Volume 49, Issue 3
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10 Millionth Patent
Patent no. 10,000,000
As an optical engineer for Raytheon Company, Joseph Marron had turned his ideas into more than 20 patents over the years. When he applied to patent “Coherent Ladar Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection,” three years ago, he had no idea it would become patent 10 million.
Marron’s invention is a new way to obtain real-time readings from large laser radars. This invention has a multitude of applications from autonomous vehicles, medical imaging devices, military defense systems, to space and undersea exploration.
Washington’s patent system role
The Founding Fathers wrote intellectual property rights into the Constitution, with Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, empowering Congress “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
President George Washington, an entrepreneur himself, believed in the value of a strong patent system for the new nation. On January 8, 1790, during his first State of the Union, Washington personally called upon Congress to establish a system to promote new and useful inventions. On April 5, 1790, the Congress of the United States passed the Patent Act of 1790. Five days later, Washington signed the act into law and the American patent system was born.
Washington also signed the very first patent. The government issued it to Samuel Hopkins for a process of making potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer. In addition to his administrative duties, the president signed every patent up until the Adams administration, Washington also used some of the patents he signed.
By 1791, Washington had licensed the third patent for his estate’s use. The third patent was issued to Oliver Evans for a new method of manufacturing flour and meal. Like many patents, it not only benefitted the inventor and entrepreneurs, it also improved the everyday lives of people. Flour was a crucial commodity to early Americans. The Evans system produced one-fifth more flour that was cleaner and lasted longer. It also had the benefit of reducing the need for manual labor at the mill, which at that time slaves were likely to do.
A presidential celebration
Today, the Mount Vernon gristmill is the only mill in the country that has a working Oliver Evans automated system. On June 19, 2018, the USPTO held a celebration of patent 10 million at George Washington’s Mount Vernon gristmill, in appreciation of Washington’s historic role in creating the patent system.
Earlier that day, the White House hosted a patent signing ceremony at which President Donald J. Trump, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and USPTO Director Andrei Iancu all signed patent 10 million. Prior to that, the last president to sign a patent was Gerald Ford in 1976 to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial.
The USPTO today
For the intellectual property system to function as the Founding Fathers intended, rights owners and the public alike must have confidence in the IP system as whole. When they do, innovators are encouraged to invent, investments are made, companies grow, jobs are created, and science and technology advances.
“Born of our Constitution and steeped in our history, our patent system is the crown jewel that provides both the incentives and the protections necessary to enable that innovation and resulting growth,” said Under Secretary of Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO Andrei Iancu. The USPTO is the proud guardian of that system, and the people of the USPTO work tirelessly to ensure that it meets its full constitutional mandate, ‘to promote the progress of science and useful arts.’”
The speed of innovation
Some see the issuance rate of patents as a reflection of the increasing speed of innovation. Patent number one to patent number 1 million took about 75 years to issue, but it took just four years to move from patent eight million to patent nine million, and only three years to move from patent nine million to patent 10 million. As our population has increased, our population of inventors has increased with it.
“Innovation has been the lifeblood of this country since its founding,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “Our patent system’s importance to the daily lives of every American has never been greater. Given the rapid pace of change, we know that it will not take another 228 years to achieve the next 10-million-patent milestone.”
While the future is unknowable, a reliable, predictable, and high-quality patent system, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, can give “a spring to invention beyond my conception.”
From the earliest American inventors whose ideas improved our quality of life, to today’s innovators whose research is advancing technology, patents have played an indispensable role in bringing these ideas to life. You can learn more about the USPTO’s 10 Million Patents initiative, including an interactive historical timeline of U.S. patent history, at https://10millionpatents.uspto.gov/.
References
Dobyns KW. 1997. The Patent Office Pony. Fredericksburg (VA): Sergeant Kirklands Museum. 249 p.
Famous Quotations from Thomas Edison. n.d. Newark (NJ): Edison Innovation Foundation. Available from https://www.thomasedison.org/edison-quotes
Esther Sans Takeuchi. 2011. National Inventors Hall of Fame [Internet]. North Canton (OH); [cited 2018 May 30]. Available from http://www.invent.org/honor/inductees/inductee-detail/?IID=456
Frances Arnold. 2014. National Inventors Hall of Fame [Internet]. North Canton (OH); [cited 2018 May 30]. Available from http://www.invent.org/honor/inductees/inductee-detail/?IID=490
Gristmill. 2018. Mount Vernon [Internet]. Mt. Vernon (VA); [cited 2018 May 29]. Available from http://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/gristmill/ten-facts-about-the-gristmill/
Iancu A. 2018. Remarks by Andrei Iancu at U.S. Institute of Peace. Remarks presented at “Unleashing American Innovation” Symposium; Washington, D.C.
Origin and etymology of patent. 2018. Merriam-Webster [Internet]. Springfield (MA); [cited May 31, 2018]. Available from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patent#h1
Shuji Nakamura. 2015. National Inventors Hall of Fame [Internet]. North Canton (OH); [cited 2018 May 30]. Available from http://www.invent.org/honor/inductees/inductee-detail/?IID=513
Trahan MP. (2013). Diffusion of innovations. Salem Press Encyclopedia [Internet]. Ipswich (MA) [cited 2018 June 1]. Available from http://ezproxy.umuc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=89677541&site=eds-live&scope=site
Waskey J. 2016. Oliver Evans [Internet]. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia. http://ezproxy.umuc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=88825708&site=eds-live&scope=site
Julianne Metzger, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Julianne Metzger is Public Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Prior to that she served as the social media manager for the U.S. Army Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Program (SHARP). She also served as Chief Mass Communication Specialist in the U.S. Navy, completing tours of duty at the Pentagon, White House Communications Agency (WHCA), and aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7). She was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal among many other personal and unit decorations. Ms. Metzger holds a master’s degree in management and public relations from University of Maryland University College.
2018 Ⓒ Boston Patent Law Association
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