Schaeffer, who has obtained considerable notoriety among inventors of railroad improvements during the last few years, has been transferred to the Chemical Department, and one of the new appointees takes his Class. We think this latter change specially fortunate, for we understand Examiner Schaeffer has superior practical knowledge of chemistry as applied to the Arts, which will render him a useful Examiner in this department; while the room which he has left cannot be managed in a more illiberal manner to the inventor than has lately characterized it. It had become to be a by-word, that the applying for a patent on a railroad improvement was synonymous to its rejection; and for a year past, we have not advised inventors to attempt to obtain patents on inventions which we know would come under examination in this department. A better day has dawned, we trust, for inventors of railroad improvements.,
The New Commissioner of Patents
Commissioner Holt has been so much engaged with pressing duties of various kinds since his recent acceptance of the office, that he has been unable to give every case of appeal a personal hearing. He has, however, adopted a new and most excellent rule in regard to appeals, viz: the submission of each case to a board of two Examiners, and in the event of their disagreement, then to hear the case himself. This method gives satisfaction to all applicants, for it affords them a better guarantee of justice than where the appeal is left to the decision of a single individual.
[Remainder omitted here. KWD]
Patent Office Management -- Liberality of Examiners -- Sale of Patent Rights
The new Commissioner of Patents is giving universal satisfaction, so far as we can learn; and when there is any dissatisfaction felt concerning the Patent Office management, we hear of it about as early as everybody else. Every department now seems to be governed by faithful and efficient officers.
We notice an increasing disposition among most of the Examiners to give inventors the benefit of any doubt existing in regard to the propriety of deciding favorably upon cases up for examination. This is as it should be. Many an honest inventor has been deprived of a patent, which, if obtained, would have been a means of yielding to him quite a handsome revenue, but which he could not get without going to an expense which he could not afford, and all because the Examiner thought a device described in some foreign publication contained features substantially the same as that upon which the poor American applicant was seeking to obtain a patent. A better day has dawned for inventors; and we are rejoiced that the hair-splitting, niggardly system which characterized the practice of some of the Examiners a short time ago, has been materially changed.
[Remainder omitted. KWD]
Another Important Decision by the New Commissioner of Patents
We have the pleasure to present, in this number of our journal, the report of a late decision of the new Commissioner of Patents, which not only confirms our previous high estimate of his administrative qualifications, but foreshadows the inauguration of a line of future official action that cannot fail to be productive of the most important results.
The decision in question was given in the case of D.D. Badger's appeal, on an application for a patent for an improvement in iron beams, and claimed as a "new article of manufacture." The application was twice rejected, and then carried up on appeal to the Commissioner, who referred it to a Board composed of Chief Examiners Baldwin and Dodge, with instructions to report back to him in the usual manner. Counsel for applicant (Munn & Co.) filed with the appeal a special request that, in rendering its decision, the Office would define its views in regard to the consideration of claims of a character like that presented. The Board was unable to agree. and the members reported their respective opinions to the Commissioner, who thereupon gave the case a personal hearing. We annex his decision. He confirms the report of Examiner Dodge, and sets aside that of Examiner Baldwin. We should be glad to publish both the reports of the Board, but our limits, at present, forbid. The report of Examiner Dodge is very interesting. He takes the broad and liberal grounds, and fortifies every position by quotations from the highest authorities. His arguments are unanswerable.
We would here remark that much contrariety of opinion has, for a long time, existed among the examining officers at the Patent Office, not only as regards the proper wording of claims and titles, but also in regard to the degree of novelty that an invention must contain in order to render it patentable. Each Examiner has been permitted to follow his own notions in rendering decisions, and to constitute himself judge, jury and prosecuting attorney, in disposing of the petitions of applicants. The result is that the decisions and practice of the Office have often been of a contradictory, and sometimes of a ludicrous character.
We rejoice to believe that this mixed-up method of practice is about to be drawn to a close. In the accompanying decision, Commissioner Holt declares, in effect, that under his administration, the Patent Laws shall be liberally construed; that every new and useful improvement shall be entitled to a patent; that simplicity shall not be a bar to the patent; that names are not things; that the applicant may patent his improvement as a "New Article of Manufacture," or give it any other term that he chooses; that it is sufficient if the specification describes an invention uniting the indispensable requisites of novelty and utility; that the applicant shall not be embarrassed or impeded by the demands of Examiners in reference to terms and words.
We regard this decision of Commissioner Holt as one of the ablest documents that has ever emanated from the Patent Office. It is strong, dignified, liberal and bold. The constitutional aspect of the whole subject is examined and discussed with judicial clearness. The concluding portion contains an eloquent tribute to inventors, which will be read by them, in all parts of the country, with thrilling interest, and immense satisfaction. He addresses them as the benefactors of their face; and says that it is the duty of the Patent Office, instead of perplexing and discouraging, to take them kindly by the hand, and, if possible, strew their pathway with sunshine and with flowers?
[Remainder omitted. KWD]
State of Affairs at the Patent Office
The decision of all applications for patents is determined, in the first instance, by a corps of officers, termed in the patent law, "Examiners." It is their duty to make the necessary searches to ascertain whether the invention before them possesses novelty and utility; if so, to certify the fact to the Commissioner, who thereupon issues a patent. If novelty and utility are not found to exist, then the Examiners report accordingly, and the application is rejected.
The Commissioner is the chief of the Patent Office, and all its actions are regulated by him. He cannot, of course, make a personal examination of every invention, and decide as to its patentability. But he can, and does, lay down the general rules and principles that are to govern the Examiners in their official actions.
Commissioner Holt, soon after assuming the duties of office, expressed his determination to administer the patent laws in that liberal spirit in which it is so evident they were designed to be applied; and he has thus far carried out his intention with much success.
In a series of decisions, which, as a whole, are everywhere admired for their beautiful diction and sound reasoning, he has given expression to rules and principles for the government of the examining corps, so clear and unmistakable that "he who runs may read."
The younger members of the corps have evinced a ready understanding and prompt concurrence with these expositions; and they endeavor, in all cases, to govern their official actions by them.
But we are sorry to observe that some of the older Examiners, while they do not openly rebel against Commissioner Holt, are, to say the least, very backward, we think, in adopting his rules of action. They profess a willingness to follow his instructions; but, somehow, as compared with the younger members, they are curiously inapt in the practical application of those instructions.
To such a pass does their inaptitude go, that they constantly find themselves unable to agree with their younger brethren, when appeal cases are jointly referred to them. And it is common for inventors who have appeals to present, to entreat the Commissioner not to allow their cases to be referred to certain of the older members; for experience has taught them that they cannot depend upon receiving justice from those sources. Now, we submit that such Examiners are improper persons for appeal boards.
It would, probably, be difficult to find a more able, experienced and industrious corps of scientific men than some of the elder Examiners in the Patent Office. But while we admire their abilities, we cannot too strongly condemn their illiberality. As a clique they seem to have imbibed an inveterate prejudice against inventors, and all who entertain views favorable to a liberal management of the Office. They are filled with the gloomiest forebodings, lest too many patents shall be granted, and not enough rejected. Like the hen with her ducklings, they make a great cry against the younger members, because the latter launch out so boldly in the path of duty and liberality.
The younger members have been tried, and are not found wanting. They are men of talent, prudence, and reliability. Their ideas are in keeping with the times. Their official conduct, thus far, is commended and sustained in the most emphatic manner, not only by the Commissioner of Patents and the Secretary of the Interior, but by inventors and all who have business relations with the Office.
Unless we greatly misapprehend his views, President Buchanan is also in favor of the most liberal administration of the affairs of the Patent Office consistent with prudence and heartily approves of every movement which tends in that direction.
It is folly to suppose that too many patents can be granted. Constant experience proves the contrary. Patent property never commanded such high prices and was never in so great demand as it was just previous to the late commercial crisis; yet the number of patents issued has increased fifty per cent within four years. So long as the Patent office construes the law liberally, but not carelessly; avoiding the issuing of two patents for the same thing, but awarding grants for just what the applicant has invented -- nothing more, nothing less -- under such circumstances the more patents granted the better. It should be the study of the examining officers to see how many patents they can, with any show of propriety, grant -- not how many they can reject.
The liberal system is denounced by a few croakers, through fear that, amid the multiplicity of patents, inventors will impose upon the public. But here again, facts prove the contrary. Never were the public so free from imposition in this respect as at the present time. The greater number of patents, the more careful do purchasers become to avoid being cheated. No man who exercises ordinary prudence will be gulled in the purchase of a patent right. Besides, we repel, with indignation, the idea that inventors are given to such practices. It is notorious that they are generally the victims and sufferers by rascality, but seldom the perpetrators of wrong. Men of thought and genius, engaged in benefiting the world, are rarely seduced into criminal enterprises.
Since the above was written, we learn that Commissioner Holt has appointed a Board of Appeals, to assist him in hearing and reviewing rejected applications. The board is composed of three Chief Examiners, viz., Thomas H. Dodge, DeWitit C. Lawrence, and A.B. Little -- all men of ability and experience. The establishment of this board is a movement of vast importance, and will form the subject of special remark in our next number.
The New Board of Appeals
As announced in our last number, Commissioner Holt has appointed a regular Board of Appeals, consisting of three Chief examiners, whose exclusive duty will be to review all rejected applications that may be duly brought before them. The Board consists of Chief examiners Thomas H. Dodge, DeWitt C. Lawrence, and A.B. Little. Their action will be as follows: Whenever an application for a patent has been twice rejected, the applicant may, in person or by attorney, request a review of his case, on appeal, by the Commissioner. The Board will assist the Commissioner in this duty, by carefully examining and summing up each case for him, rendering to him a written report of the result or opinion to which they arrive. The Commissioner will then decide, finally, in every case, by approving or rejecting the report of the Board, as seems to him most proper.
The establishment of this Board is a movement of great importance. Its necessity has, for a long time, been clearly apparent, but never more so than since the advent of the present Commissioner. His frequently expressed intention to administer the laws with a spirit of broad liberality, and his firmness in practically carrying out whatever he deems to be just and right, have had the effect to inspire confidence in him among the ranks of inventors and all classes. Where injustice has been done to them, they have not been backward in appealing to him for redress, and so far as within his power, they have never appealed in vain. Hundreds of rejected applicants have pressed their suits before him, and have come away rejoicing.
So large has been the number of appeal applicants, and so constantly are they augmenting, that the Commissioner has been utterly unable to review every case in person. It has, therefore, been his custom, as it was of his predecessors, to seek assistance by referring appeals to a special Board, consisting of two Examiners, selected at random from the examining corps. Whenever these Boards happened to be composed of liberal-minded Examiners, a result in harmony with the Commissioner's views was always obtained. But when, as was too frequently the case, the Boards were composed of certain old Examiners or jointly of one elder and one younger member, either injustice was likely to be done to the applicant, or a total disagreement took place. The elder Examiners would generally refuse to sanction the liberal interpretation adopted by the Commissioner, while the younger members would firmly insist in following the instructions of their Chief. The result was, that the labor of review was thrown back upon the Commissioner, and the system of reference, instead of being a relief to him, must, we think, have become a positive nuisance. In addition to the trouble occasioned by the disagreement of the Boards, the Commissioner received frequent complaints of injustice an illiberality on the part of the older members, and was constantly entreated by applicants not to refer their cases to them.
We commend the Commissioner for the calm patience that he has ever exhibited towards the refractory portion of the examining corps. We have often wondered that he did not at once remove them, and supply their places with men who were less disposed to array their personal opinions in opposition to his apparently plain rules. But the measure now adopted will probably restore harmony in the Office without recourse to such an extreme.
One of the most important effects of the creation of the Board of Appeals will be to render the practice and decisions of the Office uniform. The greatest incongruity has heretofore existed, because so "many men of many minds" have been allowed to have their say. Applicants have found by experience that the Office was in the habit of deciding one way today, but just the contrary the day following. Such results were productive of great mischief to applicants, while they also exposed the management of the Office to the jeers and contempt of the public. The Board of Appeals now appointed, if they pursue the course which has heretofore characterized their conduct as Examiners, will be the means of putting an end to all erraticisms, by introducing plain, systematic and uniform rules of action, to be applied inflexibly to every case that comes before them.
The selection of candidates to compose the Board of Appeals must have been a matter of the most serious consideration on the part of the Commissioner. The practice which they adopt will undoubtedly have an important influence upon the future prosperity and destiny of the Office. Their position is one of grave responsibility. They cannot exercise too much care or deliberation in settling upon the course which they are to pursue. In this matter they will doubtless be assisted by the mature counsel of the Commissioner. We could ask for nothing more.
While we rejoice at the opportune movement of Commissioner Holt in establishing the Board of Appeals, we would also express our unequivocal satisfaction of his appointments to that Board. His selection is in the highest degree fortunate. His appointees are all men of firm integrity, reliability, talent and liberality -- the very persons whom applicants would select to hear their appeals, if the choice were left to them. Although belonging to the younger portion of the corps, they are gentlemen of long-tried experience and prudence as examining officers. Their past official action has always given satisfaction; their antecedents are well known. We are confident that they will not disappoint the high expectations that are entertained concerning them.
The course of Commissioner Holt in establishing and appointing this Board of Appeals is but one evidence of his peculiar fitness for the high office which he holds. The beneficial results of his official policy are already felt in every section of the country. If his life is spared, and the same policy continued, we predict that the Patent Office, under his administration, will reach a height of prosperity and usefulness that it never before attained.
Patent Jobs -- Commencement of Lobby Operations
We see that the Chaffee patent is again before Congress, on a petition presented by Mr. Pugh, of Ohio, for its further extension. This may be regarded as the inauguratory operation of the lobby for the session,and the precursor of a host of other jobs or a more or less profitable kind. The presentation of the Chaffee petition is a proof that the Congressional engineers are already at work, and they count upon making a brilliant and profitable campaign of it.
The amount of corruption that will be brought to bear on Congress during the present session will, we believe, be greater than has ever before been known. The result of the Matteson and Gilbert investigation, instead of checking the evil, have given it a greater impulse and extension. The readmission to the floor of the house of the parties expelled for participation in that disgraceful affair has satisfied the lobby men that they have nothing to apprehend from the tone and temper of the present Congress. The profligate bargain by which the spoils connected with the public printing have been portioned out amongst some half dozen political partisans, with the concurrence and assistance of members, is pretty conclusive evidence of the way in which the public interests will be sacrificed. Never before was the lobby so strong, and never were its opportunities for plunder so numerous.
These patent extensions are in themselves an inexaustable mine of wealth to the lobby speculators. Besides the Chaffee interest, there are some three or four others, such as the McCormick reaper, the Colt's pistol and Hayward india rubber extensions, which are sufficient to make the fortunes of all concerned in them. In addition to these, there are land jobs and other fat pickings, from which trading politicians, starving journalists and idle lawyers can all glean something. Uncle Sam's estate may be compared to an Irish patrimony -- it is entailed for the benefit of the hungry and needy.
Under such circumstances, it is of course useless to remonstrate against the injustice of patent monopolies and the perpetuation of the numerous other jobs that are certain to be carried through this session. Corruption is in the ascendant, and the lobby all-powerful. When the country is tired of seeing its most precious interests bartered away by an organized band of blood-suckers who are fattening upon its entrails, it may perhaps think of applying a remedy. In the meanwhile we must be resigned to play the part of Cassandra to an unwilling auditory, and to groan over abuses that we cannot prevent.
[We copy the above from the New York Herald, and we rejoice that this independent journal has opened its batteries in good season and with vigor against the system of lobbying at Washington, which has become a disgrace to our country. The patent extension cases are very important, not only to the parties interested, but to the whole country, and we have been surprised to notice the stupid apathy of the leading journals upon this subject. The Herald is the only daily journal in New York (we had almost said in the United States) that has fully appreciated these cases, and it has dealt them a powerful blow in times past. We hope it will keep on until not one of these schemes shall stand unexposed to public view.]
Patent Committees -- Their Importance
In each House of Congress there is annually appointed a regular "Committee of Patents," the specific duties of which are of great public importance. To these committees are referred all questions relating to science and art which require experiment and investigation; also, all petitions for appropriations to test new and important discoveries of reputed national benefit -- such, for instance, as the first electric telegraph line, from Washington to Baltimore, costing thirty thousand dollars -- likewise the case for which an appropriations of a similar amount was made a few years since to test electro-magnetic engines. To them are also referred petitions for compensation in cases wherein government officials have used patented inventions or discoveries, such as etherization by surgeons in the naval and military hospitals, for which one hundred thousand dollars was wrongfully proposed to be granted. Petitions for the extensions of expired patents are also referred to them, some of which, if secured, may attain to the value of millions of dollars -- such as Wood's patent for the old cast iron plow, which, had it been extended by Congress, would have been the means of unjustly taxing every farmer in our country -- the Woodworth patent -- Colt's pistol -- Hayward's india-rubber scheme, and McCormick's reaper, are similar and well-known cases. All questions relating to the Patent laws, and such like matters, are also referred to them.
Owing to the nature of the business belonging to these committees, it is well known that very large sums of money are frequently at stake, ready to be employed in any manner most advantageous to the interest of the parties who have claims to present. It is well known that members of these committees, in former times, have not been above the insidious approach of the "almighty dollar;" it is therefore highly necessary that these committees should be composed of men above pecuniary and business influences of every kind and character relating to questions brought under their official cognizance. If they are not thus independent, it is easy to perceive that very pernicious measures may be fastened upon the community through their actions, and that the people's money may be given away to charlatans and plotters. The Senators and Representatives appointed on such committees should have characters above suspicion. This is the first qualification to be sought after; the next is the possession of zeal for the promotion of science and art, and warm sympathies towards inventors.
Our attention has been specially directed to this subject by the recent debate which took place in the Senate on the appointment of its Committee on Patents. Senator Hamblin, in objecting to its character, said: "I find a majority of them constituted of Southern Senators. They are worthy men. I make no complaint of the Senators who occupy the positions on these committees; but it is to their sectional cast that I object, and the purposes which we have a right to believe are designed to flow from that organization. That committee is composed of three gentlemen from the Southern and two from the Northern States, giving to that section the control of all its action. While I know, if there is an honest man in this body who will devote his energies honestly to its purpose, I say cheerfully it is the worthy Senator from South Carolina (Mr. Evans); still when we look at the fact, that of the inventive genius and enterprise of the country, more than four-fifths, if not nine-tenths, comes from another section of the Union, I ask, if it were night right, that they might reasonably have expected men who feel a local and personal, as well as a national interest in that department of our government in what relates to arts and inventive genius." Senator Gwin opposed such views, not on party or sectional considerations, but on the justice of the appointments. He said: "What is more just than that it should be composed of men of legal attainments, who in examining important questions connected with patents, will be disinterested so far as their constituents are concerned in passing impartially on these great questions? We had reference to that in putting gentlemen on that committee, from whose States inventions rarely come up, that they may be impartial judges of the questions under consideration."
The two views here presented by these Senators are worthy of notice. Senator Gwin has stated a fact which is honorable to those who had the appointment of this committee -- their ruling motive being the fitness of the Senators for their peculiar duties. We are glad of this; because such motives do not always prevail in the selection of persons for such duties.
The committee consists of Senators Reid, of North Carolina (chairman); Evans, of South Carolina; Yulee, of Florida; Simmons, of Rhode Island, and Trumball, of Illinois. One idea appears to us to have been prominent in the minds of those who sought their appointment, namely, the quality to judge impartially of the cases that may be brought before them respecting the unjust extension of certain expired patents under the management of certain scheming parties, who are now seeking to fasten them once more upon the public. We are happy that this was the first -- because it is the most-important question at this time -- which was considered in the selection of this committee, and we have a guarantee in the character of the Senators appointed, that such schemes will not meet with any favor whatever. But do these gentlemen possess the proper feelings in regard to the progress of the arts -- the great object for which Patent laws were made, in order to encourage and incite inventors to make improvements. It is true, as Senator Hamblin has stated, that the great mass of our inventions come from the Northern States, and it is natural to conclude that members from the North may have more zeal for the interests of inventors and the advancement of the arts; but we have always taken the position that as it relates to inventors, the whole world should be considered as one republic, and that our laws should be framed to meet this view without discrimination, and we would direct the attention of the committee to this point. These laws require amendment in relation to the reduction of fees to foreign inventors, as recommended by the Secretary of the Interior, and if the committee exhibits zeal in the performance of their duties, these laws will certainly be amended at this session.
There are other features of our Patent laws also requiring amendment, and to these we will advert at some future time. So far as the committees of the Senate and House of Representatives are concerned, we have the fullest confidence in their ability and integrity; still we caution them to look sharp after all applications for extensions of patents. There is mischief at the bottom of many of them.
The Patent Office and its Management
Perhaps no other department of the government has been less subjected to the unfavorable criticism of the press and the public, since its organization, than the Patent Office; and we may assert with perfect confidence of its truth, that no other department has been better managed as a general thing, or more free from influences unfavorable to an honorable administration of affairs. The utility of this institution is admitted by all. It was founded in a true appreciation of the value of genius to the development of the material and moral forces of our country; and but for its fostering protection, we should not now occupy the position we have assumed as a nation.
Since the re-organization of the Patent Office under the act of July 4, 1836, the duties of Commissioner have been discharged successively by H.L. Ellsworth, Edmund Burke, Silas H. Hodges, Thomas Ewbank, Charles Mason, and Joseph Holt, the present incumbent; all gentlemen above the suspicion of intentional wrong doing, yet not all equally felicitous in the management of the Office. We begin our brief review of the affairs of the Office at the time when Judge Mason assumed its duties, early in the administration of President Pierce. The department at that time had fallen into a somewhat confused condition, not from any intentional neglect on the part of the officials, but from a want of the executive ability to manage its complex details, which want had been confessedly shown by the preceding head of the Office. The Office had become unpopular with inventors; their claims were unreasonably delayed; and the whole tendency of its affairs was to an almost indescribable mass of confusion. One Examiner would kick like a bull in a China shop, rejecting nearly all the claims which were presented to him, and not hesitating in the least to reprimand either the applicant or his attorney, under the official seal, for presuming to argue against the fallacies of his decisions. Another Examiner would reject the case, and frame his own notions in regard to it; and the applicant might argue and plead in vain for a reversal of the decision, even though the invention might possess patentable novelty.
We recollect a case about the time we refer to -- an improvement in a clock pendulum. It was an excellent thing, and had so been proved by actual use. Upon an examination it was rejected; but not satisfied with the reasons given for its rejection, the attorney appeared before the Examiner on behalf of his client, and after a considerable conversation, the Examiner informed the attorney that he thought he could see just what was new in the invention; but immediately shut off this gleam of hope with the complacent announcement that 'it was not his business to suggest features of novelty." It will force itself upon any one at all conversant with such matters, that the attorney might have guessed half a hundred times without hitting the precise idea which lurked away in the profound cranium of the Examiner. In cases like this, if the applicant was not satisfied with the unsound references cited to overthrow his claims, and persisted in arguing against them, the Office clapped its official action down upon him, with the agreeable announcement, that if not satisfied, an appeal could be taken to the District Court on payment of a fee of $25; and thus in many cases the inventor, for want of means to carry on his appeal, would be deprived of his just rights; but should he appeal, lo! and behold! here is this same Examiner in the Court ready to confront him, in the capacity of an attorney for the Patent Office who had before said he "could see novelty" in the honest man's case, but refused to lift a finger to point it out. When Judge Mason took the Office, he found it like "a nest of unclean birds;" and he set the power of his mind to the devising of plans for its purification. He carefully studied the law under which it was governed, and acquired a knowledge of its letter and spirit. As a disciplinarian he had the nerve to assert his authority, and after becoming familiar with all the details of the Office, he established a system and enforced obedience to it. Appeals could be taken from an Examiner's decision up to the Commissioner, who, with a patience worthy of the patriarchs of old, sifted the chaff from the wheat, and over-ruled many wrong-headed, unjust decisions. This course necessarily entailed upon him a vast amount of labor, (though he could perform more than most men,) so much, in fact, that he was compelled -- previous to his leaving the Office -- to call special assistance in deciding appeal cases. Judge Mason performed a herculean labor; but before his views were completely established, he retired, respected and beloved by all; and yet, strange to say, Congress paid no sort of attention to his recommendations, and he left the Office under the same laws as existed at his entrance. Not a change was made, and not one of his views received favorable action from that authority which alone had the power to legislate upon them.
Without solicitation by, and against the wishes of the appointee, the Commissionership was tendered to Mr. Holt, who at first refused it; but upon the pressing urgency of the President he accepted the charge, and at once entered vigorously upon the performance of his duties. He also made himself acquainted with the law, and in his report to Congress, dated Jan. 20, 1858, he gave an expression to his views in relation to it. They are eminently worthy of his head and heart; and we say, without the slightest word of qualification, that no similar document -- we make no exception -- ever received such general commendation from inventors.
Commissioner Holt's policy is an advance in the right direction upon that which he found upon entering the Office. He has grasped the whole subject, and is earnestly working to establish the Office upon a sound and just basis. One of his first acts was to select from among his Chief Examiners an Appeal Board of three individuals, to whom cases could be carried from the decision of primary Examiners. He was fortunate in this selection, so far as the interests of inventors are concerned; but he was unfortunate in not being able to please every Examiner in the Patent Office. Some of them kicked against his judgment, but without avail; he would not recede. The growling and snarling continued, but suddenly the doors are opened, and some of the growlers are bid to seek repose outside of the spot wherein they were evidently so uncomfortable; and we say emphatically, that the Office is better for these changes, and we say further that it is clearly the duty of every employee in the Office to resign, unless they can lend their obedience to the rightful authority of the Office. The responsibility falls upon the Commissioner, and upon him alone; and in the name of common sense, we submit that the subordinate officers have no business to undertake to subvert his authority. Commissioner Holt is not the man to tamely submit to this species of dictation. He will listen to advice, he is glad to receive it, but it is unlike him to suffer his honest judgment of what is right, to be defied or trampled upon by those who should look to him for their proper action. This independent course of the Commissioner, while it is working admirably to the advantage of the Office, and to the entire satisfaction of those who have claims before it, has incited rebellion and provoked opposition, which has shown itself in the shape of a patent bill, published in the Scientific American, No. 25, and in certain dirty squibs which have appeared in one of the prominent daily papers of this city. They have been the offspring of malice; and of course, truth has been perverted to render them useful in serving the selfish ends of their propagators.
The Washington Union, under date of the 5th inst., condescends to notice these silly and malicious attacks, and by an appeal to the facts, derived from the records of the Patent Office, completely upsets them, and exposes their sophistry in a manner somewhat damaging to the assailants. They want very much to drive Commissioner Holt from the Office. He stands in their way, but it is not at all likely that he will please them in this matter.
Legislation upon the Patent Laws
The constitution of the United States confers upon Congress the power to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing to inventors the exclusive right to their discoveries for a limited time, and to make all necessary laws for carrying into execution such power. The first act having this object in view was passed on the 10th of April, 1790. Under this act, the fee required for receiving and filing a petition for a patent was only fifty cents! Two dollars were required for making out the patent, and an extra charge of one dollar was made for affixing the great seal. We suppose this great seal bore some resemblance to the mammoth turnip-like appendage which the British government is wont to attach to similar documents at the present day. Subsequent to this act, the power of Congress was invoked to amend it by the passage of bills during the years 1793 and 1794; also in 1800, 1819, and 1832. With the progress of the country, and the necessary demand for increased facilities to meet the wants of commerce, agriculture, and the industrial arts generally, it became evident that a more comprehensive and better system of protection was required to guard the rights of that class who alone could furnish the means necessary to develop those great interests. The next attempt at legislation on this subject was made during the years 1836-7, under the administration of President Jackson. Hitherto the system was almost "without form and void." The power to grant or refuse a patent was delegated to the Secretaries of State and War, and to the Attorney General. No examination was made into questions of novelty; it was left discretionary with those functionaries to grant a patent or not, according to their own notions of utility in the invention presented to them. This relic of a barbarous age is still continued in some European countries, and finds a warm defender in M. Jobard, of Belgium -- an able writer, and one whose knowledge upon this subject could be worthily employed in breaking it down, instead of defending it against a successful experience of twenty years under an opposite system in this country. The acts of 1836-37 were steps in the right direction. Previous to this time there were few applications for patents, and there was no security even in the issue of a patent, owing to the want of revision by men of artistic knowledge and experience. No one feared to infringe a patent, and the reputation of this species of property was so bad that it was with great difficulty that patentees could induce capitalists to aid them in bringing out their improvements.
The statute of 1836 changed the whole aspect of this matter. Confidence was inspired, and a stimulus was given to men of true genius who had hitherto kept out of a field mainly occupied by pretenders. The history of the progress of invention and discovery in our country is in a general way familiar to all intelligent readers; and if those who seem to delight to scoff at the sons of genius, because they sometimes exhibit an undue zeal for some ignis fatuus, will but reflect a moment, they will at once see that, without this useful class of patient thinkers, the world would be trudging along at a snail pace. The acts of 1836-7, considered as a whole, constitute a patent system the most perfect ever devised by the wit of man. It has not only wrought wonderful things for our country, but it has also thrown the shield of its protection over the rights of the inventor, and thus interposing, it guards both interests with judicious care. It is due to the memory of Hon. John Ruggles, then United States Senator from Maine, to acknowledge his indefatigable exertions in this matter. He devoted himself to this subject with equal zeal and success, from the inception of the bill to its final signature by the President, and at a time when his term of office was about to expire. Like all other works of human wisdom, however, time and experience have traced upon it certain slight imperfections, and it is necessary that Congress should know what they are, in order to legislate upon them in a proper manner.
The history of every attempt at patent law legislation, since the passage of the amendment of 1842, has resulted in failure. It is true many attempts at reforms have been made; conventions pretending to represent inventors have been held, but were composed generally of speculators and schemers; lawyers skilled in all the intricacies of their profession have been consulted, and of course could stop short of nothing but a "new code," more complicated with details than the first. The press has fulminated in its views upon this subject with a zeal sometimes not according to knowledge. Senators and Representatives have from time to time peered into these mysterious statutes, seeming to wonder what all this rigmarole is about; and if they have not confessed it, their action has usually indicated either a profound ignorance or a stolid indifference to the whole subject. Senator James, of Rhode Island, tried his hand at this business while he was in the Senate, and made a sad blunder. Mr. Taylor has during this session unwittingly adopted a bill which, we doubt not, he is now ashamed of; and so the matter has gone on with all the irregularity of a disordered clock until now.
A very sensible movement was made during the last Congress, by the House Committee on Patents, to amend the laws; a bill was reported, printed, and -- neglected. There was no one to engineer it through, as no one in particular was likely to be benefited by its passage. If it had only contained a clause which could be tortured into a revival of some dead patents, the bill would have had friends among the gang of lobbyists who seem to hover about the Capitol, watching their own interests like crows over a dead carcass.
The bill reported by Senator Evans, as published in the last number of the Scientific American, is altogether the most sensible movement at reform in the patent law that has been attempted for many years. It wisely ignores the lobby gang, and confines itself to a few simple changes in the present admirable system, without undertaking to tear down and build anew.
We will briefly sum up the disabilities which are designed to be removed by this bill. It confers upon the Commissioner the power to compel the attendance of witnesses in contested cases pending before the Patent Office. At present the Commissioner has no power whatever in such cases; and it is oftentimes exceedingly difficult to adjudicate upon them, for the want of such testimony as he cannot secure, unless he is willing to pay experts, which, of course, he will not do. The cause of justice and truth can oftentimes be maintained by the proper exercise of the power proposed to be conferred on the Commissioner by this bill. It is unnecessary for us to argue in favor of the establishment of an Appeal Board to hear and decide upon rejected cases. We have already fully exhibited its great importance, in previous articles. It is working now most admirably, and should become an established branch of the Patent Office. If this Appeal Board does not do justice to the applicant, he can appeal his case to the Commissioner upon the payment of a moderate fee, instead of being compelled to take it to an outside tribunal. The bill dispenses with models of designs, and authorizes the Commissioner to restore to applicants or otherwise dispose of all models of rejected cases. The utility of this provision of the bill must be apparent to all. A very large space in the Patent Office is given up as a sort of receiving tomb for this class of models; they are in a state of wretched disorder -- covered with dust and rust. Many of them cost much money to the applicants who would gladly receive them back, and they are certainly of no use to the Patent Office, as the drawings and specifications are retained for reference.
This bill, should it become a law, will wipe from our statute book an ugly blot which has disgraced it for many years past. We refer to that feature which specifies that a British subject shall pay $500 on making his application for a patent, and all other foreigners shall pay $300. We can scarcely call to our aid language sufficiently strong to express our abhorrence of this contemptible discrimination. The English press has spoken against it with great justice, and we confess to a sense of humiliation when we look this matter full in its face. We are glad this bill proposes to abolish the needless and indecent distinction, and thus invite upon one common platform the sons of genius from every quarter of the globe.
The present system of allowing two-thirds of the patent fee to be withdrawn in cases of rejection is undoubtedly a bad one. There are claims of this character resting against the Patent Office running over a space of twenty years; they are liable to be presented at any time; and are sufficient in amount to bankrupt the Office. We are confident that we but speak the sentiment of every reflecting inventor, when we say that this system should be abolished without delay. The schedule of fees is, on the whole, very satisfactory. We think, however, that a fee of ten instead of twenty dollars would be sufficient to require from an applicant on an appeal to the Commissioner of Patents; and that ten cents per hundred words is quite sufficient for certified copies of papers deposited in the Office. We hope the committee will make these changes; or else the above tax is likely to bear very heavily upon a few, particularly that clause in regard to certified copies.
We have now presented a brief and necessarily imperfect view of the history of patent law legislation in this country, together with a synopsis of the bill now before Congress. it is an important subject; one which ought to receive earnest attention. This bill is the best amendment which has been reported since 1837, and deserves to be incorporated into the statute book without delay. Will it be done? We have strong fears on this point. The committee are cautious and need to receive strong assurances that there is no snake in the grass; and we call upon inventors throughout the country to write at once to their Congressional Representatives, urging upon them the importance of the bill. Members of Congress are strangely indifferent to this whole subject; political questions absorb their attention; and thus inventors are forgotten. Opposition to the passage of this bill it is expected will be made by those whose selfish schemes have been frustrated, and who would like to saddle down inventors by a complicated system which would destroy their future prospects. Inventors will you remain unconcerned in this matter? or will you do something to aid the passage of this simple bill as reported by Senator Evans?
Congress and the Patent Office Reports
For the past fifteen years, Congress has been in the habit of publishing annual reports of the proceedings and business transacted at the Patent Office. As this department has increased in usefulness, the reports have increased in size and interest; and from a meager little volume, they have gradually swelled to three volumes of what are called the "mechanical reports," which contain the claims of every patent issued and a short description of the machine, accompanied with suitable engravings to illustrate it, together with another volume, devoted entirely to agriculture. Of the many reports and collaborations published by our government, the mechanical reports of the Patent Office are the most valuable and interesting, for they contain a fund of information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. The "agricultural report" is, we think, an almost unnecessary book; it contains little original matter, and every subject there mentioned, generally speaking, has been quite as well treated in the numerous agricultural journals of the country.
It has been the habit of Congress to annually print several thousand extra copies of these useful reports, and give them to the Senators for distribution among their constituents; but this year, the Chairman of the Committee on Printing, (Mr. Johnson,) with a false idea of economy, proposes to save thirty thousand dollars by printing only a greatly reduced number of copies, and giving them principally to Senators for distribution, and thus cutting off the hitherto generous supply furnished to the Commissioner of Patents, who knows better how to dispose of them than any other functionary. Mr. Johnson gives what at first seem to be many excellent reasons for this retrograde step, but really all resolve themselves into a fact long established and well-known, namely, that the copies are not distributed among the right persons; and Senators do not take the amount of interest which they should in the distribution of the books given to them for that purpose. We think that if Congress will leave the mechanical division alone, and retrench on the agricultural, the country will be better served. On the motion of Mr. Wilson, it was decided to restrict the Commissioner to a report of one volume of eight hundred pages -- engravings and all. This is indeed a wholesale slaughter! The report of 1856 consisted of seventeen hundred and fifty pages; yet the Senators, in their wisdom, expect the report of 1857, of which there is as much, or more, to be compressed into one thousand pages less. Notwithstanding that the honorable gentlemen who form the committee cannot appreciate much that is in a Patent Office Report, yet all inventors know the value of them. The Commissioner's report is already written -- part of it has appeared in our columns -- and to cut it down would be an act of barbarism.
This matter had better be reconsidered; and when the subject comes before the House, we hope that some member will be found to lay the matter calmly and firmly before that body. Inventors at the present time sadly want a champion in Congress, and the advent of such a hero we should gladly hail; perhaps the present occasion may call one out -- we hope so. At any rate, we would ask the Senators and Representatives to be well posted in the pro's and con's of the case, and coolly weight its merits and demerits before they decide on so important a subject.
If we consulted only our own personal interest in this matter, we should be glad to have the most narrow views on this subject prevail. It would aid the circulation of the Scientific American very materially if inventors and patentees were obliged to look into its columns as the only source of information about patent claims; but we take no such narrow, selfish view of the matter; and while we condemn everything which appears like needless expense in the affairs of the nation, we cannot advocate this particular mode of retrenchment.
The Patent Office Reports have become exceedingly valuable; they constitute a history of invention from year to year, and supply a want which no weekly journal could meet.
The Agricultural Division of the Patent Office
Some newspapers whose editors were evidently in want of matter for their respective journals have been making a series of assaults on the agricultural division of the Patent Office, and directing their remarks chiefly against Mr. D.J. Browne, the conductor of that department, charging him with having sent persons to Europe at the government expense, complaining that the seeds were not properly distributed and condemning the agricultural reports. In consequence of this, the Chairman of the agricultural committee of the House of Representatives wrote to the Commissioner of Patents for an account of this department, requesting him to give an epitome of Mr. Browne's history and qualifications. Commissioner Holt replies in one of those elegant, elaborate and yet concise reports for which he has already become noted, and gives such information as clearly satisfied the committee that the charges were false and the assaults unworthy and unprovoked. The Washington Union printed this report, and from it we gain the following information.
By means of this department many new and valuable seeds, plants and cuttings have been sent to all parts of the country, where seed stores were inaccessible, and thus the farmer who tills the ground that forms the outskirts of civilization, has an equal chance with, and can produce the same varieties of vegetables and fruits as the farmer who cultivates the soil closer to the busy haunts of man. Again, there are many plants, such as the Brassica tribes, the cabbages and turnips, for example, which deteriorate in this climate, they ripen and grow too fast, the insect attacks the leaves, and thus the plant becomes daily more coarse, and the seed loses power and health, while in Europe they attain perfection, few insects attack them, and as there are more people for a given amount of labor, more attention is paid to their cultivation. This department, then, actually blesses our land by superintending the importation and distribution of fresh seed which will tend to improve our own varieties.
The Commissioner takes the opportunity to make some suggestions for improving the distribution, but states that at present "the utmost care is exercised to secure accuracy, justice, and dispatch in these important duties," and his only complaint is that he has not sufficient to supply the demand.
Of the Agricultural Report he speaks highly and thinks it of great importance, but on this point we have our own opinion which we have not hesitated frequently to express.
The testimonial which Commissioner Holt pays to the scientific attainments of Mr. Browne, shows him to be not only exactly "the right man in the right place," but also a gentlemen whose knowledge of agriculture is the result of actual experience on farms or plantations, and has gained his information as a scientific explorer in nearly all parts of the world, as a railway and canal engineer, as a chemist working in his laboratory, as an author in his study, as an editor in his sanctum, ever having at heart the improvement of agriculture in America. It is therefore a credit to the nation to have such a man in the position which he holds, and the position is a proper reward for his valuable services in the cause of practical science.
Goodyear's India Rubber Extension Case
Messrs. Editors -- The important Goodyear's vulcanized india rubber extension case has been progressing at the Patent Office this week. The patent of Chas. Goodyear for vulcanized gum elastic, dated June 15, 1844, expires on the 15th of this month, unless the Commissioner grants an extension of seven years before the expiration of that date.
This patent of Goodyear's consists in treating rubber with sulphur and heat. The friends or licensees of Goodyear have put forth the most strenuous efforts to obtain an extension of this patent, and the public has also been actively engaged in opposing the extension.
The Examiner, Dr. Thos. Antisell, who has the case in charge, after an immense amount of labor, has presented a very able and elaborate report in the matter. It shows that Chas. Goodyear has personally received $114,000 profit from the vulcanizing patent alone, and after pointing out that great discrepancies existed in the account furnished by Mr. Goodyear in his petition, it recommends that perhaps the extension had better be granted, as it seems hard to send such a man of genius into the world penniless at the age of 58, who has done so much for the encouragement of the arts. It is also alleged by Mr. Goodyear, in his petition, that he is poor and in very feeble health.
Messrs. Blatchford and Brady, eminent lawyers from New York, are counsel for Goodyear, and Stoughton, Greenough, Stansbury, and others, counsel for the American and European public.
The case in behalf of the latter was very ably argued by Mr. Stoughton of New York, and in behalf of Goodyear by Mr. Brady, in a very learned and dignified manner.
The case will be decided by the Commissioner before the 15th inst., and doubtless, a just decision will be tendered, as he is fully qualified to decide in a matter of this magnitude. It is alleged that millions of money hang on this case.
Mr. Goodyear is certainly a man of genius, as the hundred different applications of his invention now on exhibition in the gallery of the Patent Office abundantly testify; among which may be seen almost every kind of stationary articles, carpetings, tents, awnings, coverings, spreads; house, ship, and camp utensils; packing, sheathing, and caulkings; valves, stops, springs, wearing apparel, life preservers, beds, combs; surgical, medical, and philosophical instruments, and a host of other things too numerous to mention.
Washington, June 11, 1858
[Our correspondent will notice in another place an article bearing upon the extension of patents by the Commissioner. This is, undoubtedly, a very important case, of which fact, no doubt, the Commissioner is fully impressed. It strikes us as somewhat queer that if Goodyear has received $114,000 for the vulcanizing patent alone, he should now appear before the Patent Office "penniless at the age of fifty-eight." We shall be able to give the decision in the case next week.]
The Fate of the Patent Bill
Congress has adjourned. Many days of the session have been spent in unprofitable discussion, sometimes involving bitter, disgraceful, personal reflection and aspersion. Many speeches have been made for the ear of the constituent, of no practical moment to the national weal; and we fear that many bills have passed that may be denominated "useless legislation," while many really important measures have utterly failed, because compelled to stand on their own merits, with no aid from the lobby to lubricate their passage.
In reference to the all-important subject that most concerns the interests of inventors, viz., amendments to the patent law, we are compelled to reiterate the same old story -- nothing done. European inventors, who seem so unsophisticated in reference to the doings of an American Congress, and apparently think that the mere reporting of a bill is a certain sign of its passage, will regret to hear that the much-desired result, so long hoped for, so confidently anticipated, and so urgently pressed during the session, has been blown to the winds.
An English inventor, because he happens to have been born within the domains of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, must, upon presenting his applications for a patent in this country, still continue to pay the outrageous sum of $500. The Frenchman, born just across the English Channel, with no more legal merit, but only because he happens to be a Frenchman, has only to pay $300 for the same privilege. In fact, the children of our venerable friend "Bull" are the only ones who are thus singled out and made to pay the enormous patent fee of $500. Year after year we have uttered our protest against this unjust discrimination, and session after session the Patent Committees have made a most feeble and ineffectual attempt to secure a just and honorable reduction. There has been no opposition to this charge -- not a single American journal -- not a single American inventor -- not a single interest of any kind, so far as we can learn, has interposed the slightest barrier to its success; and yet it has failed again, while the public have been made to pay for a mass of legislation scarcely fit to be recorded on the pure parchment upon which it is engrossed.
We speak now in no partisan spirit. We have heard members of all political parties assert that our legislation, as a general thing, whether State or national, has of late years been characterized by wrangling disputes, or been wasted in scheming through measures of a selfish and corrupt nature. Among those useful departments of the government which have been almost wholly neglected by Congress, for many years past, is the Patent Office; and our legislation seems to have become so corrupt that all honest attempts, however few and far between, seem instantly to arouse a great deal of suspicion. An honorable citizen who appears at Washington to enlighten our public functionaries upon defects noticeable in some one of our departments, is instantly set upon as a "free wool" customer, and is branded accordingly. Attempts were made, near to the close of the session, by Senators Simmons and Yulee, both members of the Committee on Patents, to engraft on the general appropriation bills certain salutary resolutions in regard to the fees of the Patent Office, and for paying the salaries of the Examiners, none of which propositions prevailed. One day Senator Yulee tries to get an amendment passed, and Senator Simmons opposes. In a day or two afterwards, Simmons tries to get his amendment passed, and fails. We cannot learn from the Congressional Globe whether Yulee opposed Simmons or not; but the whole matter, including the discussion which it elicited, seems to have been about as irregular as racing of a yoke of steers. Senator Hale, of New Hampshire, representing more immediately than many other Senators an ingenious constituency,came forward in the discussion as an antagonist of the general bill reported by the Committee on Patents, and remarked that "from the imperfect knowledge I had of the matter, I thought I saw in that bill some things that were crude and imperfect, and I notified the Committee on Patents that, when it was called up, I should be prepared to say something in opposition to the measure." Now with all proper deference to the wit and wisdom of the Senator, we are curious to know what he thought he saw in his imperfect examination of the bill, to warrant him in announcing his settled hostility to its passage. What "spectre in white" could have flitted across his vision, and so disturbed his judgment in respect to a measure that had met not only the sanction of the Commissioner of Patents, but also the unanimous approval of the Committees of both houses of Congress?
Senator Hale, in some remarks made a few days later, takes us somewhat behind the scenes, and intimates his opinions that "political considerations have influenced the appointment and turning out of Commissioners, and the appointment of Examiners, confessedly without the qualifications necessary to the office." Now from an extensive experience of twelve years' practice in the business of the Patent Office, we are prepared to say that Mr. Hale is mistaken. We are of the opinion, and we reach it independent of the clamor of politicians, or the lachrymose cry of some dissatisfied ex-official, that the qualifications of the present examining corps, as a body, are quite equal to those possessed by any previous members of that body, and furthermore, that the present corps of Examiners are much superior in the exercise of proper discrimination and liberal judgment towards the claims of inventors. It is our deliberate conviction, without intending to impute moral delinquency to any one, that the removals which have occurred in the Patent Office during the past two or three years have been useful; and that if those old Examiners had been retained, the revenue of the Office would have been much less than it now is. Inventors had become discouraged, and felt that their claims were most unjustly disposed of. Senator Hale, before he fully launches out in his meditated assault upon the Patent Office, will have to take soundings with great care, or else he may be like one "running amuck with a windmill." The patent bill reported at the last session is not a perfect one, but it is the nearest approach to perfection that we have ever met with in the history of Congressional tinkering with the patent laws, for about twenty years past. We venture to assert that the inventors of New Hampshire, and indeed, all those of the whole country, will heartily approve the action of Congress whenever it shall pass this plausible bill.
The Patent Office Structure
"One of the most beautiful, substantial and appropriate structures in the world is the Patent Office, as it is called, in this city. We do not like its designation, which belittles the building and deceives every man who reads of it. The Patent Office! of course it is some public building, suitable for the deposit of models and the record of great and little inventions. Suppose we call it the Department of the Interior -- that greatest of all departments in this great country, which is to be enlarged until its records shall embrace a history of the products, the genius, the skill, the science, the learning, the overshadowing magnitude of the nation.
The Department of the Interior, then, is enclosed in one of the most unique and substantial public edifices in this or any other country. We do not care to speak of its cost; it doubtless cost enough, and too much, unless at some future day it shall be made to cost more by the extension of the space around it. No private individual would ever risk his name and fame upon the construction and grounds of the Department of the Interior. It is constructed like a store on Broadway or Chestnut street, on just ground enough for its foundations. You come upon it suddenly, and look almost heavenward to see the finest building in America. It is cramped in between dwelling houses, stores, stables, groceries, and liquor shops, encouraged a little at a single point, just across the street, by the magnificent Post Office Department.
Is it not possible even to rescue that noble structure from the Vandalism of its surroundings? Is it beyond the line of our economy to clear away the rubbish of two or three of its fronts, and to exhibit the Interior Department as it is to the admiring beholder.
The above article appears as an editorial in the Washington Union of the 23d ult. -- the recognized organ of the government. It is got up in a bungling manner, and yet its origin sheds upon it a peculiar significance. Had it come from any other source, we should have simply regretted it; but when we discover what seems to be a grave and serious attempt on the part of some one connected with the government, speaking through its organ, to divert one of the noblest institutions of the nation from its original purposes and legitimate design, we feel compelled to utter our protests against it. It is known to our readers that since the organization of the Department of the Interior, under the administration of General Taylor, the Patent Office has been subordinated to it; and true to the spirit "give me an inch and I'll take an ell," a systematic scheme of encroachment has gone on ever since, seemingly intended to rob inventors of that noble building, to the erection of which they have contributed between three and four hundred thousand dollars, and to appropriate it to such uses as were never contemplated by its founders. The Patent Office, the pride of every intelligent citizen, the store house and monument of the ingenuity and skill of our countrymen, is threatened with a species of annihilation, which, if suffered to be carried into execution, will wipe out its very existence in name, swallow up its independence, and convert it into an appendage of the Department of the Interior, as a mere tenant-at-will, liable, upon the sudden fancy of some Secretary, to be hustled out of the building, and thus the vast collection of models now generally so well preserved, may be stored away, perchance, in some shed or building wholly unfit for their preservation. Such a state of things is possible, it is even probable; for when we see it seriously announced that "the very designation of Patent Office belittles the building, and deceives every man who reads it," we are prepared to hear the assertion, as applied to the archives and models of the Patent Office, "your room is better than your company;" and upon the ipse dixit of some capricious Secretary, whose pride of office and power may be jostled by the too close proximity of a collection of models of "great and little inventions" -- to quote from the article in the Union -- they may be ordered to be turned out to find shelter elsewhere, and thus preserve to himself an agreeable aristocracy of position.
After all that has been thought of the magnificence of the Patent Office, and of its importance to the country, and in the midst of all the great achievements of Art, Science and Industry, the Union has come to this lame and impotent conclusion, that it "belittles" a stone building in Washington to call it a "Patent Office," even though its associations are connected with the Cotton Gin, the Steam Engine, the Electric Telegraph, the Reaper, the Planing Machine, and a thousand other useful improvements, without which we could not have made the signal progress which marks our history.
Well, we do not know that we ought to be amazed at this extraordinary proposition. The treatment of men of genius since the world began, has been and still is in accordance with these belittling practices. They have been set upon at every turn of their history by a set of men sharper than themselves; they have been laughed at by those who were scarcely fit to brush the dust from their models; and, under what may prove to be a deceptive guise, they have been inveigled by the government out of contributions amounting to between three and four hundred thousand dollars for the purpose of building an edifice as a depository for the sacred preservation of their models and documents, and now it is discovered that it will no longer do to call the building a "Patent Office" -- that its distinctive character must be absorbed, because forsooth the title "belittles" it and "deceives every man who reads it."
We are curious to know by what system of reasoning the designation of a building as the "Patent Office" can be termed a deception. Why does not the same charge of deception equally apply to the War, the Navy, or the Treasury Department? Simply, in our judgment, because the universal popularity of the Patent Office and the noble proportions of the structure (designed by the late Wm. P. Elliot, of Washington) diminish that magnitude which might otherwise attach to the Department of the Interior. The United States Government is the trustee of the patent fund; a large part of that fund has been expended on the Patent Office, and the government is sacredly bound to preserve the building from perversion or improper encroachment.
Let the Department of the Interior remain where it is, until a suitable building can be erected for its accommodation; then remove it, and let the Patent Office go on in undisputed possession; for, at the present rate of progress, the whole building will eventually be needed for the transaction of its business.
We believe that the article copied from the Union will shock the generous sentiments of the American people. It is wrong in principle and degrading in its tendency. It will meet with no sympathy from the majority of our citizens; while, so far as the great body of inventors is concerned, it will be frowned upon with indignation, as it should be.
The Patent Office Structure
We are pleased to observe that the independent press, understanding the unmistakable intention of the late article on the above subject in the Washington Union, follows our example, and administers to the author a fitting rebuke for the gratuitous insult conveyed to the meritorious inventors of our country, and the effort to eventually wrest from them the noble building to whose erection they have contributed so largely. A writer in the Washington Star, in the course of a communication in answer to the gentleman who wrote the article, says:
"The building has the right name now, and it should not be changed; especially as inventive genius, patentees, and inventors have contributed largely towards its erection. The Patent Office is nearly a self-sustaining institution, and it would be quite so if Congress would only modify the law, as at present required. Its name, at least, should stand the same as long as the arts, sciences and agriculture flourish, or American liberty stands, as there is no department of the government of half the importance to the people at large as is the Patent Office and the Patent Office Reports. To this every Member of Congress can attest, by the great demand for the Reports by their constituents.
As to the Interior Department, of which the writer referred to speaks so highly, there is no one who disagrees with him. It is a department of great utility to the country, and no one should wish to rob it of an iota of its great power and good influence, especially under the able, judicious, and honest management of its present chief. But a building for this great department, it is believed, should be erected separate from the Patent Office -- one that would amply accommodate its numerous bureaus, and one equal in every respect to the magnitude of its business."
The Washington Star is no less earnest in its denunciation of this attempt to divert the building from its original and legitimate design, and in answer to the Union, makes the following appropriate remarks:
"The Union seems to regard the name of 'Patent Office' as too insignificant to be applied to so noble a structure. On the contrary, we think the name suggestive of the grant, lofty, and ennobling; and that no building can rise, even in imagination, as too splendid to enshrine the model machinery of inventors -- true benefactors of mankind. The press on which it prints its ideas of the insignificant 'Patent Office' should teach it to be grateful to the genius that gives it the facilities it possesses -- the rollers that ink its type, the type itself, its news by telegraph, the gas that turns night into day in its office, in fact, almost everything it enjoys should admonish it to look with admiration and even awe on the god-like production of genius.
Inventors, as a portion of the productive utilitarian classes, are the true nobility of our land. By them, and for them, governments are instituted. The name 'Patent Office' indeed adds dignity to the building, because it suggests and embodies the power and might of American genius, progress and sovereignty. It is in a Patent Office that the American people can best be seen and appreciated, for there is embodied much indeed of their mind -- of that which distinguishes them from all other nations."