(Ink illustration by Buck O’Donnell in 1967; public display, World Museum of Mining, Butte, Montana, USA)
Patents are granted to inventors by the government as a form of legal protection for a limited period, typically twenty years from the filing date, in exchange for disclosing their invention to the public.
The aim of the patent system is to spur innovation by offering inventors an incentive to invest in creating new products and ideas, while society benefits from the public availability of information about the invention for further innovation.
To get a patent, an inventor must apply for and be granted a patent by a government agency, such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office ( USPTO), by demonstrating that their invention is novel, non-obvious, and useful.
The USPTO was established in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson to promote innovation and stimulate economic growth through the protection of inventors’ rights.
Jefferson believed that a robust patent system would offer inventors a reason to invest in creating new products and ideas, leading to the public dissemination of information about the invention and further innovation.
By granting inventors exclusive rights to their inventions for a limited time, the USPTO helps prevent new ideas from being immediately copied or stolen, which could discourage innovation and hinder economic growth.
Examples of famous patents include Alexander Graham Bell’s patent for the telephone, Thomas Edison’s patent for the incandescent light bulb, the Wright Brothers’ patent for a flying machine, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s patent for a personal computer. The patent process involves determining eligibility, conducting a patent search, preparing, and filing a patent application, prosecution of the patent application, and grant of the patent. The cost of obtaining a patent can be significant and vary by country.
When Arthur Hawkesworth went about obtaining his patents the process of obtaining a patent in 1922 could have been easier, but the patent may not have been as strong as those granted today. The cost of obtaining a patent in 1922 could have been several hundred dollars, a significant amount at the time.
Arthur spent a great deal of time learning about the process and fellow machinist that had obtained patents for underground mining. These patents represent innovations in the field of mining and have had a significant impact on the industry.
One such inventor that intrigued Arthur was Simon Ingersoll, a talented inventor from Connecticut, who was famous for his Ingersoll Rock Drill, patented in 1871. And later Patent No. 1,232,702, Rock Drilling Machine, issued to Ingersoll Rock Drill Company on June 26, 1917
Despite it being his only successful invention, it earned him lasting fame in the mining industry. Ingersoll was a creative mechanic, with earlier patents for a wedge and plug cutting machine, steam-powered car, friction clutch, gate latch, and spring scale, which were all sold to others.
A contractor friend inspired him to design a rock drill, and after receiving the basic patent, he went on to receive 27 patents for rock drills or their accessories. Despite his inventive talent, Ingersoll lacked business skills and sold his drill patents to support his family. He then operated a machine shop in Connecticut, but his legacy continues through the Ingersoll-Rand Company in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.
The Patent Act of 1922 made information about obtaining a patent accessible to the public to encourage private invention. The jurisdiction of the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals was expanded to include appeals on questions of law from the Tariff Commission in cases of unfair practices in import trade.
The Commissioner of Patents was given the authority to establish qualifications for patent agents and attorneys and to suspend or disbar them for cause. The salaries of the Commissioner and other Patent Office staff were raised, and 49 additional technical positions were created. The fee for filing a patent application was increased from $15 to $20, and the office of Patent Solicitor was established.
The US government started granting patents during George Washington’s presidency. The 10 millionth utility patent was issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on June 19, 2018. In his first State of the Union address, Washington called on Congress to establish a patent system, which was accomplished by the Patent Act of 1790.
The Patent Board, consisting of the Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and Attorney General, reviewed proposals and granted patents. Thomas Jefferson was the first patent examiner. To submit a patent, inventors had to provide a written description and a model if applicable, along with the necessary fees. Each patent was signed by the President of the United States, in Washington’s case he signed each patent.
Patents were not numbered, but were filed based on the date granted. The Patent Act of 1836 started numbering patents, and all patents granted before 1836 were assigned an “x” number. The first patent was granted to Samuel Hopkins on July 31, 1790, for a new process to make potash and pearl ash.
The second patent was for a candle manufacturing method and the third was granted to Oliver Evans for a new method of manufacturing flour and meal, which Washington used at his gristmill in Mount Vernon.
Today Getting a patent involves the following steps:
- Determine if your invention is eligible: To be eligible, the invention must be novel, non-obvious, and useful and fully described in the patent application.
- Conduct a patent search: Before filing the patent application, it’s recommended to search to see if the invention has already been patented or published.
- Prepare and file the patent application: The patent application must include a written description of the invention and drawings or diagrams if applicable. It must also include claims defining the scope of protection sought for the invention.
- Prosecution of the patent application: After filing, the patent application will be reviewed by a patent examiner to determine if the invention meets eligibility requirements and if the application is complete. The examiner may provide objections or rejections if there are issues with the application, and the inventor will have an opportunity to respond and argue for their patent.
- Grant of the patent: If the patent application is approved, a patent will be granted, giving the inventor exclusive rights to make, use, and sell the invention for a limited period of time. Note: The patent process can be complex and time-consuming, and it’s recommended to seek the assistance of a patent attorney. The requirements and process for obtaining a patent can vary depending on the country and jurisdiction.