Saturday, September 22, 2018

If the Senator Say So, That Must be the Truth

by Steve Reiss (

On December 18, 1878, in the US Senate, during speeches on proposed changes to the patent laws, William Windom (May 10, 1827 – January 29, 1891), U.S. Senator from Minnesota gave a speech making remarkable charges but with little evidence. Though some of his underlying arguments are as valid now as then, they were somewhat hyperbolic. Excerpts follow:

William Windom, Brady-Handy photo portrait, ca1870-1880.jpg
William Windom

Mr. WINDOM. Mr. President, the object of this amendment will be very apparent, and I will not take the time of the Senate to discuss it at any length. It is intended to remedy very great wrongs
which are being perpetrated under the cover of our patent law.

The law now gives to the patentee or to the purchaser of a patent a sweeping right of action against everybody. The proposed amendment takes away such right of action in the courts of the United
States against innocent parties who use the invention without knowledge of its existence an
open market from a dealer who is engaged in the sale of such articles or from the manufacturer thereof. The remedy still remains against the manufacturer and the seller. I think I am safe in saying that there are a hundred thousand patents to-day in the Patent Office of the United States for little insignificant inventions, covering every conceivable thing used in your kitchen, upon your farm, in your work shop, of which the persons buying have no means of knowledge. Now, the object of this amendment is to prevent the oppression and the great injustice that is being perpetrated upon hundreds of thousands of innocent people by means of the patent law. A common coal-stove, I am informed, is covered by at least twenty patents, almost every part of it; and your laws encourage the issue of the largest possible number of patents. If, for instance, an applicant thinks he has devised a new and useful kind of stove, and that device includes a dozen different contrivances, instead of taking out a single patent for the whole and getting a patent for that kind of stove, your laws and this bill, I believe, expressly provide that he may divide his application into different patents, giving him the opportunity after they are thus subdivided to assign one to A, another to B, another to C, and then for a single coal-stove which the poor man uses upon the prairies to keep his family from freezing a dozen men may sue him for a dozen different royalties.

I want to free him from such harassing and vexatious suits. Give the patentee his full redress against the vendor, against the manufacturer, or against the man who has knowledge of the patent, but do not send him into every farm-house and cottage in this country to harass the people with vexatious suits, about that of which they never could by any possibility have had knowledge. That is the object of this amendment.

Congressional Record for December 18, 1878, p. 270 (emphasis added).

Friday, September 21, 2018

On the Dignity of the Senate, Overconfidence In It's Abilities, or the Value of Patents?

by Steve Reiss (

On December 19, 1878, in the US Senate, during speeches on proposed changes to the patent laws, Isaac P. Christiancy (March 12, 1812 – September 8, 1890), U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan gave an incredibly long-winded and somewhat pompous speech on his opinion of the state of the US patent system. The speech went on for more than 6 columns of the day's Congressional Record (pp. 306-09)(emphasis added).

Isaac P. Christiancy - Brady-Handy.jpg
Isaac Christiancy

Excerpts from his speech are below:

Mr. CHRISTIANCY. Mr. President, I have some remarks to submit upon some of the questions alluded to in the amendments proposed by the Senator from Illinois, but I shall confine myself, so far
as they are concerned, mainly to those offered to the second section on the subject of profits. Before coming to that, however, I have some general views upon the present patent system as a whole, which I wish to submit to the Senate, and in doing so I shall touch many of the points that have already been alluded to.

I am compelled to say, that not even an injunction from a court of equity, nor the more affirmative and forward impulse of a mandamus from a court of law, nor any other process known to gods or men, can make me feel or express a like admiration, or any admiration, veneration, or gratitude, for those men, however numerous and otherwise respectable, whose inventive genius and expansive patriotism have exhausted themselves in the invention of a corn-popper, an improved rolling-pin, a clothes-pin, a wardrobe-hook, a cigar-holder, an improved clasp for a lady's back hair, or for her stocking-supporter or artificial palpitators, nor even of a toy popgun, or a baby-whistle, nor for that more lofty flight of genius which has secured a patent for a mustache guard for keeping a gentleman's mustache out of his tea or coffee, and which could as well be accomplished by shortening the mustache just a little, still leaving it in good working order; nor for the equally, beneficent genius who, to save the hens the labor of hatching their eggs, has contrived an incubator to hatch them for her.

Nor is my admiration nor my sympathy greatly excited over the vast amount of brain-power expended by the man who, sitting by a kitchen cook-stove or a dining-room table perhaps, with a piece of wire in his hand, and noticing that a hot plate will burn the naked fingers, happens to think of bending the wire into such form as to lift the plate without burning the fingers, and then straightway applies for and obtains a patent for the invention, to be followed, perhaps, by other patents for improved methods or forms of bending the wire or attaching a handle; nor for the swarm of other equally important patented inventions with which the kitchen of every family is infested and lumbered up, unless they set their faces against all the vendors of such patents, as they would against the traveling insurance agents, lightning-rod vendors, and organ-grinders who undertake to prowl around their premises.

Many of these insignificant inventions may be convenient enough, if they could be kept always in the convenient spot to be used just when they may each be wanted. But those contrived for the use of
the kitchen are so numerous that no ordinary kitchen has room for all of them, and more time and trouble would be spent in selecting each as it is wanted, than would be taken in doing the particular item of work in the old unpatented method.

Mr. President, what I have been saying upon the insignificance of some of the patents which have been granted may seem to be beneath the dignity of the Senate—like mere trifling and a waste of time but when the Patent Office of the United States will condescend to the granting of patents giving exclusive privileges for such trifles, each of which may become the prolific mother of a brood of lawsuits, I do not think I can justly be charged with trifling when I bring these matters to the attention of the Senate and the country, and ask that some measures should be adopted to get rid of this kind of trifling.

I have ave no hostility against the Patent Office; I think it has been a useful institution. It is self-supporting also, which cannot be said of any other Government bureau. It has always been administered by faithful, studious, and laborious men, and few idlers have been found there. But much time and labor, I insist, have of late years been spent in the investigation of applications for patents for these trifling matters, which ought to have been promptly rejected, as not, upon the whole, sufficiently useful and important to justify the issuing of patents.

Here, for instance, is a list selected from only a few pages, a small part of the list of patents granted in the year 1876. It does not include one tithe of the equally insignificant, if not ludicrous, patents
issued in that year alone:

For a croquet apparatus; mustache-guard for cups; incubator for hatching eggs; protector for studs or sleeve-buttons; weaning-bit for calves; clothes-sprinkler; lamp-wick trimmers; plate-lifter; bustle; corsets, (several patents;) skates, (several patents;) spring-bed-bottoms, (several patents;) corset with pad; croquet-mallet; spring pillow; stilts; music-leaf turner, (several patents,) all useless, and worse than useless, as there is always a crowd of the opposite sex who are pressing to perform that agreeable labor for the player; toy popgun; corn-popper; fly-trap,(several patents;) shawl-bag; candy; penholders; wash-basin; suspender end; bell-toy; fire-kindler; tobacco pipe; playing cards; lamp-chimney holder; clasp for pocket-book; rolling-pin; step-ladder; machine for forming pop-corn balls; dice box; cigar-pouch; egg-beater; fastening for sleeve-buttons; suspender loops; support for nursing-bottle; mop-wringers, (several patents); scissors-sharpener; stud and button; baby-jumper; clasp for bird cages: book-support; wardrobe-hook; rein-holder; game-counter; e-table; bottle-stopper, (which would be valuable if it always stopped the bottle at the right moment;) toy-pistol; pencil-sharpener;
carpet-fastener; stove-lid lifter; tape for hoop-skirts; ironing-board; skirt-supporter; dish-drainer; suspender-fastener; tooth pick; clothes-pounder; eye-glass holder; bow and arrow (very essential in the present stage of human progress); pot-cover; shirt-bosom; cork screw; hair-pin; hat and coat hook; toy cap-exploder; coffee pot; halter; ironing-stand; mop-holder; gate-latch; sad-iron; corset-spring; shirt-protector; shoe-fastener; Shirt; gate-hinge; hair crimper; rolling toy; milk-can cover; toy blow-horn; umbrella support; corset-steel; carpet-stretcher and tack-driver; glove-fastener; thimble; perch for bird-cage; ladle; lamp-extinguisher; bust-supporter; underwaist; nutmeg-grater; milk-cooler; device for removing wires from bottle-corks; lamp-chimney cleaner; buttonhole attachment; holder for tumblers; machine for paring, slicing, and coring apples; pantaloons; bottle-washing machine, &c.

I have omitted several which I could not properly mention in the hearing of the galleries, and I have gone over but a few pages of the list granted in a single year. . It is safe to say that, in that year alone
from one thousand to fifteen hundred patents were granted, as insignificant and useless as those I have given; not one of which, in my opinion, ought ever to have been granted; and to have refused
them all would have given to the applicants no just ground to complain of the ingratitude of republics, nor would the progress of civilization have been seriously retarded. It is quite obvious, I think, that if there had been no Patent Office in existence, and the discretion of Congress, had been appealed to upon the merits of each case, not one of them would have been granted. I go much further than this, and say that of all the patents for the last ten years, at least three-fourths are utterly worthless, and never would have been granted had they depended upon the judgment and discretion of Congress [SR NOTE: This is statement is from the same set of speeches where Senator Kirkwood announced not being familiar with the US patent laws and an expectation that he never would be]. But Congress has confided the power of deciding upon such matters to the Patent Office, and such appellate tribunals as they found practicable; and as no human intellect could define in advance all the particular cases or classes of cases in which patents should be granted or refused, they have been compelled to describe the very general language the grounds upon which they might be granted.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Too Much Stress, Poor Working Conditions, and Being at the Heart of Disloyalty Hearings

by Steve Reiss (

Amos B. Little, of New Hampshire, former clerk in the patent office, committee suicide to-day, in the National Hotel dining room, during a temporary fit of insanity.
Janesville Daily Gazette (Janesville, Wisconsin), October 1, 1862.

In 1861, Little testified to the loyalty of Hugh McCormick of the Patent Office and who was alleged to be disloyal to the Union. Having known McCormick for 10 years, Little testified never hearing Little speak against the Union, claiming McCormick was a firm and consistent friend and supporter of the Union.

On the other hand, Horatio Taft, a former examiner, testified that "McCormick is generally regarded in the department as being in sympathy with the south in this insurrectionary movement."

Additionally, O. S. X. Peck, acquainted with McCormick, said at the time of the attack on the Massachusetts troops, in Baltimore, Peck held some conversation with McCormick concerning the same, but he would not be drawn out, but said that he (McCormick) was opposed to the use of force to preserve the Union."

After receiving another deposition in support of McCormick's loyalty, Secretary of the Interior Caleb Smith held that he was "satisfied of Mr. McCormick's loyalty."

Congress, however, disagreed, saying the evidence of these depositions is almost purely negative, and at any rate fails to meet the direct charge of the first witness, who swears he said "that he was opposed to the use of force to preserve the Union."

BY GOVERNMENT, Report of the House of Representatives (37th Congress, 2nd Session)(HR Report No. 16)(1862) p, 37.

Amos Little's Biography Shows He overcame Adversity, but does not mention his suicide:

Amos B. Little, was born Feb. 16. 1821; was educated principally at Meridan Academy and Brown University; studied law, but an infirmity of deafness prevented the completion of his studies.

In 1845 he was appointed to a place in the Patent Office at Washington,by Hon. Edmund Burke, then commissioner.

He was in course of time (1853) promoted to the position of law clerk, and while holding that office, codified and published the Patent Laws of the United States.He was a vigorous political writer and correspondent of the N.H. Patriot, and other journals of that time.

He died in Washington, DC, on October 1, 1862.

It is well established that working in the Old Patent Office Building was stressful and harmful to the health of those that worked there. One author writes of the "daily privations they endured, including cold and dampness in winter as well as brutal heat in summer." A 1912 government report on the Patent Office, writes of its lack of natural light, dust, poor ventilation and out of date mechanics. Under these conditions, young buys used for filing were, "developing from time to time diseases of the throat, nose, and eyes..."  Others had it worse:
There can  be no system of ventilation in these rooms because of their crowded condition. Four clerks sit right against the windows in each room, and  it is unfair to them to keep the windows open, yet the other clerks suffer for want of fresh air.
In order to make the conditions bearable it is necessary to discontinue all work at stated intervals of time, open the windows, and change the air.
   How any of this may have played a role in Little's suicide, is unknown.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Extraordinary Honesty/Stupidity In the Senate

by Steve Reiss (

I remember reading somewhere, though cannot recall where, that the patent community was arguing  that Congress was not qualified to amend the patent laws because Congressmen/Senators do not understand our patent laws. Its pretty much a given that the US Supreme Court does not understand patent law.

Well, it looks like whoever said that was correct...

  Samuel Jordan Kirkwood.jpg

Here, in a speech before the senate, he admits to suggesting an amendment to the patent law, even though he does not understand the patent law.

December 18, 1878:

Samuel Jordan Kirkwood. Mr. President, I am not familiar with the patent law and never expect to be, and I merely suggested the doubt that arose in my own mind whether or not the insertion of this word might not require every man to be construed to have knowledge by the recording of the patent in the Patent Office.

As I before said, the purpose of this amendment, as I understand it, and certainly my own purpose in supporting it, is, as I have indicated, to give to the person who in good faith buys from a party
engaged in manufacturing an article or a party engaged in selling it in open market, without any knowledge that he is infringing the rights of any one, exemption from prosecution for damages, leaving the inventor to prosecute the manufacturer or the dealer. I understood the Senator from New Hampshire to say that it left the inventor without anything at all. Does he not have the power to enjoin the manufacturer; who is engaged in manufacturing articles in violation of his patent?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Not Awakening Slumbering Patents

by Steve Reiss (

From the Congressional Record:
I agree that the owner of a patent is as much entitled to his property in it as the owner of anything else, but he is entitled to no higher consideration than the owner of any other kind of property.

It is not the patentee who will suffer if this amendment shall pass, if anybody suffers. It is not the patentee who brings these suits; but it is usually a combination of agents and lawyers who find slumbering in your Patent Office some forgotten and worthless patent which, under the advantage given them by your present system, they can use as a means of robbing the people—it is they that bring the suit under some arrangements by which the profits are divided.

Now, sir, while I respect the genius and the talent of the inventor and will protect him as far as I can, I submit that it does not require any more talent or genius to buy or steal a patent than it does to buy or steal a horse, and therefore to the purchaser I would accord no more powers than I would to the man who owns any other kind of property by purchase. Possibly there may be some slight inconvenience growing out of this amendment to some of the patentees, but the inconveniences as I stated a moment ago do not weigh at all as against the great benefits that the people would receive by the protection which it would afford.
Senator William Windom (R-MN) speaking in favor of an amendment to the US patent laws, to add a new section to the Revised Statues (now United States Code), saying:
In any suit brought in any court now having jurisdiction in patent cases for an alleged infringement of any patented article, device, process, invention, or discovery, where it shall appear that the defendant purchased the same from the manufacturer thereof, or from a person or firm engaged in the open sale or practical application thereof, or that he manufactured or applied the same for and to his own use, and not for sale nor for making a product, for sale, if the plaintiff shall recover a judgment for merely nominal damages, the court shall adjudge that he pay all the costs of the suit; and if the plaintiff shall not recover the sum of $50 or over, the court shall adjudge him to pay his own costs, unless it shall also appear that the defendant, at the time of such purchase, manufacture, or practical application, had knowledge or actual notice of the existence of such patent, and that such purchase, manufacture, or practical application was an infringement of the rights of the plaintiff.
While complexly worded, Windom told the senate that under this new section:
The patentee has his remedy, if this amendment shall pass, against the maker and the vender of the patented articles, and he has also his remedy against the purchaser and user wherever that purchaser or user has notice that the patent has been infringed. It seems to me that this is a sufficient remedy.
 Congressional Record-Senate, January 20, 1879, p. 569-70.

Thus, to recover from a mere purchaser, actual notice that the purchased product was an infringement would be required.

William Windom, Brady-Handy photo portrait, ca1870-1880.jpg

Friday, July 13, 2018

Congress Simply Does Not Change When It Comes to Patent Appropriations - 1880 Version

by Steve Reiss


At the present time it is very important that the Committee on Patents should have control of the appropriations, from the fact that I hold in my hand the report of the Commissioner-of Patents which states that he has not under bis control a sufficient force to do the work of the office, and it is alleged to be a fact, and I believe it to be true, that at this time the inventors of the country are compelled to wait a month before they can receive their patents after the application has been filed.

[Here the hammer fell.]

The committee divided; and there were-ayes 39, noes 82.
So the amendment was rejected.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: CONGRESSIONAL RECORD (46th Congress; 2nd Session) (Feb. 11, 1880) Vol X, p. 824.

Robert B. Vance (D-NC ) (April 24, 1828 – November 28, 1899) was the four-term Chairman of the Committee on Patents. President Grover Cleveland appointed Vance assistant commissioner of patents.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Closing the Door on Benjamin Harrison

by Steve Reiss (

When getting ready to at least temporarily close the door on President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901; presidency 1889-1893), another of his patent speeches show up.

In the Annual Message to Congress of 1890, President Benjamin Harrison, between bragging about the admission of Wyoming and Idaho (1889-93)(1894) to the United States (Harrison would see WY, ID, ND, SD, MT, and WA as well as the annexation of Hawaii) and the success of the census of 1889, said:
The work of the Patent Office has won from all sources very high commendation. The amount accomplished has been very largely increased ,and all the results have been such as to secure confidence and consideration for the suggestions of the Commissioner.
President's Annual Message to Congress of 1890, Journal of the Senate, p. 7. Not exactly on the level of Queen Victoria and her mention of diadems...

Benjamin Harrison

Saturday, June 16, 2018

William McKinley on Patents

by Steve Reiss (

We don't hear much about William McKinley, Republican president of the United States from March 4, 1897 until his assassination in September, 1901.

McKinley as President (Official Portrait)

Commissioners of Patents During McKinley's Terms

Two men were appointed by McKinley as Commissioner of Patents. Those men were: Charles Holland Duell (1898-1901) and Frederick Innes Allen (1901-1907). 

Duell is frequently and incorrectly quoted as saying "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Duell's father, Robert Holland Duell, was also a Commissioner of Patents under a Republican president (U.S. Grant).

According to the USPTO histories, Commissioners Allen and Duell (the younger) endeavored to keep the Office work as near current as possible, by holding divisions which were far behind in their work for an hour overtime every day. Many of the examiners also sacrificed much of their leave, and were placed in an embarrassing position generally.

Patent Speeches by McKinley 

Before being president, McKinley fought in the US Civil War, was Governor of Ohio, and a member of the US House of Representatives. During his time as a member of the House, he gave two frequently reproduced speeches mentioning patents.

Representative William McKinley (R-Ohio)
While a promoter of pro-business and protective economic theories, McKinley's speeches often addressed the benefits and the role of patents in American's economic successes. Before the House of Representatives:
Go to the Patent Office and examine the evidences furnished from that great register of the products of American genius. Take the States which have stood by the protective system, which have believed in it, which have built up under it, and contrast them with the States whose Representatives have stood in unyielding opposition to the system on this floor. See what result you get. Take Connecticut, a little State but a manufacturing one : in the year 1887 there were 788 patents granted to the inhabitants of that State, one for every 790 of its inhabitants, while for Arkansas the number of patents granted was 65, one to every 12,346. Take Massachusetts: in 1887 there were 1,875 patents granted to the people of that State, one to every 950 of her population ; while to Kentucky there were 245 patents granted, or one to every 6,729 of her population. Take Illinois : 1,595 patents were granted to her people, or one to every 1,929 of her population ; while for Georgia there were 130, or one in every 11,862 of her population. Here is the list.
These figures need no comment; they point their own moral; they enforce their own lesson. They demonstrate better than any argument that I can make that invention and progress and the general diffusion of knowledge follow manufacturing and industrial enterprises.

Excerpt from McKinley's speech in support of THE MILLS TARIFF BILL.
Before the US House of Representative, Fiftieth Congress, May 18, 1888.


Cincinnati, Ohio (1891):
 American workmen are, as a body, the most ingenious and intelligent of the world.
Inventiveness has come to be a National trait. The United States Government issues four times as many patents as Great Britain, our greatest competitor. From the Patent Office in Washington, during the past decade, there have been issued annually from 18,000 to 22,000 patents, the greatest number in the history of any country in any previous period of the world's history. At the International Electrical Exposition at Paris, a few years ago, five gold medals were offered for the greatest inventions or discoveries. How many of them, do you suppose, came to the United States? Only five.

Testimonials to our mechanical superiority abound on every hand. The Mechanical World, of London, a great trades organ of England, says that the United States has the best machinery and tools in the world. The French Minister of Commerce has made public an official report to him that the superiority of tools used here, and the attention to details too often neglected in Europe, are elements of great danger to the supremacy of European industries.

Excerpt from "THE AMERICAN WORKINGMAN", an Address given at CINCINNATI, Ohio, on September 1, 1891.


If you are not a historian and McKinley's name is ringing a bell, it could be from 2015. In 2015, McKinley briefly returned to the news; though only indirectly. In 2015, then-President Obama caused some controversy when he announced the name of 20,000 foot high "Mount McKinley", in Alaska, would return to being called Mount "Denali."

Patent Speeches You Should Not Sleep By ...

by Steve Reiss (

As mentioned above, president-to-be- Benjamin Harrison tried to break into patents; though he had no luck.

President Benjamin Harrison, unfortunately, -for him and us- was president during Celebration Of The Beginning Of The Second Century Of The American Patent System. This celebration and its speeches were reprinted in many journals, including Scientific American (cover of issue shown below).

Anniversaries and Celebrations mean exceptional speeches. As for Harrison, I do not believe Harrison or his writers rose to the occasion.


My fellow-citizens, members of this first convention of Inventors and Manufacturers, assembled to observe the Centennial of the Patent System of the United States: My connection with this meeting must necessarily be very brief, and may seem to be quite formal. Other engagements will prevent the enjoyment by me of the treat that is in store for you in the addresses which will be delivered by the distinguished men whose names are upon the programme. I can only by my presence here, and these few introductory words, opening and constituting this Congress, express my appreciation of the importance of this occasion, and my hope that your gathering may be promotive of those branches of science and art in which you are respectively interested.
 It distinctly marked, I think, a great step in the progress of civilization when the law took notice of property in the fruit of the mind. (Applause.)

Ownership in the clumsy device which savage hands fashioned from wood and stone, was obvious to the savage mind; but it required a long period to bring the public to a realization of the fact that it was quite as essential that invention, taking shapes useful to men, should be recognized and secured as property. That is the work of the patent system as it has been established in this country. It cannot be doubted by any, I think, that the security of property in inventions has been highly promotive of the advance our country has made in the arts and sciences. (Applause.) Nothing more stimulates effort than security in the results of effort. (Applause.}

Proceedings And Addresses: Celebration Of The Beginning Of The Second Century Of The American Patent System At Washington City, D.C., pp. 23-24 (April 8, 9, 10, 1891)