It is a notable fact that the instances in which exten- sions of United States patents are granted are now, and have been since 1861, extremely rare, and such also seems to be the case in England, although, accord- ing to The London Times, the judicial committee of the Privy Council did, on December 9, extend the du- ration of a patent beyond the usual term of fourteen years. This was the Timmis patent, taken out in 1883, for a new method of working and interlocking railway signals by means of electricity. The patentee " laid stress on the dislike of the companies to make use of a novel and untried method, and on the circum- stances that he was out of pocket, and had so far ! earned no profits." The Times very justly remarks that " No doubt many inventors of useful contrivances : find, at the close of the period covered by their patents, that they have made little way. Prejudice has to be ; overcome, interested opposition to a novelty may be ? strong, or the need for the invention may not be great until such period is nearly run out," and suggests that this ten-year extension '' will encourage inventors to ask a similar boon of tener than has been customary," as " many other inventors of equal merit find them- selves at the end of the period covered by an original patent in a worse plight than his." Whatever encouragement, however, may be afforded by this precedent to those seeking extensions of Eng- lish patents, it is evident that the matter of obtaining extensions of United States patents stands on a very different footing. Applications for such extensions in England are examined by a committee of the Privy Council, composed of eminent noblemen, the leading law officers, and other officials, who may always be ex- pected to expedite hearings and make a decision equita- ble alike to the public and the patentee ; while here an extension is only to be had by act of Congress, and the great difficulty and inevitable delay always experienced in getting through any special legislation in that body are too well understood to encourage hope of success on the part of inventors who might think they had ood ground to apply for extensions of their patents. There has been but one extension of a United States patent in the last twenty years. But this has not always been the case in regard to United States patents. By the act of 1836, the Com- missioner of Patents was empowered to grant exten- sions of patents, the Secretary of State and the Solicitor of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Commissioner of Patents, being then constituted a board to hear evidence in support of applications for such extensions. By the act of 1848 the power to grant extensions was conferred on the Commissioner of Patents solely, but by the act of 1861, by which the term of a patent was made seventeen years, instead of fourteen years, as had previously been the case, all extensions for pat- ents granted thereafter were prohibited. It may well be questioned whether this legislation was altogether wise, and whether the mere lengthen- ing by three years of the terms of all patents should operate as a bar to any extension of a patent, no mat- ter how meritorious the case, or what might be the equities involved--for this is practically what it amounts to when the sole power to make extensions is reserved by Congress to itself. Even were congress- men always willing to entertain probably meritorious cases, there are too many members to permit the House to make any practical examination of the questions which might thus arise, but which would be quickly disposed of by a small board of disinterested officials, in conjunction with a representative of the Patent Office. Such a board, including possibly a justice of the Supreme Court, might be depended upon to safe- guard the interests of the public in all cases, and still, in many instances, grant extensions on meritorious pat- ents which had so tardily come to be appreciated by the public as to yield the inventors no return.
This article was originally published with the title "Patents" in SA Supplements 45, 1155supp, 114 (February 1898)