A Brief History of the US Patent Office
When it comes to patents, we have George Washington to thank. In 1790 President Washington established the first Patent Act, entitled “The Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts.” The Act didn’t create an actual Patent Office but a small Patent Board was formed.
Within a few months of the Act, the first patent was granted to Samuel Hopkins for his improved method of producing potassium carbonate, or potash. Signatures were provided by President George Washington, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Additional patents granted that first year included one for flour-milling machinery and one for a new process of candle-making.
Even though patent law was revised in 1793, no patent office was yet established. It wouldn’t be until 1802 when patent granting responsibility was transferred to the Department of State that the first designated Patent Office came into being.
Revision of patent law continued, and in 1836, under the Patent Act of July 4, the initial Patent Office was reorganized, establishing a Commissioner of Patents. A more thorough application process was adopted, as well as a new examination process. This Act also created the role of Patent Examiners.
In December of that same year, a fire broke out in the building that housed the Patent Office. Many records of the preceding three decades were lost. As a result, the Patent Office made numerous changes in the way it handles its record-keeping going forward, including the assignment of numbers to patents and the requirement to submit multiple copies of supporting documentation for each patent.
A second fire swept through the Patent office in 1877. This time, however, no total loss of patents occurred thanks to lessons learned from the 1836 fire.
Eventually, the Patent Office would be moved out from under the Department of State and to the Department of the Interior. In 1925 it was moved again, this time to the Department of Commerce, where it still remains today.
Although trademarks were added to the Patent Office back in 1881, it wasn’t until 1975 that the name of the office was changed to Patent and Trademark Office. It was changed again in 2000 to the US Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO for short.
The history of patents spans more than 200 years and has continued to evolve as the volumes of applications for review and management increase. Since the establishment of patent law in 1790, and the actual establishment of a Patent Office in 1802, over 6.5 million patents have been issued.