Scientific American, v 37 (ns) no 15, p 224, 13 October 1877
The Fire in the U.S. Patent Office
On the morning of September 24, a fire broke out in one of the attic model rooms of the Patent Office, in Washington, which destroyed part of the upper portions of the west and north wings of the buildings. It is not known how the fire originated, but spontaneous combustion among patented chemicals in the upper part of the building is assigned as a probable cause. The edifice above the third story was filed with patented documents and models, the latter made of light inflammable wood. The roof was also of wood. The fire, therefore, had abundant material whereon to feed, and made rapid headway.
It is gratifying, however, to know that all the lower portion of the building, which is fireproof, and in which the active affairs of the Patent Office are conducted, escaped permanent injury. None of the original patent documents were lost; all drawings, specifications, files, etc., remain intact, together with all caveats, assignments, and pending applications for patents. Consequently there will be no interruption of business.
The fire merely swept away a portion of the upper works of the edifice, and, perhaps not unfortunately, destroyed a great accumulation of rubbish. The re-roofing will be rapidly pushed forward, and it probably will be so carried out as to render the business facilities of the Office better than before the fire.
Models Destroyed by the Patent Office Fire
The Superintendent of Models at the Patent Office gives the number of patented models destroyed as about 87,000. To these should be added the postponed and rejected cases, say about 49,000, making in all about 136,000. The following list will give a pretty accurate idea of the classes destroyed:
Class 1. Aeration and Bottling. Aerated liquor apparatus and processes, soda fountains, fire extinguishers, barrel-filling, bungs and vents, bottling, bottle stoppers and washers.
Class 4. Baths and Closets. Includes baths, water and earth closets, urinals, washstands and basins, sinks, stench traps, water closet appliances, and water traps.
Class 6. Beehives. Includes apiaries, bee feeders, fumigators, honey boxes, moth traps, and swarm indicators.
Class 10. Bolts, Nuts, Rivets, and Washers. Consists of varieties of the articles and machines for making them. Of this class the following were saved: Nutlocks, taps, dies, and plates for screw and nut making; but all machines for making these articles were destroyed.
Class 13. Brakes and Gins. Machinery for the treatment of raw cotton, flax, and hemp; hair and oakum pickers, and husk splitters.
Class 14. Bridges. Includes everything connected with bridges and arches, their piers and abutments, trusses and girders for bridges, floors, and roofs, iron trusses, piers, and columns.
Class 15. Brushes and Brooms. Includes everything connected with brooms, brushes, mats, mops and machines for making them.
Class 17. Butchering. All relating to slaughtering and skinning animals, dressing their carcasses, cutting meat, sausage making, catching animals for slaughtering, hair cleaning, and brine tubs.
Class 20. Carpentry. Includes all the woodwork of houses (except trusses and girders), iron laths, wood laths, and machines for nailing them, scaffolds for building; ladders, fire escapes, wood and metallic blinds.
Class 21. Carriages and Wagons. All relating to the construction of wheeled vehicles, sleighs, trucks, barrows, velocipedes, and their fittings.
Class 23. Casting. All appliances, machines, modes, and tools used in foundries, excepting type-foundries.
Class 31. Dairy. Includes all machines and appliances for milking, butter and cheese making, except milk coolers and testers.
Class 37. Excavating. Everything relating to excavating, boring, and grading, well curbs, Artesian wells, post holes borers, sand pumps, submarine excavators, etc.
Class 39. Fences. Includes also gates, posts, post drivers, wire stretchers for fences, etc.
Class 40. Files, rasps, and machines for making, redressing, and sharpening.
Class 45. Furniture. Basin clamps, blacking boxes and holders, broom hangers, cigar racks from this class are destroyed; but the whole of the class, except these few articles, is saved.
Class 47. Garden and Orchard. Includes tools (not machines) for digging, cultivating, and preparing the soil, planting, transplanting, weeding, protecting, potting, and forcing plants and trees; orchard culture, destroying insects, gathering fruit, sorghum strippers, and maple sap gathering.
Class 49. Glass. All relating to the composition, tools, machines, presses, furnaces, pots, and other apparatus for manufacturing, cutting, and roughing glass, modes of manufacturing glass articles, and some processes for ornamenting glass.
Class 51. Grinding and Polishing. Everything relating to the modes, apparatus, tools, processes, and appliances for grinding and polishing glass, metal, stone, and wood.
Class 53. Includes everything relative to the manufacture of hardware; but not the articles when manufactured.
Class 55. Harrows. All devices for scratching, rolling, and pulverizing the soil; also corn and cotton-stalk choppers and pullers, and stone gatherers.
Class 56. Harvesters. This includes all kinds of machines and implements for gathering and securing the crops (excepting hand hay rakes and forks), all the models of which, with the exception of the cutters and harvesters and about thirty of the old models of reapers and mowers, were destroyed.
Class 57. Hoisting. Includes every appliance used in elevating all kinds of solid materials, loading machinery, stump extractors, capstans, and windlasses.
Class 59. Consists of horseshoes and machines for making them. The former were saved and the latter destroyed.
Class 60. Hose. Most of this class was saved, but hose couplings, bridges, and spanners were destroyed.
Class 61. Hydraulic Engineering. All relating to aqueducts, canals, dykes, harbors, breakwaters, docks, quays, sub-aqueous explorations and works, piles, improvement of rivers
Class 64. Journals and Bearings. Includes all journals, bearings, shafting, couplings, lubricants, lubricators, belt shifters, tighteners, pulleys, and universal joints.
Class 65. Kitchen Utensils. Apple corers, slicers, and papers from this class were burnt, but all the remainder was saved.
Class 72. Masonry. Includes all structures of stone, brick, concrete, and iron, plastering, and plasterer's tools.
Class 74. Mechanical Powers. All relating to horse powers, arrangement of gearing, brakes for machinery, cranks, pitmans, treadles, modes of converting, multiplying, reversing, and transmitting motion, pawls and ratchets, rope clutches, eccentrics, cams, traction wheels, spring motors, fly wheels, and tide powers.
Classes 75 to 82. Relate to metal working, all the models of which were destroyed, with the exception of tacks, staples, nails, spikes, machines for threading sheet metal caps, eyelets machines, tuyeres, alloys, nut locks, wood screws; screw taps, plates and dies; manufacturing sewing machine shuttles and cop tubes, machines for making, upsetting, and bending tire, manufacturing carriage axles, lining axle boxes, tire setting and cooling, farrier's tools, anvils, machines for twisting metal, and the manufacture of spinning rings.
Class 83. Mills. All the cases relating to machinery for grinding bark, cane, coffee, grain, gunpowder, paint, spice, and sugar; flour bolts, rice cleaning, hulling, and polishing; smut, scouring and hulling machinery in general.
Class 85. Nails. This class includes the different varieties of nails, spikes, tacks, and staples, which were saved, and the machinery for making, all of which was destroyed.
Class 86. Includes machinery for the manufacture and preparation for market of pins and needles, all of which was destroyed except one of Crosby's
Class 90. Ores. Apparatus, machines, and processes for crushing and grinding ore, stone, coal, or bone; for separating ores of precious metals, mechanically or by amalgamation.
Class 94. Paving. Includes all patents relating to the materials, compositions, making, repairing and sweeping sidewalks and roadways; paver's tools and machine; garbage boxes; vault covers and lights.
Class 97. Plows. All machines employed for plowing, breaking, digging, trenching and paring the soil, cultivating crops, digging roots, and laying tile.
Class 98. Pneumatics. This includes all mechanical applications of air and other elastic fluids, (excepting motive power engines), balloons, and ventilation.
Class 100. Presses. Includes presses of every description, except hydraulic, printing and copying, the last two of which, with their appropriate class No. 101, were saved, but the hydraulic and the other presses were destroyed.
Class 103. Pumps. This class includes all machinery for pumping or elevating liquids, hydraulic engines, jacks, presses and rams.
Classes 104 to 106. Railways. This includes everything relating to the roadway, cars, and their fittings.
Class 107. Manufacture of Railway Irons. Includes every machine or process for manufacturing or repairing rails, car irons, axles, tires, wheels, and metal fittings.
Class 108. Roofing. All cases relating to the materials, compositions, and varieties of roofing, apparatus for roofing, skylight operators, eave troughs and brackets, roof fenders and spouts.
Class 110. Saws. Includes everything relating to saws and sawing machinery.
Class 111. Seeders and Planters. All machines and devices for sowing and planting seeds and distributing fertilizers. These were all destroyed except the cotton seed planters, of which only a few were lost.
Class 113. Sheet metal. Includes all modes, machines, and tools for the manufacture of articles from sheet metal.
Class 119. Stabling. All relating to the care of horses, cattle, sheep, and poultry; shelters, stalls, preparation of food, feeding and currying.
Classes 121-2-3 Steam. From this class (which includes all kinds of steam machinery, locomotive, etc.) traction engines, lubricators, and steam and air brakes have been burnt. The remainder being saved.
Class 125. Stone, Lime and Cement. Includes mining, quarrying, boring, rock, stone, marble and slate working, artificial stone; lime, mortar, concrete and cement.
Class 130. Thrashing. All machines and devices for husking, thrashing, shelling, winnowing and stacking.
Class 131. Tobacco. Includes all processes, machinery and appliances for the manufacture and use of tobacco.
Class 134. Tubing and Wire. All methods and machines for the manufacture of tubing and wire.
Class 137. Water Distribution. Includes well tubing, filters, pipes, couplings, fountains, hydrants, irrigating devices, street sprinklers, and railway water tanks.
Class 138. Water wheels. All the models of the different kinds of water wheels, chutes, forebays, penstocks, and gates for water wheels.
Class 140. Wire working. Includes the manufacture of wire articles of every description, all of which were destroyed except wire cloth and looms for making it, and machines for making wire heddles.
Class 141. Wood Screws. This class includes the different varieties of patented screws, most of which were saved, and the machines for their manufacture, all of which were lost.
Classes 142-3-4-5 Wood Working. All the models of these important classes, which include all machines and tools for working wood (except saws and sawing machinery, which are also destroyed -- see class 110), were burnt.
If a model cannot be placed under any of the above classes, it may, as a rule with very few exceptions, be considered as saved.
The Proposed Amendments to the Patent Laws
We give below an abstract of the new patent bill which has been introduced into the Senate by Mr. Wadleigh.
The first section enacts that from and after the passage of the act no profits or damages in any suit for infringement of a patent shall be recovered which shall have accrued more than four years preceding the commencement of each suit, and that all rights of action at present existing must be sued for within four years thereafter. Under this section, if there are a hundred infringers of a patent, a hundred suits must be brought at once to fully protect it; or if an eastern man has a patent, and someone in the extreme west wishes to manufacture the patented article, he may do so for many years before his operations are discovered, and the owner of the infringed patent has no right to recover any damages accruing to him from the infringement that occurred more than four years before suit is brought.
Under the second section a license fee is to be the measure of damages which a patentee may recover from infringers, provided any such license fee has been established; but if not, where from the nature of the invention it can be made to appear to be for the interest of the patentee that other persons should use the same, the court or jury shall determine the damages from the evidence, and in such case no account of profit or savings is to be allowed. Where profits are to be taken into consideration, the defendant is not to be charged with any saving he may have made by infringing a patent, unless it can be shown that he has made money by his business. Where he acknowledges that profits have accrued from his infringement, the court is to determine what proportion of the profit is due to the said invention and what to the other elements from which such profit was derived, and the proportion due to the invention is to be the measure of profit recovered; but if said profits shall be found to be in excess of the injury done by the infringement, the court is to diminish the amount to such an extent as may be just and reasonable. This last clause appears to be open to the interpretation that, if the defendant can prove that from the want or means or otherwise the patentee was in such a position as to be unable to use his invention, and was not therefore actually injured by the infringement, notwithstanding the infringer may have made an immense profit from the use of it, unless it can be shown that the inventor actually suffered great injury, he is to be cut down in the profits to the amount of injury he has suffered.
Section 6 has a clause to the effect that no machine or other article made prior to the surrender and reissue of a patent which did not infringe such surrendered patent, shall be held to be an infringement of the new claim of the reissued patent.
Section 9 allows infringers, where a patentee does not bring suit immediately he has knowledge of infringement, to bring a bill in equity to declare such infringed patent void for any of the causes which by law may render the same invalid. So that in case a patentee is too poor to immediately bring a suit against a wealthy infringer of his patent, said infringer may bring suit to declare it invalid; and in nine cases out of ten where the owners are too poor to employ good counsel to protect their rights, perfectly valid patents would be declared void under such circumstances.
Section 10 is to compel patentees to bring suits to enforce their rights, if an infringer demands that a suit be brought no matter whether the patentee have means to bring such suits or not, under the penalty of being enjoined from ever prosecuting such infringer at any time thereafter.
Section 11 is an imitation of the English law in the matter of fees, and it requires that a patentee shall pay fifty dollars on or before the first day of January after the expiration of four years from the date of the patent, and one hundred dollars on or before the first day of January next after the expiration of the ninth year of the patent. In default of either of these payments, the patent is to expire on the 1st day of April next thereafter, and during that month the Commissioner of Patents is to publish a list of the patents that have expired for the non-payment of these extortionate fees. In view of the fact that there is now in the Treasury of the United States over a million of dollars wrung from poor inventors in the shape of unnecessarily high patent fees, we think comment on this section entirely needless.