The constitution of the United States confers upon Congress the power to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing to inventors the exclusive right to their discoveries for a limited time, and to make all necessary laws for carrying into execution such power. The first act having this object in view was passed on the 10th of April, 1700. Under this act, the fee required for receiving and filing a petition for a patent was only fifty cents ! Two dollars were required for making out the patent, and an extra charge of one dollar was made for affixing the great seal. We suppose this great seal bore some resemblance to the mammoth turnip-like appendage which the British government is wont to attach to similar documents at the present day. Subsequent to this act, the power of Congress was invoked to amend it by the passage of bills during the years 1793 and 1794 ; also in 1S00, 1810, and 1832. With the progress of the country, and the necessary demand for increased facilities to meet the wants of commerce, agriculture, and the industrial arts generally, it became evident that a more comprehensive and better system of protection was required to guard the rights of that class who alone could furnish the means necessary to develop those great interests. The next attempt at legislation on this subject was made during the years 1836-7, under the administration of President Jackson. Hitherto the system was almost " without form and void." The power to grant or refuse a patent was delegated to the Secretaries of State and War, and to the Attorney General. No examination was made into questions of novelty; it was left discretionary with those functionaries to grant a patent or not, according to their own notions of utility in the invention presented to them. This relic of a barbarous age is still continued in some European countries, and finds a warm defender in M. Jobard, of Belgium—an able writer, and one whose knowledge upon this subject could be worthily employed in breaking it down, instead of defending it against a successful experience oi twenty years under an opposite system in this country. The acts of 183G-37 were steps ir the right direction. Previous to this tim there were few applications for patents, anc there was no security even in the issue of a patent, owing to the want of revision by men of artistic knowledge and experience. No one feared to infringe a patent, and the reputation of tlris species of property was so bad that it was with great difficulty that patentees could induce capitalists to aid them in bringing out their improvements. The statute of 1830 changed the whole | aspect of this matter. Confidence was inspired, and a stimulus was given to men of true genius who had hitherto kept out of a field mainly occupied by pretenders. Tha history of the progress of invention and discovery in our country is in a general way familiar to all intelligent readers ; and if those who seem to delight to scoff at the sons of genius, because they sometimes exhibit an undue zeal for some ignis fatom j, will but reflect a moment, they will at once see that, without this useful class of patient thinkers, the world would be trudging along at a snail pace. The acts of 1830-7, considered as a whole, constitute a patent system the most perfect ever devised by the wit of man. It has not only wrought wonderful tilings for our country, but it has also thrown the shield of its protection over the rights of the inventor, and thus interposing, it guards both interests with judicious care, [t is due to the memory of Hon. John Ituggles. then United States Senator from Maine, to acknowledge his indefatigable exertions in this matter, lie devoted himself to this subject with equal zeal and success, from the inception of the bill to its final signature by the President, and at a time when his term of oflicc was about to expire. Like all other works of human wisdom, however, time and experience have traced upon it certain slight imperfections, and it is necessary that Congress should know what they are, in order to legislate upon them in .1 proper manner. The history of every attempt at patent law legislation, since the passage of the amendment of 1812, has resulted in failure. It is true many attempts at reforms have been made; conventions pretending to represent inventors have been held, but were composed generally of speculators and schemers ; lawyers skilled in all the intricacies of their profession have have been consulted, and of course could stop short of nothing but a " new code," more complicated with details than the first. The press lias fulminated its views upon this subject with a zeal sometimes not according to knowledge. Senators and Representatives have from time to time peered into these mysterious statutes, seeming to wonder what all this rigmarole is about ; and if they have not confessed it, their action has usxially indicated either a profound ignorance or a stolid indifference to the whole subject. Senator James, of Khode Island, tried his hand at this business while he was in the Senate, and made a sad blunder. Mr. Taylor has during tliis session unwittingly adopted a bill which, we doubt not, he is now ashamed of; and so the matter has gone on with all the irregularity of a disordered clock until now. A very sensible movement was made during the last Congress, by the House Committee on Patents, to amend the laws ; a bill was reported, printed, and—neglected. There was no one to engineer it through, as no one in particular was likely to be benefited by its passage. If it had only contained a clause which couldbe tortured into a revival of some dead patents, the bill would have had friends among the gang of lobbyists who seem to hover about the Capitol, watching their own interests like crows over a dead carcass. The bill reported by Senator Evans, as published in the last number of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, is altogether the most sensible movement at reform in the patent law that has been attempted for many years. It wisely ignores the lobby gang, and confines itself to a few simple changes in the present admirable system, without undertaking to tear down and build anew. We will briefly sum up the disabilities which are designed to be removed by this bill. [t confers upon the Commissioner the power ;o compel the attendance of witnesses in con-;ested cases pending before the Patent Office. 4.t present the Commissioner has no power j whatever in such cases ; and it is oftentimes exceedingly difficult to adjudicate upon them, "or the want of such testimony as he cannot secure, unless he is willing to pay experts, which, of course, he will not do. The cause ]f justice and truth can oftentimes be inaiu-tained by the proper exercise of the power I proposed to be conferred on the Commissioner ! hy this bill. It is unnecessary for us to argue : in favor of the establishment of an Appeal Board to hear antl decide upon rejected cases. We have already fully exhibited its great importance, in previous articles. It is working now most admirably, and should become an established branch of the Patent Office. If tliis Appeal Board does not do justice to the applicant, he can appeal his case to the Commissioner upon the payment of a moderate fee, instead of being compelled to take it to an outside tribunal. The bill dispenses with models of designs, and authorizes the Commissioner to restore to applicants or otherwise dispose of all models of rejected cases. The utility of this provision of the bill must be apparent to all. A very large space in the Patent Office is given up as a sort of receiving tomb for this class of models ; they are in a state of wretched disorder—covered with dust and rust. Many of them cost much money to the applicants who would gladly receive them back, and they are certainly of no use to the Patent Office, as the drawings and specifications are retained for referenee. This bill, should it become a law, will wipe from our statute-book an ugly blot which has disgraced it for many years past. We refer to that feature which specifies that a British subject shall pay $500 on making Ids application for a patent, and all other foreigners shall pay $300. We can scarcely call to our aid language sufficiently strong to express our abhorrence of tliis contemptible discrimination. The English press has spoken against it with great justice, and we confess to a sense of humiliation when we look this matter full in its face. We are glad this bill proposes to abolish the needless and indecent distinction, and thus invite upon one common platform the sons of genius from every quarter of the globe. The present system of allowing two-thirds of the patent fee to be withdrawn in cases of rejection is undoubtedly a bad one. There are claims of this character resting against the Patent Office running over a space of twenty years ; they are liable to be presented at any time ; and are suSicient in amount to bankrupt the Office. We are confident that we but speak the sentiment of every reflecting inventor, when we say that this system should be abolished without delay. The schedule of fees is, on the whole, very satisfactory. We think, however, that a fee of ten instead of twenty dollars would be sufficient to require from an applicant on an appeal to the Commissioner of Patents ; and that ten cents per hundred words is quite sufficient for certified copies of papers deposited in the Office. We hope the committees will make these changes; or eise the above tax is likely to bear very heavily upon a few, particularly that clause in regard to certified copies. We have now presented a brief und necessarily imperfect view of the history of patent law legislation in this country, together with a synopsis of the bill now before Congress. It is an important subject ; one which ought to receive earnest attention. This bill is the best amendment which has been reported since 1837, and deserves to be incorporated into the statute-book without delay. Will it be done ? We have strong fears on thispoint. The committee are cautious and need to receive strong assurances that there is no snake in the grass ; and we call upon inventors throughout the country to write at once to their Congressional Representatives, urging upon them the importance of the bill. Members of Congress are strangely indifferent to this whole subject ; political questions absorb their attention ; and thus inventors are forgotten. Opposition to the passage of this bill it is expected will be made by those whose selfish schemes have been frustrated, and who would like to saddle down inventors by a complicated system which would destroy their future prospects. Inventors will you remain unconcerned in this matter ? or will you do something to aid the passage of this simple bill as reported by Senator Evans
This article was originally published with the title "Legislation upon the Patent Laws"