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)