December 14, 2001
Press Release, 01-60
December 15th Marks the 165th Anniversary of The Great Patent Office Fire of 1836
Flames Destroyed a Significant Period of U.S. Patent History
On the morning of December 15, 1836, the Patent Office, then located at the Blodgett's Hotel in Washington, D.C., was consumed by fire. Among the lost patent-related materials were an estimated 7,000 models and 9,000 drawings of pending and patented inventions. Also destroyed in the flames were the file histories of thousands of patents and pending applications; these losses were considered the most serious because without supporting documentation, a patent was not valid and an application could not be prosecuted.
In the 46 years prior to the fire, the United States government had issued about 10,000 patents. Congress acted to restore those records that could be reconstructed from private files and reproduce models, which were deemed the most valuable and interesting. Patents whose records were not restored were cancelled. There were a total of 2,845 patents restored.
Today, there are over 50 million paper patent documents stored at USPTO and available to the public. Patents also are available electronically on USPTO's website, at www.uspto.gov. Duplicate copies, electronic databases, cross-references, and off-site storage of patent documents, now guarantee that an important part of America's history will never be lost again.
USPTO administers patent and trademark laws protecting intellectual property and rewarding individual effort. Intellectual property is a potent force in the competitive free enterprise system. By protecting intellectual endeavors and encouraging technological progress, USPTO seeks to preserve the United States' technological edge, which is a key to our current and future competitiveness. USPTO also disseminates patent and trademark information that promotes an understanding of intellectual property protection and facilitates the development and sharing of new technologies worldwide.
Over 6 million patents have been issued since the first patent in 1790 and more than 2.3 million trademarks have been registered since the first in 1870. Last year, USPTO issued 182,223 patents and registered 127,794 trademarks.