Little Bits of History

First US Patent

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 31, 2011

US Patent Office

July 31, 1790: Samuel Hopkins receives a patent for a potash process – the first US patent. Potash refers to mined and manufactured salts containing potassium in a water soluble form. They are usually used for fertilizer and today over 30 million tons of the stuff is produced annually. Hopkins hailed from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and received this first patent for an improvement “in the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” A new law passed on April 10, 1790 allowed for a patent to be granted, but these were evaluated by a committee of the Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and Attorney General.

Hopkins’ new patent was signed by President Washington, Attorney General Edmund Randolph, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. There were two more patents granted that same year. One for a new candle-making process and one for to Oliver Evans for a four-milling machine. This was new only in the fledgling country. The idea of patents stems from Renaissance Italy. The rest of Europe liked the idea brought out of Italy by Venetian glass-blowers who used the method to protect themselves from local artisans.

The first recorded patent for an invention was granted in 1449 to John of Utyman for a glass-making process previously unknown to England. John was awarded a 20-year monopoly. He supplied the glass for windows in such prestigious places at the Eton College Chapel. He was required to also teach the process to native Englishmen. Today, the US Patent Office receives hundreds of thousands of patent applications. There is a backlog of applications waiting for review. In January 2009, that backlog numbered 764,352. After working diligently for years, as of May 2011, it was down to 703,175 – its lowest point in the last few years.

There are many different patents being issued continually. In 1997, the top patent recipient was IBM. They were also the top recipient in 1998 through 2008. From 2003 through 2008, IBM received 20,519 patents. The last year alone, they had 4,169. In 2008, the top ten recipients got a total of 20,978 patents. The Korean company, Samsung Electronics, came in second with 3,502, five companies from Japan made the list, and Microsoft, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard were the other top American patent recipients.

“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

“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

“No patent medicine was ever put to wider and more varied use than the Fourteenth Amendment.” – William O. Douglas

“This is the patent age of new inventions for killing bodies, and for saving souls. All propagated with the best intentions.” – Lord Byron

Also on this day:
Mount Fuji – In 781 Mount Fuji erupts for the first time in recorded history.
Who Knows? – In 1930, The Shadow came to radio.