In each House of Congress there is annually appointed a regular "Committee of Patents," the specific duties of which are of great public importance. To these committees are l'eferred all questions relating to science and art which require experiment and investigation; also, all petitions for appropriations to test new and important discoveries of reputed national benefit—such, for instance, as the first electric telegraph line, from Washington to Baltimore, costing thirty thousand dollars—likewise the case for which an appropriation of a similar amount was made a few years since to test electro-magnetic engines. To them are also referred petitions for compensation in cases wherein government officials have used patented inventions or discoveries, such as etherization by surgeons in the naval and military hospitals, for which one hundred thousand dollars was wrongfully proposed to be granted. Petitions for the extension of expired patents are also referred to them, some of which, if secured, may attain to the valne of millions of dollars—such as Wood's patent for the old cast iron plow, which, had it been extended by Congress, would have been the means of unjustly taxing eyery farmer in our country—the Woodworth patent—Colt's pistol—Hayward's india-rul.ber scheme, and McCormick's reaper, aro similar and well-known cases. All questions relating to the Patent laws, and such like matters, are also referred to them. Owing to the nature of the business belonging to these committees, it is well known that very large sums of money are freque.ntly at stake, ready to be employed in any manner most advantageous to the interest of the parties who have claims to present. It is well known tlmt members of these committees, in former times, have not been above the insidious approach of the " almighty dollar ;" it is therefore highly necessary that these committees should be composed of men above pecuniary and business influences of every kind and character relating to questions brought under their official cognizance. If they are not thus independent, it is easy to perceive that very pernicious measnres may be fastened upon the community through their actions, and that the people's money may be given away to charlatans and plotters. The Senators and Representatives appointed on such committees should have characters above SUspICIon. This is the first qualification to be sought after; the next is the possession of zeal for the promotion of science and art, and warm sympathies towards inventors. Our attention has been specially directed to this subject by the recent debate which took place in the Senate on the appointment of its Committee on Patents. Senator Hamblin, in objecting to its character, said :—" I find a majority of them constituted of Southern Senators. They are worthy men. I make no complaint of the Senators who occupy the positions on these committees; but it is to their sectional cast that I object, and the purposes which we have a right to believe are designed to flow from that orgauization. That committee is composed of three gentlemen from the Southern and two from the Northern States, giving to that section the control of all its action. While I know, if there is an honest man in this body who will devote his energies honestly to its purpose, I say cheerfully it is the worthy Senator from South Carolina (Mr. Evans) ; still when we look at the fact, that of the inventiye genius and enterprise of the country, more than four-fifths, if not nine-tenths, come from another section of the Union, I ask, if it were not right, that they might reasonably have expected men who feel a local and personal, as well as a national, ( interest in that department of our govern-ment in what relates to arts and inventive genius." Senator Gwin opposed such views, not on pnrty or sectional considerations, but on the justness of the appointments. He aid :—" What is more just thanthatit should be composed of men of legal attainments, who n examining important questions connected with patent$, will be disinterested so far as heir constituents are concerned in passing. mpartially on these great qnestions ? We had ref erence to that in putting gentlemen on that committee, from whose States inventions rare-y come up, that they may be impartial udges of the questions under consideration." The two views here presented by these Sen-ators are worthy of notice. Senator Gwin has stated a fact which is honorable to those who had the appointment of this committee—their ruling motive being the fitness of the Senators for their peculiar duties. We are glad of this ; because such motives do not always prevail in the selection of persons for such duties. The committee consists of Senators Reid, of North Carolina (chairman); Evans, of South Carolina; Yulee, of Florida ; Simmons, of Rhode Island, and Trumbull, of Illinois. One idea appears to us to haye been prominent in the minds of those who sought their appointment, namely, the quality to judge impartially of the cases that may be brought before them respecting the unjust extension of certain expired patents under the management of certain scheming parties, who are now seeking to fasten them once more upon the public. We are happy that this was the first —because it is the most important question at this time—which was considered in the selection of this committee, and we have a guarantee in the character of the Senators appointed, that such schemes will not meet with any fayor whatever. But do these gentlemen possess the proper feelings in regard to the progress of the arts—the great object for which Patent laws were made, in order to encourage and incite inventors to make improvements. It is true, as Senator Hamblin has stated, that the great mass of our inventions come from the Northern States, and it is natural to conclude that members from the North may have more zeal for the interests of inventors and the adVQ,ncement of the arts;. but we have always taken the position that as it relates to inventors, the whole world should be considered as one republic, and that our laws should be framed to meet this view without discrimination, and we would direct the attention of the committee to this point. These laws require amendment in relation to the reduction of fees to foreign inventors, as recommended by the Secretary of the Interior, and if the committee exhibits zeal in the performance of their duties, these laws will certainly be amended at this session. There are other features of our Patent laws also requiring amendment, and to these we will advert at some future time. So far as-the committees of the Senate and House of RepresentatiYes are concerned, we have the e fullest confidence in their ability and integrity; still we caution them to look sharp after all applications for extensions of patents. There I ismischief at the bottom of many of them.
This article was originally published with the title "Patent Committees—Their Importance" in Scientific American 13, 20, 157 (January 1858)