Patent History Materials Index - REPORT ON THE PATENT OFFICE FOR 1830

From Vol I of the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents, 1790-1836, copy in Commissioner's private official library

pages 789-802

1st Session State Dept.
January 27, 1830

Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


A Communication from the Secretary of State in relation to the Patent Office

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States

I submit to Congress a communication from the Secretary of State, together with the report of the Superintendent of the Patent Office to which it refers, showing the present condition of that office, and suggesting the necessity of further legislative provisions in regard to it; and I recommend the subjects it embraces to the particular attention of Congress.

It will be seen that there is an unexpected deficiency in the accounts which have been rendered at the Treasury, of the fees received at the office, amounting to four thousand two hundred and ninety dollars; and that precautions have been provided to guard against similar delinquencies, in future. Congress will decide on their sufficiency, and whether any legislative aid is necessary upon this branch of the subject referred to in the report.

Washington, 26th January, 1830


Department of State
Washington, 21st Jan 1830

The Secretary of State has the honor of submitting to the President, a report made to this Department, pursuant to his directions, by the Superintendent of the Patent Office. It gives a statement of the past and present conditions of the office, and contains suggestions which are well entitled to the consideration of Congress.

To avoid mistake, and as an act of justice to those who have heretofore been entrusted with the funds of the office, the Superintendent was directed to re-examine his statement in relation to the alleged deficiencies in the accounts which have been rendered to the Treasury, and to give notice thereof to the legal representative of Dr. Thornton, heretofore Superintendent, and to Mr. Elliot, who, until this last summer, was the principal clerk of the office. The accompanying papers show that those directions have been complied with, and also exhibit the result of the re-examination.

t will be seen by the accompanying report, that precautions have been recently adopted, which cannot fail to prevent such irregularities in future, and will secure a faithful account of this portion of the public funds. The report likewise suggests the necessity of further legislative provisions, in reference to the suitable completion of the building in which the office and models are kept, and the employment of additional clerks, which are essentially necessary, in the opinion of the Secretary, for the preservation and display of the numerous models referred to, and for the execution and despatch of the business connected with this branch of the public service.

Respectfully submitted,


January 20th, 1830

According to your instructions, I wrote to Mrs. Thornton, and Mr. Elliot. Copies of the letters, and Mr. Elliot's answer, I have the honor now to transmit. I beg leave to observe, that the causes assigned by Mr. E. are altogether insufficient. The patents re-issued, are all marked in the "Entry Book," and not one of them taken into the list I made out. If they were, they would not answer the purpose. Thus, in 1818, there was not one re-issue; yet there was a deficit of $1920; and 58 patents omitted in the Secretary's report to Congress. In 1819, there was one reissue, and a deficit of $1620: and in no year does there appear to have been more than three patents re-issued. The other causes assigned, it is presumed, require no notice. From Mrs. Thornton, no answer is received.

With great respect, I am, etc.

Secretary of State


Patent Office
January 15, 1830

You are respectfully requested by the Hon. M. Van Buren, Secretary of State, to afford this office such information or explanation as it may be in your power to communicate, in relation to a discrepancy which appears to exist between the number of patents issued from the year 1790, to the year 1828 (inclusive) and the amount of monies paid into the Treasury of the United States; the deficit of money is from four to five thousand dollars.

Any communication you may please to make, is requested on or before Tuesday next.

I have the honor to be, Madam, Your obedient serv't

Mrs. A. M. Thornton


Patent Office
January 15, 1830

You are respectfully requested by the Hon. M. Van Buren, Secretary of State, to afford this office such information or explanation as it may be in your power to communicate, in relation to a discrepancy which appears to exist between the number of patents issued from the year 1790, to the year 1828 (inclusive) and the amount of monies paid into the Treasury of the United States; the deficit of money is from four to five thousand dollars.

Any communication you may please to make, is requested on or before Tuesday next.

Yours, respectfully,

Wm. Elliot, Esq.


Washington, January 16, 1830

Yesterday I received your letter of the 15th instant, requesting information respecting a "discrepancy which appears to exist between the patents issued and the Treasury receipts," to which I most respectfully reply:

In order to under stand the principle on which patents were issued by the late Dr. Thornton for many years, it will be necessary to recur to the origin and progress of the patent office. From about the year 1790, till 1803, the patents were issued by a clerk in the Department of State. At that period, Dr. Thornton was appointed by Mr. Jefferson to issue the patents, and he took upon himself the title of Superintendent; and he continued to issue them for 24 years, or till the time of his death in 1827.

During many years of his superintendence, he conceived himself to be invested with, and exercised freely, much discretionary power in the issuing of patents; for he held it as a maxim, and, I believe, a very good one, that the patent law was made solely for the "encouragement of authors and inventors;" and not to collect revenues; and therefore, when any mistake or omission took place in issuing patents, whether by the inventor or the office, he would order a new one to be issued, without payment of an additional patent fee; however, it was not till about the years 1815, or 1816, that he put this principle in full operation, and from that time till about 1824, many patents were issued for amended specifications, without the payment of any additional fee.

A minute or memorandum was regularly made, of all patents issued, whether for new or corrected specifications; thus, a much greater number of patents will appear in the entry books, than there are treasury receipts. Also, in the annual report made to Congress of patents issued, those for which no fee had been paid, were omitted: or rather, I believe the Doctor reported only as ;many patents as there were Treasury receipts. This, of course, will make the list of patents furnished to Congress appear to contain fewer names than the entry books. It remains to be proved by experience, whether the present system of issuing patents, without limitation or obstruction, is more beneficial to the country, than the judicious exercise of a discretionary power, vested in the superintendent, to aid the ingenious, but poor man, in obtaining a perfect patent, without further expense than the original patent fee, and also, for refusing patents (under the control of the Secretary of State and Attorney General) to mere speculators (not inventors) who make a business in levying contributions on the public by licenses under the title of "patents," for neither new nor useful inventions, signed by the President, Secretary of State, and Attorney General, and who fill the country with litigation.

There are other causes that operated in producing a disagreement between the number of patents issued, and the treasury receipts; for in all cases where the money was lost a patent was issued without a fee, the patent itself containing a receipt for the patentee.

However, besides the causes above mentioned, it was frequently discovered, by those in the office, that, owing to the want of a proper system, patents were issued by mistake without a fee; therefore to avoid in future these mistakes, and to introduce into the office a more perfect system of accountability, about 6 or 7 years ago, I made a representation of the same to the Secretary of State, and the chief clerk, D. Brent, Esq. In consequence thereof, about the year 1823 or 1824, all moneys received for patents were ordered to be paid into the hands of the agent of the Department of State. About the same time, it was decided by the Attorney General of the United States, that all patents re-issued for defective specifications (except for clerical errors) were required to pay a new fee: from that time, therefore, til the present, the Treasury receipts and number of patents issued, as minuted in the entry book, will probably nearly correspond, though not exactly, because the money was often received in one year, and the patents issued in another.

I will here beg leave to remark (though it does not exactly come within the request of your letter, nor will it account for the discrepancy referred to,) that in cases where a person had inadvertently paid his money into the Treasury, and could not withdraw it, the Doctor was in the habit of transferring this individual's money to pay the patent fee of another; and giving the money of the new applicant to the one whose money was already in the Treasury, but did not wish to have a patent: thus, many patents will appear to have been issued without fees, because the money was paid in a different name from that of the person obtaining the patent.

As regards myself, during the many years I was in office, it never was any part of my duty either to receive the patent fees or issue the patents; mine was the laborious part of copying specifications, and giving information: and I can say with truth, that much of the money now in the Treasury to the credit of the Patent Office, over and above all the expenses attending the issuing of patents, was earned by my labor.

In some cases when applicants for patents sent their money and papers, and the invention was not considered new, or interfered with another, the money was then deposited in a Bank, till a decision took place. This account was at first kept in the Bank of Columbia, in the Doctors name; after the removal of that Bank it was deposited in the Bank of the Metropolis, where it was kept for some time; but being found troublesome, and not profitable to the Bank, (the amount deposited being trifling, and after short intervals deposited and drawn out,) the account was ordered to be closed by that Bank. Then, at the request of Doctor Thornton, an account for the above purpose was opened with the Patriotic Bank in my name. This also was closed in 1825; as will be seen by the statement of Robert W. Fenwick, herewith enclosed. However, it will be seen these were altogether private responsibilities, and did not in any way concern the public: the person sending the money will, of course, look for repayment to the person receiving it; as far as it respects me, all these cases have been fully discharged.

Since 1825, till the time I left the Patent Office in May, 1829, all moneys received for patents, whether to be paid immediately into the Treasury, or deposited in the Bank, were paid into the hands of the Agent of the Department of State.

Therefore, the causes of the discrepancy between the patents issued and the Treasury receipts were, in my opinion, occasioned chiefly, by

1st. The re-issuing of patents for defective specifications, without additional patent fees.

2nd. For patents issued, when the money was lost, &c.

3d. For patents issued, through mistake, without the fees being first paid, and for want of a proper system, such as was adopted in 1824.

I am, most respectfully,
Your obedient servant

Superintendent of the Patent Office


Washington County ) ss


On this, 3d day of December, 1829, personally appeared before the subscriber, a justice of peace in and for the above county, Robert W. Fenwick, of the City of Washington, D.C. and made oath according to law, to the truth of the following statement of facts, according to the best of his knowledge and belief:

Statement above referred to.

That, previous to the year 1825, or thereabouts, it was the custom of the late Superintendent of the Patent Office, Dr. Thornton, to receive all the patent fees, and when the patents were ordered by him to be issued, to send the money to the Treasury; but in cases where they were not immediately decided upon, either to retain the money in his own hands, or put it into a Bank, till a decision took place. If the patents were to be issued, then the money was paid into the Treasury; but if not issued, it was returned to the person who sent it, and that I have, in every instance, paid all the money thus entrusted to my care into the Treasury.

I also further solemnly swear, that in the cases where the money was deposited in the Patriotic Bank, in the name of William Elliot, it was so done by the request of the said Dr. Thornton; and that the name of the person sending it, was always mentioned in the note accompanying it to the Bank; and the same name was always mentioned in the order which drew it out again: And further, that when William Elliot declined having more to do with the money belonging to the applicants for patents, his account was settled at the Patriotic Bank, and his Bank book, with the orders or checks by which the different sums had been drawn, were delivered to the said Dr. Thornton, examined by him, and found correct. This took place in the year 1825.
Witness -- C. H. W. Wharton


December 22d, 1829

In conformity to Executive instructions, that a statement of the past and present condition of the Patent Office should be furnished, I have the honor of presenting you the following report: And am,

With great esteem,
Yours, respectfully,

Hon. Martin Van Buren
Secretary of State

The Patent Office of the United States, was established by act of Congress in 1790; new modeled in 1793; and amended in 1800. Since the latter period, no alterations or amendments of moment, have been made in the patent laws.

The number of patents issued prior to the year 1793, appears to be 47. From 1793 to 1828, inclusive, according to the reports of the Secretaries of State, presented annually to Congress, the number issued, as appears from the annexed table, marked A, was 5,153. But, according to the table marked B, and compiled from the original entries and records now in the office, the actual number issued during the said interval, was 5,380; or 227 more than were reported to Congress.

     These, at $30 each, would amount to               $161,400

     But according to the statement furnished by the

       Registrar's office, and marked C, the 

       corresponding amount of money paid into the

       Treasury, during the same time, was              157,110


             Leaving a deficit of                        $4,290

Unaccounted for between the Patent Office and the Treasury Department: Whereas, according to the number of patents reported to Congress, there would be a surplus paid into the Treasury of patent fees, of two thousand, five hundred and twenty dollars.

On examining table B, it will be seen that the above deficit took place between the years 1815 and 1827: the amount of fees for the number of patents issued during said interval exceeding the corresponding amount of Treasury receipts, by $7,170; and even exceeding the amount of those reported to Congress during the same time, by 1,020.

To reconcile these anomalies, or investigate their origin, is not the present object. It may be observed, however, that previous to the commencement of the present administration, the patents were signed by the Attorney General, before they were filled, and not inspected by him afterwards. At present they are entirely filled up, and have the Treasurer's receipt for the fees, attached to them, before they are presented to him. Consequently, no patent can now be issued till the Treasury fee be paid, and the sanction of the Attorney General, with respect to all the legal requisitions, is obtained. These Treasury receipts show the Bank into which the payment is made, the date of the credit, and the attestation of the Register to their having been registered in his office. These checks, it is believed, will prevent all discrepancies in future.

The number of patents above stated, is that deduced from the records and original papers now in the office; but there are reasons to induce the belief, that a greater number has been issued. This circumstance alone, strongly urges the necessity of having the patents regularly recorded, as they are issued, yet the whole number recorded in the office, is less than seven hundred.

Great deficiencies are found to exist among the models and drawings deposited in the office, nor does it appear that any regular system was ever adopted for arranging and preserving those interesting specimens of the progress of the useful arts, and of national ingenuity.

The propriety of rendering it penal, to remove any papers, drawings, or models, belonging to the office, out of it, is respectfully submitted.

The new apartments, when finished, will afford ample room for a systematic arrangement and classification of the models, corresponding to the nature of the subject to which they respectively belong. The purposed arrangement, already partly executed, may be seen in the annexed document, marked D; and the drawings and original papers are now so ordered, that any one of them called for, can be produced in a few seconds. Still, however, the establishment must remain very imperfect, unless the patents as issued, be regularly recorded; and that can not possibly be accomplished without additional aid afforded to the office. For this purpose, at least, two additional clerks would be wanted: the present number being barely adequate to the current business of the office: and it is daily increasing.

The appropriation of three thousand dollars, made during the last session of Congress, for the purpose of furnishing the new apartments, has proved, as might have been foreseen, quite inadequate. An additional sum of four thousand five hundred and sixty dollars, as appears by the subjoined estimate, marked E, will be requisite for that purpose: and it is highly desirable, that this appropriation be made as soon convenient, as the models, from their present exposed situation, are, by incautious visiters, suffering daily, more or less injury.

If the apartments were completed according to the intended plan, it is believed that no further expenditure of the kind, would be wanted for many years.

When we consider the facility with which, in the United States, patents can be procured, the partiality of men to their own productions, and the sanguine expectations which self-interest thence induces them to indulge, it is not surprising that patents are frequently taken out for the most trifling inventions, The Treasury fee is thirty dollars; and many patents, when obtained, are not worth as many cents. Yet the applicant is highly offended, if advised to keep his money. On the other hand, the community at large is frequently deprived of its common right, by a monopoly of what ought to be free, unless some individual will step forward and subject himself to the risk of a vexatious law-suit. Both these evils, it is presumed, might be, in a great measure, removed by augmenting the Treasury fee for obtaining patents. In England, a patent cannot be obtained for less than one hundred and five pounds sterling; yet, when duly considered, even that sum is a mere trifle compared with the advantages resulting to an individual, from an exclusive interest in using and vending an important invention or improvement, in any useful art or manufacture.

By reference to the Register's statement, marked C, it appears that the Patent Office, instead of being a burden on the Government, is a constant and increasing source of revenue. But it claims attention on a higher ground. It is a repository of national ingenuity. It affords an interesting display of the progress of the useful arts, and of the inventive faculties of man: It holds out incentives to industry; a premium to ingenuity; a powerful stimulus to improvements in the arts and manufactures; the comforts and embellishments of life: and therefore, as a means of national improvement, which is highly entitled to national regard.

All of which is respectively submitted



STATEMENT of PATENTS for Useful Inventions (issued) as per 

reports of the Secretary of State to Congress; and also, an 

abstract from the report of the Register, showing the amount of 

funds received in the Treasury each year for that object.

Years  From Reports       From Reports       Differences

       to Congress        of Register

       Number  At $30     Number  At $30     Plus     Minus

       of      each       of      each       paid     paid

       Patents amounting  Patents amounting  in       in

               to                 to         Treasury Treasury

1793     20      600        22       660        60       00

1794     23      690        19       570        00      120

1795     11      330        20       600       270       00

1796     44     1320        46      1380        60       00

1797     51     1530        49      1470        00       60

1798     28      840        29       870        30       00

1799     43     1290        42      1260        00       30

1800     41     1230        41      1230        10       00

1801     44     1320        47      1410        90       00

1802     65     1950        70      2100       150       00

1803     97     2910        97      2910        00       00

1804     84     2520        89      2670       150       00

1805     57     1710        57      1710        00       00

1806     62     1860        80      2400       540       00

1807     99     2970        95      2850        00      120

1808    159     4770       162      4860        90       00

1809    203     6090       223      6690       600       00

1810    223     6690       222      6660        00       30

1811    215     6450       227      6810       360       00

1812    237     7110       222      6660        00      450

1813    178     5340       196      5880       540       00

1814    207     6210       203      6090        00      120

1815    166     4980       166      5850       870       00

1816    201     6030       201      5760        00      270

1817    172     5160       172      4680        00      480

1818    167     5010       167      4740        00      270

1819    100     3000       102      3060        60       00

1820    117     3510       124      3720       210       00

1821    153     4590       159      4770       180       00

1822    201     6030       200      6000        00       30

1823    164     4920       158      4740        00      180

1824    205     6150       209      6270       120       00

1825    299     8970       298      8940        00       30

1826    324     9720       314      9420        00      300

1827    329     9870       352     10560       690       00

1828    364    10920       362     10860        00       60


                                              5070     2550

                                              2550   Deduct


       5153   154590      5237    157110      2520  Plus in Trs.


The report from the Register of the receipt of moneys for this object, only goes back to 1793, but the Congressional reports commence in 1790. For the years 1790, 1791 and 1792, there were issued 47 Patents, which, if deducted from the sum of $2,520, would still leave $1,110 plus paid in the Treasury.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 11th December, 1829




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