Sunday, February 11, 2018

On the Making of a Good Patent Examiner...

by Steve Reiss (

In 1836, Senator Ruggles, then-Chairman of Senate Committee on Patents, critic of early patent law, proponent of the Patent Act of 1836, "Father of the Patent Office" and recipient of USP 1 (1836):
lt is his business to make himself fully acquainted with the principles of the invention for which a patent is sought, and to make a thorough investigation of all that has been before known or invented, either in Europe or America, on the particular subject presented for his examination!
He must ascertain how far the invention interferes in any of its parts with previous inventions or things previously in use. He must point out and describe the extent of such collision and interference, that the applicant may have the benefit of the information in so shaping or restricting his claim of originality as not to trespass upon the rights of others ..•. An efficient and just discharge of the duties, it is obvious, requires extensive scientific attainments, and a general knowledge of the arts, manufactures, and the mechanism used in every branch of business in which improvements are sought to be patented, and of the principles embraced in the ten thousand inventions patented in the United States, and of the thirty thousand patented in Europe. He must moreover a familiar knowledge of the statute and common law on the subject, and the judicial decisions both in England and our own country, in patent cases.

Examiners Working - From 1869 issue of Harper's Digest

In 1871, then-Commissioner Leggett, reprinted in James Shepard, The United States Patent System, in The New England Magazine, (April 1891) p. 147-48, said of the examiner:
Some examiners are very quick to detect resemblances, and will reject almost every-thing. Others are equally quick at finding differences, and will grant patents on mere shades of variation. Hence, a picket-fence is re­jected on reference to a comb; surgical in­struments for injecting spray into the throat or nasal organs, on reference to a fireman's hose; a rubber packing for fruit-jars, on reference to a pump; a device for lacing ladies' shoes without the use of holes or eyelets, on reference to an old mode of cording bed-steads; an ore-crusher, on reference to a nut-cracker. In each of these cases there will be found a remote resemblance between the device in the application and the reference. In some of them, however, the ex­aminers have displayed more inventive genius in finding the references than the applicants would dare claim for their devices.

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