Every day is Presidents Day in the offices of Beem Patent Law Firm. We are surrounded by thirteen original U.S. patents signed by early Presidents of the United States. The Beem Presidential Patent Collection spans the years from 1800, when John Adams signed an original patent at the seat of the federal government in Philadelphia, to 1836, when Andrew Jackson signed many original patents and broke ground for what was then called the “New Patent Office” (now the magnificent National Portrait Gallery) in Washington, D.C.
In a previous article, I wrote about President George Washington’s first-ever address to Congress and how he called for a Patent Act to provide incentives for innovation, technology, and manufacturing. Congress responded three short months later with the Patent Act of 1790. See Father of the Patent System. A grand total of three patents would issue in that year. Over the next 46 years, patent filings would increase rapidly, resulting in the issuance of almost 10,000 patents by 1836. (Now, the Patent Office issues 10,000 patents every two weeks.)
Every one of those early patents were signed by the President, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General. (Beginning in 1836, under the terms of a new Patent Act passed that year, responsibility for signing patents was delegated to the Commissioner of Patents.)
How many Presidents are named, in some official sense, on U.S. patents? By my count, there have been eleven such Presidents, counting the first seven to hold that Office (all of whom signed patents in their official capacity as President), another one who signed as Secretary of State before he became President, one who was granted a patent on which he was named as the inventor before he became President, one President who signed a patent in connection with the Bicentennial of the United States, and one President who signed U.S. Patent 10,000,000. See Father, id.
The U.S. patent system, written into the Constitution in 1787, enacted into law and implemented in 1790, has been emulated by every civilized country of the world because of its success in promoting the progress of the “useful Arts,” including manufacturing, computers, software, smartphones, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. In the last several decades, Europe, Japan, Korea, and more recently the rapidly ascending China, have balanced the U.S. with their own intellectual property offices, these five together constituting the IP5 and accounting for 90% of all first filings of patents worldwide.
Intellectual property is a central issue in many international trade negotiations and resulting treaties. On a corporate level, IP is important to the success of every business that distinguishes itself on any level higher than that of a low-price commodity.
Much of the administration of the U.S. patent system is under the direction of the “Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.” Yes, that’s the full title. (How would you like to have a title like that on your business card?)
The USPTO is a fully fee-funded agency with an annual operating budget of about $4 billion and about 14,000 employees, more than half of those people being patent examiners or trademark examining attorneys who interact directly with applicants and the public. As government agencies go, the USPTO works pretty well. It is important that it be fully staffed, and that it be supported, especially with its vast IT infrastructure, for expeditious searching, examination, and processing of patent and trademark applications from all over the world. The resulting intellectual property, in turn, is important for capital investment, product development, and competitiveness in the global marketplace.
The Director of the USPTO (a shorter title for the big job) is a political appointee, i.e., appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. That position was recently vacated by the capable Andrei Iancu in deference to the new Chief Executive’s right to appoint the person of his choosing.
Interesting, you say, but what is the call to action? It is twofold. First, the President, with the advice of the Secretary of Commerce (as soon as that person is confirmed), should act promptly to appoint a dynamic, well-qualified, well-intentioned person to serve as the Director of the USPTO. By well-intentioned, I mean that the Director should be committed to helping deserving inventors and their companies to obtain patents and trademarks without undue delay.
Meanwhile, if you’re a business person who uses technology to make better products for your customers, you should apply for patents on your inventions, including those that may seem to be minor improvements in the eyes of your highly skilled technical people. And if you haven’t registered your most important trademark, you should do so without delay.
Intellectual property, including patents and trademarks, can help you to gain market leadership, sales, profits, and capital valuation. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is there to help you, yet it states candidly that “the patent process is a complex set of laws, regulations, policies and procedures; therefore, the USPTO always recommends using a registered patent attorney or agent to assist in preparing your application.” Call your patent professional now.