Scientific America, v 15 (ns) no 2, p 23, 7 July 1866
Free and Easy Legislation on Patents
On the 25th ult., Senator Cowan, chairman of the Patent Committee, reported a bill for the extension of Thos. D. Burrall's patent for a corn sheller; he also reported a bill for the extension of Thos. W. Harvey's patent for the manufacture of wood screws; also for the extension of Stephen R. Parkhurst's patent for ginning cotton and burring wool. It remains to be seen what action the Senate will finally take in regard to those important measures.
Mr. Cowan reported the House bill, which provides for the payment of a ten-dollar tax on all cases taken from the primary Examiner, on appeal, to the Examiner-in-Chief. After the Senator had stated the nature of the bill, the following debate took place:
Mr. Cowan. -- I will merely state that an application for a patent is first referred to the primary Examiner, and if the decision is adverse there is an appeal to the Board of Examiners, but on that appeal there is no fee now paid. It is complained in the Office that parties do not appear before the primary Examiners, because they can appeal without any additional cost; and it is therefore thought to be advisable, for the purpose of compelling them to attend to the case before the primary Examiners, that there should be an appeal fee, to be paid before going to the Examiners-in-Chief. The committee think this is proper, and have therefore recommended the passage of the bill.
Mr. Grimes -- Is that all there is in the bill?
Mr. Cowan -- That is all.
The bill was reported to the Senate, ordered to a third reading, read the third time, and passed.
Thus a bill which will draw from the pockets of inventors between $4,000 and $5,000, annually, passed without a show of opposition. Mr. Cowan's, "That is all," satisfied the Senate, and the thing was done.
We regret the success of this unjust measure. The Patent Office has nearly $150,000 surplus funds, and does not need to tax inventors any more for the privileges they now enjoy.
A Just Measure
In a previous number we stated that the bill to pay Examiners in the Patent office, for extra service rendered by them, had passed Congress. A dispatch to the Associated Press made it appear that the money thus appropriated was to come from the Treasury, which is not the case. The facts are simply these: Soon after the breaking out of the rebellion the number of applications for patents was greatly reduced, which carried also a considerable reduction in the patent fund, and in order to comply with the law making the Patent office a self-sustaining bureau, the Commissioner was obliged to reduce the salaries of Examiners and Assistant Examiners below the amounts fixed by law, which was the best course he could adopt as a temporary expedient, as it could not be regarded as wise to remove experienced Examiners in such a contingency, which was not likely to last for a long time. During the years from 1852 to 1860, the average number of cases examined per man was one hundred and forty-two; from 1860 to 1865 the average was two hundred and forty -- an increase of eighty-two percent. This increased amount of labor was done on reduced salaries and at a time when the cost of living was double what it was before the war broke out. The Examiners, as a body, are a faithful, laborious, intelligent set of men, and, at best, are not overpaid for their services, and now that the patent fund has so largely augmented, there is great justice in the act of Congress which authorized the Commissioner to pay Examiners and Assistants out of the patent fund for services actually performed by them.
Mr. Wentworth, of Illinois, attempted to defeat the bill, but his effort did not produce any effect. Mr. Jenckes, the mover of the bill, and to whom much credit is due, meet all the objections, and the bill passed by a large majority.
The Canadian Patent Laws
We find in both branches of the Legislature the Patent Laws of the Province have again been receiving considerable ventilation. This is a sort of stock subject which comes up session by session, and numerous futile attempts have been made to get them altered, but most generally by parties desiring to favor American inventors, or perhaps we should say, the owners of patents in the United States, who, in many cases, have got hold of processes and machines invented in other countries, which they have managed to get patents for in their own country. Our Government have all along resisted the attempts to change the law in a direction to afford greater facilities to our Republican neighbors to get exclusive rights of manufacture or sale for their notions and nostrums in Canada, believing that when the question of a renewal of the Reciprocity Treaty came again on the tapis, the concession would count for something; but their were evidently reckoning without their host, for Brother Jonathan never so much as adverted to the subject, or if he did, we must have overlooked the matter. No, no! he was too much impressed with the magnificent advantages he had to offer us, or perhaps we should say, to withhold from us, to advert to such a trifle as the introduction of his patents into the Provinces. But to return to our muttons, our rules seem to have abandoned the idea of keeping the door close shut against foreign inventions, be they American, French, or Chinese. Not that they have proposed a new policy, or offered to bring in a measure to change the law, but they recommend, or rather suggest, to Parliament, that hereafter, each application for a patent right should be received and considered solely upon its merits; that is, that the advantage of the introduction of such a patent into the country should be examined with reference to the country itself, and not so much, if at all, with reference to the inventor or patentee. This seems reasonable enough; but the Honorable Mr. Ferrier, in the Legislative Council, further suggested, and, as it appears to us, very properly, that, in granting rights of this kind, it should always be made a condition that the article or thing to be produced or manufactured under such a patent should be produced or manufactured in the Province. This was hitting the nail right on the head; for, in the past, rights have been granted by special legislation to aliens who, when once in possession of their parchment, went away and very coolly informed us that if we wanted the article they had acquired the exclusive privilege to make or to sell, we must go to Connecticut, Baltimore, or some other equally accessible place where the manufactory was situated, lost time, pay the packing, freight, and duty, or go without. But for these patents, our own handicraftsmen would have made the machines, and sold them at half price; and so our people, instead of being benefited by the arrangement, were in fact injured. Of course our neighbors complain that we pirate their inventions, and, although it may be an ugly word, there is probably some truth in the allegation; but then, if the American patents were very rigidly inquired into, we apprehend a very considerable number would be found to have been got in the same way from other nations, and not a few from Canada. But we apprehend it hardly comes with very good grace from the American people to complain of this wrong, when they themselves have obstinately resisted all attempts at the establishment of an international copyright law, or, in other words, an international patent law for books. They have all along helped themselves to the best without saying so much as "by your leave," and, until recently, could undersell all other nations, for the simple reason that they paid nothing to the authors. When they have done justice to the literary men of Europe, by protecting the labor of their brains from the piracies of their booksellers, then they may talk with some show of reason of the wrong we have done them in the matter of mowing, thrashing, sewing and other labor-saving machines. We trust Parliament will consider every application submitted to them in the light of the recommendations made, and, while exercising all proper neighborliness and liberality, see to it that, as much as possible, and especially in respect of inventions likely to be extensively used in this country, the manufacture shall be carried on in the Province. -- Quebec Gazette
A correspondent in Altoona, Pa., complains that he, among others, has been swindled by a man representing himself as an agent for a patent corn sheller. The game appears to be selling the right to use the machine and a case of castings for making the, receiving the money, giving a receipt, but never sending the castings.
We cannot tell whether the patent alluded to has ever been issued. If so, it was probably by some other name than that by which it was sold. The game is an old one and has before been exposed in our columns. The only safety is to refuse to pay for what one does not receive, and never trusting to the mere word of an irresponsible agent. In such cases the written promise and receipt of an unknown and uncertified man is no protection nor assurance against a swindle.
The Commissioner of Patents
The Scientific American has nothing to do with mere party questions, and what we are about to say, therefore, in reference to the Commissionership of Patents must not be construed into any indorsement or condemnation of any particular policy that now disturbs the great political parties of the country. It is unfortunate for the best interests of the people that, in the ebbing and flowing of political tides -- as one party rises and another falls -- the policy of proscription enters into every department of the Government. Jefferson's rule, "Is he honest? is he faithful?" has given way to the more dangerous rule, "Is he a good party man, has he political influence?" To contend against this principle, is to contend against the old declaration that "to the victor belong the spoils;" and herein consists the chief danger to the future safety of the Republic. The strife of party and the temptation that power places before officials, produce the evil spirit of political persecution, and tend to corrupt the virtue of those who deem themselves fortunate to get a position under Government, which is always held by a slender tenure.
The present unfortunate controversy which has sprung up between the President and Congress, has engendered an angry partisan warfare; and, in order to strengthen his position, the President judges it best to remove from office all those who do not heartily support his policy.
The people do not much care whether this man or that man holds a particular office. Their chief concern is to have the responsible offices held by honest and capable men. We have always contended that, in the application of strict party rules, the Patent Office ought to be exempt from a mere political partisanship -- that appointments should be made with strict reference to individual qualifications to perform the required duties, and that fitness alone should be the test.
It is a most dangerous and pernicious practice to remove an experienced officer from the Patent Office to make room for some political aspirant, whose only recommendation consists in fidelity to a certain line of party policy and discipline.
The Patent Office was not created to subserve the ends and interests of any party. Its administration requires integrity, and judicial and scientific knowledge, which experience alone can render eminently useful. It is no light matter to determine the intricate questions that are daily to be decided by the officials at the Patent Office and inventors might reasonably be alarmed for their interests when changes are made for mere opinion's sake.
An impression has somehow gained currency that Commissioner Theaker is to be removed, and speculation is rife as to who is to be his successor. Representing the largest body of inventors in the country, we express the hope that President Johnson will not make any such change. Mr. Theaker is an honorable man, and has discharged his duties in a very acceptable manner. He is entirely conversant with the routine of the Office, is master of its rules and practice, and, withal, has a warm sympathy with the great body of inventors. No complaints have been made of his official conduct; on the contrary, we believe the great body of Patent Solicitors and applicants for patents, are entirely satisfied with Mr. Theaker, and would regret to hear of his removal.
Changes in the Style of Patents
But few are aware of the fact that all letters patent issuing from the United States Patent Office on and after the 20th of this month, will be in an entirely new dress, on different material, smaller, neater, and containing a printed specification. The patent proper, or grant, instead of containing the design of the Patent Office building, will have an engraving intended to show the progress of invention, the details being quite clever, and which, by way of comparison and contrast, will always appear fresh and pleasing to the eye. This beautiful design is original with Mr. Theaker, our present courteous and efficient Commissioner of Patents.