Popular Science 1930As a source of amusement, Modern Mechanix has a piece about how the Patent Office has become a national disgrace (in June 1930!).

In the article, written for Popular Science Monthly, the author relates how, at the time it was written, there were nearly 118,000 applications for patents piled up in Washington in the greatest jam of history.  And new ones were pouring in at the rate of approximately 2,000 a week.

In the previous four years, the number of applications awaiting action had leaped from about 41,000 to nearly three times that number, about 118,000.  These piled-up applications contained more than twenty-three acres of paper.

At present, the staff of examiners is gaining on this accumulated mass of applications at the slow rate of about 250 a week.  Even if they continue to work at top speed, without vacations, it is estimated that it will take the present staff until 1942 to catch up with their work so they can give the inventor a reasonably prompt decision upon his application.  As it is now, forty-five percent of all patents, or approximately every other one, take longer than two years to obtain. Some take several times that period.

And, talk of patent anarchy was abundant as the “flood” of applications poured in and comparisons are made back 100 years:

During the last ten years, more patents have been granted in the United States than during the 100 years from President Washington’s inaugural in 1789 to President Harrison’s inaugural in 1889.  In 1929, 114,496 applications for patents, trade-marks, and designs poured into the Washington office.  And thus far in 1930, there has been a twelve percent increase over the record-breaking flood of last year.  Besides mechanical inventions, the Patent Office passes on about 5,000 designs and 20,000 trade-marks a year. Recently, the requests for trade-marks has increased 100 percent.

Sound familiar?

It is interesting to note that even then, the Patent Office collected more fees than it spent:

Yet, while the Patent Office has been giving poorer and poorer service and has been losing money for American inventors, it has been piling up for the Government a profit of more than six million dollars!

In fact, it is one of the few Federal bureaus that operates at a profit. Over a long period of years, its income has far surpassed its expenditures, although recently it has been running behind. However, from fees paid by inventors alone, $3,000,000 was collected by this office last year.

If the Patent Office is making money, why doesn’t it hire enough men to do its work? That is a natural question, one of many mystifying angles of this patent muddle for which I have sought the answer.  I have talked with the Commissioner of Patents, Thomas E. Robertson. I have discussed the situation with many men employed at the Patent Office.  I have interviewed lawmakers who have investigated the work of the Office and patent attorneys who have been dealing with it for years. And the result is the belief that the present disgraceful conditions will continue indefinitely unless the readers of Popular Science Monthly and others who are interested demand Congressional action that will give American inventors the service to which they are entitled.

In answer to the question above, I found that not one penny of the millions of dollars profit made by the Patent Office has been available for improving the service of the organization or for providing better equipment.  The law provides that any money surplus at the end of the year must be turned over to the United States Treasury. Thus the Patent Office has never been able to put its profits to work.  It has been dependent upon the whim of Congress for the amount of money it could spend.

The Patent and Trademark Office would receive $1.9 billion in fiscal 2008 under the budget plan by President Bush. This is the fourth year in a row the White House has recommended the Congress allow the agency keep fees collected from patent and trademark applications instead of diverting funding to other government programs.

In fiscal year 2006, the Patent Office received a total of 452,633 applications and granted a total of 196,404 patents. According to PTO, examiners examined 332,000 patent applications — the largest number ever — while achieving the lowest patent allowance error rate (3.5 percent) in more than two decades. At 54 percent, the amount of applications reviewed and approved also was the lowest on record.

All things old are new … again.

See the entire story here.

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  1. If you found the information in this article of interest, you will no doubt find the following of interest: