Patenting Creativity

Promoting Prosperity by Protecting Inventors and Their Inventions

Inventions are wonderful things. They improve the quality of life for people. By protecting inventor’s inventions, governments encourage further creativity.

In America, the colonial government was issuing protections for inventors and their inventions not long after settlers came to America.

Colonial Patents

“But in 1646, Massachusetts granted its first exclusive right for use of an invention. The inventor was Joseph Jenks Sr. The General Court recognized that he had made speedier engines for water-mills and also mills for making scythes and other edged tools, and it allowed him fourteen years without disturbance from others who might set up similar inventions,” wrote Kenneth Dobyns in The Patent Office Pony(

Inventors continued to gain patents for their inventions and the country continued to grow.

Federal Protection

As the members of the Constitutional Convention were working to create a form of government for the new country, they adjourned one afternoon to watch John Fitch test out his steam boat on the Delaware River. Seeing such ingenuity, the members certainly would have wanted to make sure it was rewarded.

As part of the U.S. constitution, Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution reads, in part, “Congress shall have the power…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 signed the bill that laid the foundations of the American patent system on April 10, 1790. The system recognized the inventor’s right to profit from his or her invention. It had but seven sections and was called “An Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts.” It required any two of the Secretary of State, Secretary of War and Attorney General to grant the patent for up to 14 years.

U.S. Patents

Samuel Hopkins was the first person to be granted a patent under the new federal system. The Pittsford, Vermont, resident developed a way to improve potash, which was used to make soap and other things.

Future President Thomas Jefferson reviewed the patent. At the time, he was secretary of state, but more importantly, he was an inventor himself.

During its first year of operation, the patent office and Jefferson granted two more patents. The following year, Jefferson simplified the process using the bill signed into law in 1790 and business at the patent office exploded.

Jefferson was swamped with inventions. He helped restructure the patent law to redefine what could be patented. Patents were also no longer examined by cabinet members but by a state department clerk.

U.S. Patent Office

The U.S. Patent Office was formed in 1802 and took over the patent duties from the state department.

More than than 5 million patents have been issued through the office, which is now in Arlington, Va..

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