Did You Know… About Patents and Presidents


by treasuresthouhastBy: Gene Quinn (IPWatchdog.com)

Did you know that President George Washington was a big proponent of a patent system? But he certainly was.

In fact, during his very first State of the Union Address, President Washington implored Congress to immediately take action on passing a Patent Act. See Celebrating Presidents Who Advocated for the Patent System. His urging did not go unnoticed. The first Patent Act, the Patent Act of 1790, was signed into law on April 10, 1790, just several months after President Washington asked Congress to take action.

Did you know that President Thomas Jefferson was one of the first three U.S. patent examiners?

Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State), along with Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph, made up the first patent examination panel for the United States of America. The first U.S. patent ever issued granted rights to Samuel Hopkins on a process of making potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer. The patent issued on July 31, 1790, was signed by President George Washington, and was examined by Attorney General Edmund Randolph.

Many know that Abraham Lincoln was the only President to have been awarded a patent — U.S. Patent No. 6,469, titled “Buoying vessels over shoals.” The patent application was filed on March 10, 1849, and the patent issued on May 22, 1849. Many also know that Lincoln famously explained in a speech in 1859 that the patent system adds “fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”  But did you also know that in that famous “fire of genius” speech, Lincoln also explained that the patent system was one of the three greatest innovations of all time? Lincoln explained:

[I]n the world’s history, certain inventions and discoveries occurred, of peculiar value, on account of their great efficiency in facilitating all other inventions and discoveries. Of these were the arts of writing and of printing, the discovery of America, and the introduction of Patent laws.

See Lincoln’s second speech on discoveries and inventions.

Did you know that on April 5, 2000, President Bill Clinton came out in support of gene patents? See BIO Praises President Clinton. Clinton said:

I think in the biotech area, our position ought to be clear. General information ought to be in the public domain as much as possible about the sequencing of the human genome. And where public money contributed to massive research on the basic information, we ought to get it out there. If someone discovers something that has a specific commercial application, they ought to be able to get a patent on it. And the question is always going to be, are you drawing the line in the right place? But I believe we’ve got the people together with the skills and the experience to draw the line in the right place. And I think that’s the right policy. I’m quite confident it is. And what we really need now is to make sure it is implemented in the right way.

Surprising how only 13 years later, the United States position has so significantly changed under President Obama, so much that the U.S. is now formally opposing gene patenting in briefs filed at the Supreme Court in Association of Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, which is sometimes referred to a“the ACLU case” or simply “the Myriad case.” The ACLU is the party leading the charge, although their purpose for getting involved seems unclear.

Did you know that on January 10, 2010, in prepared remarks at Opening Session of the Forum on Modernizing Government, President Obama said:

Believe it or not, in our patent office — now, this is embarrassing — this is an institution responsible for protecting and promoting innovation — our patent office receives more than 80 percent of patent applications electronically, then manually prints them out, scans them, and enters them into an outdated case management system.

Did you know that when President Obama made this statement it was actually not correct?

Perhaps President Obama or his speech writers obtained a copy of the PLI Patent Bar Review materials, or listened to John White’s lecture on a paperless system, believing what the USPTO tests must be the law, right? Well, no. The version of the MPEP that was actually tested by the Patent Office at the time President Obama made these remarks was MPEP Version 8, Revision 4, which was published in October 2005. At that time, in 2005, the USPTO did print electronically filed patent applications only to scan them, believing that such as system was paperless. So yes, this “paperless” electronic filing was still what was testable on the Patent Bar in January 2010, but did not reflect current practice.

If you know of any other Presidential statements about patents, please let us know.


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