On the evening of the 28th September, the Fair of the American Institute was honored by the presence of the Hon. Samuel S. Fisher, Commissioner of Patents, who delivered an interesting address on the occasion, which is here given in full. We also present a portrait of this gentleman who lias acquired great popularity by his energy and promptness in the transaction of business, as well as the marked ability he has displayed in the performance of the arduous duties of his office. The vexatious delays which formerly tormented inventors no longer exist; and the whole business of the office has been systematized so thoroughly that it meets with universal approval. No Commissioner of Patents has achieved greater popularity, in so short a time, than Mr. Fisher. This is due to the rare combination of natural talent and educational fitness he brings to bear upon the work ot the office. As our readers are aware he resigned a lucrative legal practice, in accepting the Commissionership; and the legal acumen which had secured him this practice enables him now to grasp nice distinctions, and to decide quickly and soundly upon all cases which, in the routine of the department, are brought before him. THE COMMISSIONER'S ADDRESS.. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : I left Washington with no other object than to visit this exhibition and extend the right hand of fellowship to those who were endeavoring to secure its success. I had no thought of speaking to you, and should have been glad if the managers had been willing to accept the seeing of the eye for the hearing of the ear. I bring you, therefore, no well-considered oration, but desire.only to offer a few plain words of greeting, and a thought which it has occurred to me this may be the proper time and place to express. Among the earliest reminiscences of my boyhood are the Fairs of the American Institute, which were held many years ago—so many that I fear to count them—in Niblo's and Castle Garden. Of details I remember very little, except that there were models of ships and steamboats, and that two or three boys ' lust their fingers by injudiciously turning the horse powers, and that everything 'Wound up with fireworks and a grand flight of rockets by Mr. Edge, of pyrotechnic fame. Once, indeed, at Castle Garden, I believe, t he closing exercises were varied by omitting the fireworks, and substituting the bombardment of the Castle of San . Juan D'Ulloa by the French, which mimic siege we converted into real earnest in a few years thereafter. From the character of these recollections you will see that I must have been very young indeed. One thing, however, was noticeable even by my young eyes, and may be noticed now—that nearly every article in the Fair bore upon it the imprint of that magic adjective “ patented.” Those were the days just after the passage of the great Patent act of 1836, which established what is now the distinctively.American system in regard to the grant of letters patent, and yet already the Patent Office had become a power in the land, and was sheltering under its wings the little brood of new-fledged American inventions. I have said that the fact which I noticed in my boyhood may be noticed now. You cannot walk through any of these aisles. without finding in every niche, upon every table, above and around you, articles which have themselves been patented or are the product of patented processes or machines. I suppose, ifupon your outer wall a banner were displayed announcing that no article would be received for exhibition with the creation of which letters patent had nothing to do,.that very few of the many things upon exhibition here to-night would be stopped at the threshold by the prohibition. For this result, this and kindred institutes and associations are, in part, responsible; a responsibility, let me hasten to say, for which they need in nowise be ashamed. These great exhibitions—displays—advertisements—as I think one of your papers has called them, have made many an invention familiar to the public that would otherwise have remCIned unknown ; have given many an impulse to some halting enterprise that would otherwise have failed to reach the goal; have called capital to the aid ()f genius, by showing to capital where it might profitably be employed. Many an inventor has grown famous, and many a manufacturer rich, through the medium of your expositions, the awards of your jujies, and the distribution of your diplomas and medals. The work of the Patent Office and of all such societies as this, is one. It has for its purpose the protection and development of the inventive genius of our country. We' are more especially charged with protection, you with development, or, as I suppose you would prefer to phrase it, our motto is, “Protection to American genius,” while yours is, “ Protection to American industry.” How both have prospered in their work may be learned by comparison of the earlier Fairs of this Society with the present, and by a glance at the Patent Office reports. HON. S. S. FISHER, COMMISSIONER OF PATENTS. WHAT IIAS BEEN DONE IN FORTY YEARS. During the forty years that this institute has been in existence, the department ot huge ver-etables, and of quilts with wonderful patchwork, his become sensibly smaller, while that of wonderful labor-saving machines and beautifully-wrought fabrics has become sensibly greater. (I believe 1 have seen a solitary pumpkin to-day). In the days when I gazed with delight upon Mr. Edge's fireworks, the click of the sewing machine was never heard ; electricity had not yet condescended to comaout of the lecture room and enter the lists as a practical science ; india-rubber, hard and soft, with its_ manifold applications, was a mere black and sticky plaster for shoes and ugly overcoats. We had the steam engine, as it came from Watt, and the steamboat as it was left by Fulton. As for these beautiful textiles, it would have seemed madness to have dreamed that we should ever dare to dream of them thereafter.. In the Patent Office, under the act of 1836, the Commissioner and “one examining clerk” were thought to be sufficient to do the work of examining into the patentability of the two or three hundred applications that were offered. Now sixty-two examiners are overcrowded with work, a force of over three hundred employes is maintained, and the applications have swelled to over twenty thousand per annum. This year the number of patents granted will average two hundred and seventy-five per week, or fourteen thousand in the year. These numbers are so startling, when compared with the days of which I have been speaking, that people are sometimes ready, in their haste, to suppose that there must be something wrong about the system, and some have' doubtless been prepared to join hands with a few of your disaffected cousins across th e water and to demand the repeal of the Patent laws and the abolition of the system itself. OUR PATENT SYSTEM DEFENDED. It has occurred to me, that, standing here to-night as the official representative of this system, it would not be inappropriate for me to say a few words in its behalf. In the first place no comparison can properly be made between our system and that of other countries. In England and on the Continent all applications are patented without examination into the novelty of the inventions claimed. In some instances the instrument is scanned to ascertain if it covers a patentable subject-matter, and, in Prussia, some slight examination is made into the character of the new idea ; but in no case are such appliances provided, such a corps of skilled examiners such provision of drawings, models, and books such a collection of foreign patents, and such checks to prevent and review error as with us. As a result, an American patent has, in our Courts, a value that no foreign patent can ac. quire in the Courts of its own country. This has rendered property in foreign patents exceedingly precarious. Such as are granted have not been subjected to examination ; they have no pn'ma/aag weight. Yet they may be valid. It is true that no one knows this, not even the inventor; but the possibility that they may prove so makes them weapons in the hands of unscrupulous men to frighten and coerce manufacturers who have very im. perfect means, short of litigation, of arriving at the truth or falsehood of the self-asserted pretensions of the patentee. On the other hand, the inventor is in as much doubt as the manufacturer. He does not know what to claim as his invention. As he alone is to fix the limit, as there is to be no revision, he may claim much or little, how much or holY little he must always doubt. As a consequence foreign patents are of doubtful value, mid the whole system has fallen into some dispute. THE SUPERIORITY OF AMERICAN INVENTION IN EUKOPE. I suppose that the foreign patents of American inventors, that have been copies of patents previously granted in this country, are the best that are granted abroad, and I know that many an English or French invention that has been patented without difficulty there, has been stopped in its passage through our office by a reference to some patent previously granted in this country, or perhaps in the very country of its origin. In spite of our examination, which rejects over one third 6f all the applications that are made, or, more proper^ because of it, invention has been stimulated by the hope of protection ; and nearly as many patents will issue in the United States this year as in the whole of Europe put together, including the British isles. But a few days ago I took up a volume of Italian patents to se^e what progress the new Kingdom waS making in invention, when I was amused and gratified to find on every page the name of the universal Yankee, re-patenting there his American invention, and, I suspect, much the best customer in the Patent Office of united Italy. The trUth is we are an inventive people. A NOVEL CATALOGUE OF INVENTIONS. Invention is by no means confined to our mechanics. O<ir merchants invent, our soldiers and our sailors invent , our schoolmasters invent, our professional men invent, aye, and our women and our children invent. Cheap protection has been a fertilizer that has produced much growth of brain and much fruit of discovery. One man lately wished to patent the application of the Lord's Prayer , repeated in a loud voice to prevent stammering; another claimed the new and useful. attachment of a weight, or other article possessing gravity, to a cow's tail to prevent her from switching it while milking ; another proposed to cure worms by extracting them by a delicate line and a tiny hook baited with a seductive pill; while a lady patented a crimping pin, which she declared might also be used as a paper-cutter, as a skirt supporter, as a paper file, as a child's pin, as a bouquet-holder, as a shawl fastener, or as a book mark. Do not suppose that this is the highest flight which the gentler sex has achieved. It has obtained many other patents, some of which have no relation to wearing apparel, and are of considerable value. THE VALUE OF PATENTS CONTRASTED. But, I am asked, what proportion of all patented inventions prove to be valuable to their projectors or to the public ? One-tenth ? Probably not much more than that; but, let it be remembered, there are few failures so harmless as that of a useless invention. The patent gives it a chance to prove itself © 1869 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC. 242 worthy of the public patronage. It simply declares that if it be good it shall not be stolen; la at, if it be useless, nobody will want to steal it. But of all those who enter upon any occupation of life, how many succeed and how many fail? How many young men have entered the bar, and have failed to take rank with Evarts, O'Connor, or Brady? How many have launched their bark, laden with mercantile ventures, and have been stranded, while Claflin and Stewart were sailing into port ? How many have been moved to “ start a paper,” who have lived as long, but not to as much purpose, as Raymond, Bennett, or Greeley? I suppose that nine failures to one success is a very fair proportion for the professions of the world, including that of the inventor; or, at all events, I do not suppose that tlie failures among inventors are more numerous than amongevery other class of workingmen. As to property in inventions, I shall not stop to discuss it. That a man having, by long experiment—by patient thought—by brilliant genius—by the expenditure of time and of means, con-ceivedand brought to perfection and embodiment some new idea, having created some new substance, put in motion some new machine, put some old force to now work, or given to some new force a field for labor, is not entitled to call this which he has done his own and to set his price upon it, need not I think be argued before honest men '/ If we owe nothing to the men who have made this century so illustrious by their great conceptions, then we owo nothing to anybody, and repudiation ought to be the watchword of the age. A CASH DEBT DUE INVENTORS—HOW TO REWARD THEM. We do owe them much, not merely a dobt of sentimental gratitude, but a debt payable in cash, which shall lift them above want, and place them upon such a pinnacle of happiness that the world shall say, “ Thus shall it be done unto tlie man wb.m the nation delighted to bonor!” How shall we give pecuniary consideration for inventions? There are two ways in which this might be done. One is by the purchase, for cash, by the Government of all inventions, for the use of the nation. This plan is met at the outset by the impossibility of determining the value. Every inventor supposes himself to have a lortune in evory conception that he puts into wood and iron. Stealing tremblingly and furtively up the steps of the Patent Office, with his model carefully concealed under his coat, lest some sharper shall see it and rob him of his darling: thought, he hopes to come down those steps with the precious parchment that shall insure him a present competency and that shall enrich his children. I should think if • he were offered a million, in the first flash of his triumph, that he would hesitate about touching it without sleeping over it for a night. Yet fourteen thousand millions would be a pretty heavy bill to pay from a treasury not over full, Fourteen hundred millions might be thought an important addition to tke national debt, or i>ven one million four hundred thousand, which would be just $100 a piece for all the patented inven-t'ons of 1869. I think, therefore, that we may set aside the plan of purchase as impracticable. HOW TO DEAL JUSTLY BY THE INVENTOK. No commission could satisfy the inventor, and no price that we could afford to pay would take the place of the stimulus of the hope of unlimited wealth which now lightens his toil and shines like a beacon at the entrance of the harbor that he hopes to make. The other plan is to offer protection for a limited time, in payment lbr the new discovery. We may say to the inventor, “You have !1 valuable secret, which may benefit us. To disclose it without protection would be to lose it. To keep it would deprive us of its use. If you will disclose it to us by so describing it and illustrating it, as that we may fully understand it and may avail ourselves of it without difficulty, we will agree that for seventeen years you shall be protected in its use. Yon may make out of it what you can. When your limit of time has expired we shall have it without further payment. We cannot pay you in money, we will pay you in time.” I submit that this is a fair bargain. A new thought developed, explained, described, illustrated, put on record for the use of the nation—this on the one side. The right to the exclusive benefit of this new thought for a limited time, and protection in that right— this on the other. This is the patent system. A fair contract between the inventor and the public—ideas paid for by time. It is manifest that tho utmost good faith is required upon both sides. On the one hand there must really be an invention; no stealing of the ideas of other men, no crude notions resulting only in experiment. The inventor must have something to sell. On the other hand there must be protection—no infringement, no piracy, no stealing of the soul of the invention by clothing it in immaterial changes of form, THE INVENTOR'S BEST SECURITY IS TO TAKE A PATENT. To secure this fair dealing we have, on the one side, the Patent Office, with its examiners, its drawings, its models, its books. and its foreign patents, to scan and test the invention. On the other side we have the courts of law to protect the inventor and punish the thief. It is possible that these instrumentalities may do their work imperfectly, This may sometimes happen; but to the extent to which they do it, a fair contract for an honest and useful purpose is made and is maintained. This is the American system. Under its protection great inventions have been born, and have thriven. It has given to the world the steamboat, the telegraph, the ss wing machine, tho hard and the soft rubber. It has reconstructed tho loom, the reaping machine, and the locomotive. It has trained up each trunk of invention until it has become a graceful tree with many branches, adorned with the fruits of m any improvements and useful modifications, It has won from the older homes of the mechanic arts their richest trophies, and, like Columbus, who “ found a new world for Cas-ile and Leon,” it has created new arts, in which our nation has neither competitor nor peer. Without the protection of our Patent laws, no such exhibition as this would have been possible. By far the greater number of the inventions which now crowd the shelves of the Patent Office would be missing. No doubt many weaklings would thus have been spared a contact with a cold and unfeeling world; but many vigorous children, that have come to a robust manhood, would have perished long since for want of sustenance. Men will not take the risk of introducing new inventions, of educating the people in their use, of overcoming opposition and prejudice, unless they can be assured of reasonable protection in their work until their capital has made return. They will not sow that others may reap, and, when the land is ready for the harvest, come forth with greater capital and more laborers, and thrust aside the pioneer who has borne the burden and I heat of the plowing and cultivating, For the proper administration of such a system as I have attempted to sketch, it is ! manifest that much skill and honesty are needed in the Patent Office, in all its departments. .speaking for the gentlemen associated with me, I believe them to be both skillful and honest. They pass in review many valuable interests. ] They are attended by a body of skillful practitioners. They arc beset by an array of eager inventors, If in the examination of twenty thousand applications they make no errors, they would deserve statues of gold. That they make no more, and that in all these years and in all their number well-founded charges of corruption have been few and far between, are strong tributes to their integrity and ability. On behalf of this great American bureau of invention, I bring you greeting to-night; on behalf of the one hundred thousand American inventors whom it represents, I bespeak for it your cordial support and sympathy.
This article was originally published with the title "Address of the Hon. S. S. Fisher, U. S. Commissioner of Patents before the American Institute" in Scientific American 21, 16, 241-242 (October 1869)