Congress has adjourned. Many days of the session have been spent in unprofitable discussion, sometimes involving bitter, disgraceful, personal reflection and aspersion. Many speeches have been made for the ear of the constituent, of no practical moment to the national weal ; and we fear that many bills have passed that may be denominated " useless legislation," while many really important measures have utterly failed, because compelled to stand on their own merits, with no aid from the lobby to lubricate their passage. In reference to the all-important subject that most concerns the interests of inventors, viz., amendments to the patent law, we are compelled to reiterate the same old story— nothing done. European inventors, who seem so unsophisticated in reference to the doings of" an American Congress, and apparently think that the mere reporting of a bill is a certain sign of its passage, will regret to hear that the much-desired result, so long hoped-for, so confidently anticipated, and so urgently pressed during the session, has been blown to the winds. An English inventor, because he happens to have been born within the domains of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, must, upon presenting his application for a patent in this country, still continue to pay the outrageous sum of $500. The Frenchman, born just across the English Channel, with no more legal merit, but only because he happens to be a Frenchman, has only to pay $300 for the same privilege. In fact, the children of our venerable friend " Bull" are the only ones who are thus singled out and made to pay the enormous patent fee of $500. Year after year we have uttered our protest against this unjust discrimination, and session after session the Patent Committees have made a most feeble and ineffectual attempt to secure a just and honorable reduction. There has been no opposition to this change—not a single American journal—not a single American inventor —not a single interest of any kind, so far as we can learn, has interposed the slightest barrier to its success ; and yet it has failed again, while the public have been made to pay for a mass of legislation scarcely fit to be recorded on the pure parchment upon which it is engrossed. We speak now in no partisan spirit. We have heard members of all political parties assert that our legislation, as a general thing, whether State or national, has of late years been characterized by wrangling disputes, or been wasted in scheming through measures of a selfish and corrupt nature. Among those useful departments of the government which have been almost wholly neglected by Congress, for many years past, is the Patent Office ; and our legislatigiseiDS to iavebe SSine so corrupt that all honest attempts, however few and far between, seem instantly to arouse a great deal of suspicion. An honorable citizen who appears at Washington to enlighten our public functionaries upon defects noticeable in some one of our departments, is instantly set upon as a " free wool" customer, and is branded accordingly. Attempts were made, near to the close of the session, by Senators Simmons and Yulee, both members of the Committee on Patents, to engraft on the general appropriation bills certain salutary resolutions in regard to the fees of the Patent Office, and for paying the salaries of the Examiners, none of which propositions prevailed. One day Senator Yulee tries to get an amendment passed, and Senator Simmons opposes. In a day or two after- wards, Simmons tries to get his amendment "1 passed, and fails. We cannot learn from the ,(. Congressional Globe whether Yulee opposed jj Simmons or not ; but the whole matter, in- j eluding the discussion which it elicited, seems to have been about as irregular as the racing of a yoke of steers. Senator Hale, of New Hampshire, representing more immediately than many other Senators an ingenious constituency, came forward in the discussion as an antagonist of the general bill reported by the Committee on Patents, and remarked that "from the imperfect knowledge I had of the matter, I thought I saw in that bill some things that were crude and imperfect, and I notified the Committee on Patents that, when it was called up, I should be prepared to say something in opposition to the measure." Now with all proper deference to the wit and wisdom of the Senator, we are curious to know what he thought he saw in his imperfect examination of the bill, to warrant him in announcing his settled hostility to its passage. What "spectre in white" could have flitted across his vision, and so disturbed his judgment in respect to a measure that had met not only the sanction of the Commissioner of Patents, but also the unanimous approval of the Committees in both houses of Congress ? Senator Hale, in some remarks made a few days later, takes us somewhat behind the scenes, and intimates his opinions that "political considerations have influenced the appointment and turning out of Commissioners, and the appointment of Examiners, confessedly without the qualifications necessary to the office." Now from an extensive experience of twelve years' practice in the business of the Patent Office, we are prepared to say that Mr. Hale is mistaken. We are of the opinion, and we reach it independent of the clamor of politicians, or the lachrymose cry of some dissatisfied ex-official, that the qualifications of the present examining corps, as a body, are quite equal to those possessed by any previous members of that body, and furthermore, that the present corps of Examiners are much superior in the exercise of proper discrimination and liberal judgment towards the claims of inventors. It is our deliberate conviction, without intending to impute moral delinquency to any one, that the removals which have occurred in the Patent Office during the past two or three years have been useful ; and that if those old Examiners had been retained, the revenue of the Office would have been much less than it now is. Inventors had become discouraged, and felt that their claims were most unjustly disposed of. Senator Hale, before he fully launches out in his meditated assault upon the Patent Office, will have to take soundings with great care, or else he may be like one "running a muck with a windmill." The patent bill reported at the last session is not a perfect one, but it is the nearest approach to perfection that we have ever met with in the history of Congressional tinkering on the patent laws, for about twenty years past. We venture to assert that the inventors of New Hampshire, and indeed, all those of the whole country, will heartily approve of the action of Congress whenever it shall pass this plausible bill.
This article was originally published with the title "The Fate of the Patent Bill" in Scientific American 13, 43, 341 (July 1858)