Little Bits of History

Back Up Is Essential

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 15, 2013
US Patent Office

US Patent Office

December 15, 1836: The US Patent Office’s records located in the Blodgett’s Hotel in Washington, DC, burn. There were about 7,000 models and 9,000 drawings for pending or patented inventions lost to the flames. The file histories for thousands of applications, both pending and granted, were also lost. Without these files, patent infringement claims could not be prosecuted. The office had been open for 46 years before the fire and had issued nearly 10,000 patents.

Congress acted to restore as many patents as possible. Records were reconstructed from private files and models were reproduced with extra effort given to those patents deemed to be most valuable or interesting. The best estimate says that 9,957 patents were destroyed. There were no copies, no rosters, no redundancies. The US Patent Office opened in 1790 and on July 31, Samuel Hopkins was granted the first patent for an improvement for making Pot Ash.

A new, safer, more fireproof building was under construction and all records were stored at the Hotel. Next door was the fire department, but on this night all the hoses were frozen and the fire consumed the building and all its contents. With much research and private documentation evidence, 2,845 patents from the pre-fire days have been restored. These patents were given an X added to their name and so are called the “X Patents.” Pre-fire patents were listed by title of invention and date. Post-fire patents were issued using a serial numbering method still in use today.

The building under construction in 1836 was massive and took 31 years to complete. Early patent law had each inventor submit a scale model of the invention to be stored by the Patent Office. The building was expanded in 1966 and underwent extensive renovations and reopened in 2006 housing two Smithsonian Institution museums. The US Patent and Trademark Office moved to Alexandria, Virginia in 2004, into a 5-building complex. They employ almost 9,000 people with more hired yearly. There were 5,477 patent examiners and 404 trademark examiners working there in 2007. As of February 2008, 7,950,000 patents had been granted with about 150,000 patents per year being added.

“Lincoln said that the Patent Office adds the flame of interest to the light of creativity. And that is why we need to improve the effectiveness of our Patent Office.” – Jay Inslee

“A patent, or invention, is any assemblage of technologies or ideas that you can put together that nobody put together that way before. That’s how the patent office defines it. That’s an invention.” – Dean Kamen

“Whatever comes out of the Patent Office can impact you. Some of the patents are very broad, some are narrow.” – Bradley Wright

“In my opinion, the patents are worthless, IT managers and entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid of patents. They can safely ignore them.” – Vernon Keenan

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update:  The United States Patent and Trademark Office is an agency of the Department of Commerce. It is led by Teresa Stanek Rae with Margaret A. Focarino as the Commission for Patents and Deborah Cohn as the Commissioner for Trademarks. There have been a few patents granted that were of questionable nature and some have been repealed upon reexamination. The same can be said for trademarks. The office has been criticized for taking too long to grant patents, especially in areas of rapid growth. As of December 2012, there were 597,579 unexamined patent applications. This backlog was reduced by 50% over the previous four years. First action pendency was reported at 19.2 months. Google has added 8 million US patents to a search engine and like Goggle Books, the text of the patent and pertinent data are available. Since August 2012, European patents have also been searchable in this fashion. Trademarks are not searchable in this fashion – yet.

Also on this day: James Naismith – In 1891, the game of basketball was invented.
JFK Assassination – In 1960, an attempt was made on President-elect Kennedy’s life.
Push Comes to Shove – In 1905, the Pushkin House was established to hold Alexander Pushkin’s works.


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