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COMMISSIONER OF PATENTS.
UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE, January, 1852.
SIR: Before introducing the usual financial and statistical sections of the Report, I beg to submit some remarks and suggestions in relation to
THE PATENT OFFICE, ITS ADMINISTRATION, ETC.
1. On the Supervision exercised by the Secretary of the Interior.— There is in the business of the Patent Office nothing congenial with or allied to that which is transacted in the departments, while its very nature is such as to render exterior control often embarrassing. Whatever may have been expedient in the infancy of its organization, when it was little else than a clerkship under the Secretary of State, its position and requirements are very different now. To vest a controlling power over its administration in heads of departments who have no time to devote to it, and who, from education, habits, profession, and feelings, can have little or no active sympathies with interests represented in it, or with the class of citizens with whom it has most to do, can hardly prove otherwise than prejudicial. Hence there is an increasing desire among inventors and patentees, mechanics, manufacturers and others, whose feelings no less than their interests centre in the Patent Office, that its dependency on the department should cease.
On this subject I beg to quote from a communication addressed by me to the Secretary of the Interior on the 30th of January last:
"There is probably no question bearing more on the future usefulness and efficient administration of the Patent Office than the extent to which Congress designs it to be subject to any other department. Exclusively devoted to the progress of science and art, to the development of new elements of civilization, it should be protected in the prosecution of its mission, wholly freed from political influences; and it is believed that no administration can more readily command the approbation of reflect
ing citizens, of all parties, than by securing to it this immunity. It was designed, as generally understood, by the law of 1836, to be an independent bureau, with a very limited check vested in the department. Such was the avowed intention of those who drew up the law, and such, as has been always understood in the office, was the intention of Congress, as manifested in instructing the Commissioner to report his proceedings directly to both Houses; in special legislation for his guidance; and, contrary to the practice in any other department or bureau, requiring from him bonds for the faithful performance of his duties, and for the disbursement of moneys from the Patent fund.
"A difference of views between the office and the department elicited the opinion of the Attorney General, that, The general supervision and direction over the Patent Office, which is vested in you, (the Secretary of the Interior,) comprehends the appointment of such temporary clerks in that office as are authorized by law; and also the payment of their salary or compensation out of any money appropriated for the purpose. And, of course, that the Commissioner of the Patent Office, in the employment or appointment of clerks, and in the disbursement of money appropriated for their compensation, acts under the superintendency and subject to the control of the Secretary of the Interior; and that it makes no difference in the case whether the money so to be disbursed is appropriated out of the agricultural fund, the Patent Office fees, or out of any other fund.'
"Since this opinion was communicated to me, it has been invariably respected; but as long as it is enforced, this bureau can never fully accomplish the objects for which it was organized. Whatever may be the practice in other bureaus, it will be impossible for any Commissioner to carry on, with credit to the country and satisfaction to inventors and patentees, the peculiar, important and multitudinous affairs, and to reconcile the often conflicting interests committed to his charge, if he be not permitted to judge of the merits and qualifications of his assistants, or to remove such as are incompetent, or in other respects unfit: that is, if he is made responsible for the acts of those over whom he has no control. And again: if the department has the control of the disbursements, it is but reasonable that the Secretary should file the required sureties, and not the Commissioner.
"On subjects deemed vital to the integrity and usefulness of the Patent Office, there should be left no room for doubt; hence, I respectfully recall these to your consideration, and propose to submit them to Congress, with a view of having the powers and responsibilities of the office distinctly defined."
The arts and sciences have no affinities with, and should not be linked to, temporary politics. To suppose the business of this office can be carried on, if its desks are occupied, as in some departments, by persons even of general qualifications, instead of special fitness, is a great mistake. Mechanical inventions and discoveries, for which patents are issued, are based upon the great physical laws of nature, and are illustrations of them; hence it is in conformity with those laws that the decisions of the office must be made. But this requires close and undivided attention, and, above all, freedom from extraneous interruptions and influences. These are, and ever must be, detrimental in the highest degree. They not only embarrass the proper and harmonious working
of the institution, but are subversive of the great objects contemplated in its organization.
The duties of the Commissioner and examiners are of too purely scientific a nature for them to be subjected, with advantage, to heads and sometimes chief clerks of departments, who cannot be expected to enter into the peculiar business of the Patent Office, or appreciate the very serious evils of interference. If the Commissioner and chief officers are not competent to perform, or are not faithful in the discharge of their onerous tasks, they should be removed; but if they are able and honest, they ought not to be harassed with calls to answer complaints preferred to the Department of the Interior, and often to the President, by disappointed applicants and their friends; by parties stimulated with promises of large sums, made payable on the issue of a patent; and by agents and speculators, smarting under the loss of such contingent fees. Nor is there the slightest ground or reason for such attempts at coercion; since, if the office improperly refuse a patent, the law has provided a court of appeal, in which its decisions can be revised and reversed.
Dissatisfaction on the part of applicants is unavoidable, because of the number of old devices presented for patents; nor can this ever be prevented, unless by the publication of such an Index of Inventions as has been in previous reports, and again in this, recommended to the favor. able attention of Congress. There is no disposition in the office to refuse patents; the feeling is the very reverse. Rejections are made only in performance of a duty imposed by law. This duty is an unpleasant and arduous one, often blighting the fond anticipations of ingenious and worthy men, and often necessitating a more or less elaborate defence of the grounds of action in the case; whereas, in granting a patent the office is relieved from these and other difficulties. Hence it is absurd to suppose that refusals are wantonly made, there being no possible motive to refuse a patent, but every inducement to grant one. When doubts exist, the benefit is always given to the applicant.
If systematic endeavors to overawe and overrule the Commissioner be not frowned down, they will, in time, affect the integrity of the Patent Office, and will make it a source of injustice to the public and of grievous wrongs to real inventors. Its judicial character requires that it be cordially sustained, and jealously protected from improper influences. It should be surrounded with the same safeguards that defend the independ ence of every United States court. What would be the condition of judges of the Supreme and of other courts, if they were constantly called upon to reopen carefully adjudicated cases, and answer complaints of defeated litigants, accompanied with insinuations and often direct charges of ignorance, imbecility, partiality, corruption, and kindred attributes? Few high minded men would accept and fewer would remain in office. In this bureau, everything is matter of record. No decision is made without communicating the reasons, in writing, to the parties concerned; they are placed on file, and become part of the public archives of the office. This, together with a court of appeal, secures the rights of ap plicants, and is an ample guarantee against unjust and arbitrary decisions.
It would, in my opinion, have been a dereliction of duty to have refrained from thus soliciting the attention of Congress to a subject so essentially affecting the character and usefulness of the Patent Office;
so deep are my convictions of the positively injurious effects of departmental control, unaccompanied, as it is, by one single compensating advantage to the office, the administration, or the public.
2. Additional room required.-I respectfully but earnestly urge an early provision of additional room for the clerical business of the office, as well as for a proper exhibition of the models. The continued occupancy of the largest and best part of the building as a museum, and the delay in finishing the new wing, have resulted in embarrassments that are daily becoming more and more serious. Indeed, if the evil be not soon corrected, it will prove a positive interruption to the business of the office. The few rooms at its command have become so crowded, that the mails have, for the last twelve months, been made up in the open passage, where the correspondence and daily cash remittances are unavoidably exposed.
Such an exhibition of the models as was contemplated and directed by the law of 1836 is not only impossible, but it is scarcely practicable to protect them from serious injury, if, indeed, the more delicate among them can be secured from positive destruction. Their condition is a great injustice to their authors, and to inventors and patentees generally; since the rooms and cases, prepared expressly for them at the expense of the Patent fund, have now been withheld from the office for a period of ten years. As Congress alone has the power, I would respectfully suggest that immediate action be taken to provide room necessary for the classification, arrangement, and proper display of the models.
In relation to the details of the subject, I beg to introduce the following correspondence, elicited by a resolution of the Senate, of January 28,
PATENT OFFICE, January 30, 1851.
SIR: Having been desired by you to express our opinion on the wants of this office, as far as room is concerned, we have the honor to report:
First. That the patented models now in the office are so much crowded that the provision of the law with respect to the exhibition of them cannot be complied with; that the rejected models are in a similar, but worse condition.
Second. That the draughtsman's room, library, and record-room, are at present crowded to an extent which renders it extremely difficult to perform the duties that are required to be done in those departments; at least three times the space is wanted for the library, and double for the draughtsman's room.
Third. It is a matter of almost absolute necessity that the recording clerks should be in the vicinity of the record-room.
Fourth. That the copying-clerk for letters and the clerk who has charge of assignments are at present crowded into apartments of other officers, whose rooms are too full without them.
Fifth. That it has become a matter of necessity for the examiners to have rooms in which they may converse with applicants, without the latter having an opportunity to examine, or even glance at, the models of pending applications.
Sixth. Rooms are required for workshops, caveat models, and pending models.