Perhaps no other department of tlie govern- J ment has teen less subjected to the unfavorable criticism of the press and the public, since its organization, than the Patent Office; and we may assert with perfect confidence of its truth, that no other department lias been bet-ter managed as a general thing, or more free from influences unfavorable to an honorable administration of its affairs. The utility of this institution is admitted by all. It was founded in a true appreciation of the value of genius to the development of the material and moral forces of our country ; and but for its fostering protection, we should not now occupy the position we have assumed as a nation. Since the re-organization of the Patent Office under the act of July i, 183(3, the duties of Commissioner have been discharged successively by H. L. Ellsworth, Edmund Burke, Silas II. Hodges, Thomas Ewbank, Charles Mason, and Joseph Holt, the present incumbent; nil gentlemen above the suspicion of int e itional wrong doing, yet not all equally felicitous in the management of the Oflice. We begin our brief review of the affairs of the Office at the time when Judge Mason assumed its duties, early in the administration of President Pierce. The department at that time had fallen into a somewhat confused condition, not from any intentional neglect on the part of the officials, but from a want of the executive ability to manage its complex details, which want had been confessedly shown by the preceding head of the Office. The Office had become unpopular with inventors; their claims were unreasonably delayed; and the whole tendency of its affairs was to an almost indescribable mass of confusion. One Examiner would kick like a hull in a China shop, rejecting nearly all the claims which were presented to him, and not hesitating in the least to reprimand either theapplieant or his attorney, under the official seal, for presuming to argue against the fallacies of his decisions. Another Examiner would reject the case, and frame his own notions in regard to it; and the applicant might argue and plead in vain for a reversal of the decision, even although the invention might possess patentable novelty. We recollect a case about the time we refer to—an improvement in a clook-pendulum. It was an excellent thing, and had so been proved by actual use. Upon an examination it was rejected ; but not satisfied with the reasons given for its rejection, the attorney appeared before the Examiner on behalf of his client, and after a con.siderable conversation, the Examiner informed the attorney that he thought he could see just what was new in the invention ; but immediately shut off this gleam of hope with the complacent announcement that " it was not his business to suggest features of novelty." It will force itself upon any one at all conversant with such matters, that the attorney might have guessed half a hundred times without hitting the precise idea which lurked away in the profound cranium of the Examiner. In cases like this, if the applicant was not satisfied with the unsound references cited to overthrow his claims, and persisted in arguing against them, the Office clapped its official action down upon him, with the agreeable announcement, that if not satisfied, an appeal could be taken to the District Court on payment of a fee of $'25; and thus in many cases the inventor, for want of means to carry on his appeal, would be deprived of his just rights; but shouldhe appeal, lo! and behold! here is this same Ex-t aminer in the Court ready to confront him, in i the capacity of an attorney for the Patent ( Office who had lief ore said he " could see Wfnovelty " iu tliehone.it man's case, but re-2. fused to lift a finger to point it out. When Judge Mason took the Office, he found it like "a nest of unclean birds;" and he set the power j of his mind to the devising of plans for its purification. He carefully studied the law under which it was governed, and acquired a knowledge of its letter and spirit. As a disciplinarian he had the nerve to assert his authority, and after becoming familiar with all the details of the Office, he established a system and enforced obedience to it. Appeals could be taken from an Examiner's decision up to the Commissioner, who, with a patience worthy of the patriarchs of old, sifted the chaff from the wheat, and over-ruled many wrong-headed, unjust decisions. This course I necessarily entailed upon him a vast amount ] of labor, (though he could perform more than j most men,) so much, in fact, that he was ! compelled—previous to his leaving the Office ; —to call special assistance in deciding appeal j cases. Judge Mason performed a herculean labor ; but before his views were completely established lie retired, respected and beloved br all; and yet, strange to say, Congress ; paid no sort of attention to his recommendations, and he left the Oflice under the same laws as existed at his entrance. Not a change was made, and not one of his views received favorable action from that authority which alone had the power to legislate upon them. Without solicitation by, and against the wishes of the appointee, the Commissionership was tendered to Mr. Holt, who at first refused it; but upon the pressing urgency of the President he accepted the charge, and at once j entered vigorously upon the performance of his duties. Ho also made himself acquainted with the law, and in his report to Congress, dated Jan. 20, 1858, he gave an expression of his views in relation to it. They are eminently Worthy of his head and heart; and we say, without the slightest word of qualification, that no similar document—we make no exception—ever received such general commendation from inventors. Commissioner Holt's policy is an advance in the right direction upon that which he found upon entering the Office. He has grasped the whole subject, and is earnestly working to establish the Office upon a sound and just bais. One of his first acts was to select from among his Chief Examiners an Appeal Board of three individuals, to whom cases could be carried from the decision of primary Examiners. He was fortunate in this seleotion, so far as the interests of inventors are concerned ; but he was unfortunate in not being able to please every Examiner in the Patent Office. Some of them kicked against his judgment, but without avail; he would not recede. The growling and snarling continued, hut suddenly the doors are opened, and some of the growlers are bid to seek repose outside of the spot wherein they were evidently so uncomfortable ; and we say emphatically, that the Office is be tter for these changes, and we say further that it is clearly the duty of every employe in the Office to resign, unless they can lend their obedience to the rightful authority of the Office. The responsibility falls upon the Commissioner, and upon him alone; and in the name of common sense, we submit that the subordinate officers have no business to undertake to subvert his authority. Commissioner Holt is not the man to tamely submit to this species of dictation. He will listen to advice, he is glad to receive it, but it is unlike him to suffer his honest judgment of what is right, to be defied or trampled upon by those who should look to him for their proper action. This independent course of the Commissioner, while it is working admirably to the advantage of the Oflice, and to the entire satisfaction of those who have claims before it, has incited rebellion and provoked opposition, whieh has shown itself in the shape of a patent bill, published in the SCIENTIFIC AMEP.ICAX, NO. 25, and in certain dirty squibs which have appeared in one of the prominent daily papers of this city. They have been the offspring of malice ; and of course, truth has been perverted to render them useful in serving the selfish ends of their propagators. The Washington Union, under date of the 5th inst., condescends to notice these silly and malicious attacks, and by an appeal to the facts, derived from the records of the Patent Oflice, completely upsets them, and exposes their sophistry in a manner somowhat damaging to the assailants. They want very much to drive Commissioner Holt from the Office. He stands in their way, but it is not at all likely that he will please them in this matter.
This article was originally published with the title "The Patent Office and its Management" in Scientific American 13, 28, 221 (March 1858)