Charles Holland Duell


Charles Holland Duell, twenty-fifth Commissioner of Patents, was the illustrious son of Robert Holland Duell, the fifteenth Commissioner of Patents.

Charles was born in Cortland, New York, April 13, 1850. Being graduated in 1872 from the Law Department of Hamilton College, he was soon thereafter admitted to the bar, and began the practice of law in New York City. Here he continued until 1880, with the exception of a short term as examiner in the Patent Office in 1875-1876. In 1880 he removed to Syracuse and continued the practice of law there, making a specialty of patent law, until called to Washington in 1898 as Commissioner of Patents. He returned to New York in 1901 to resume private practice until 1904, when he again returned to Washington to accept an appointment at the hands of President Roosevelt as Associate Justice of the U. S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. He continued on the bench until 1906, returning again to New York as senior member of the firm of Duell, Warfield and Duell. His interest with this firm continued until his death on January 29, 1920.

His greatest interest lay along the line of patent law. In 1896-1897, be filled the position of lecturer on patent law at Syracuse University, and in 1905-1906, he delivered the lectures at George Washington University.

He appears to have met with some success in getting from Congress increases in the office force, his report for 1898 commenting upon the fact that for the first time in at least ten years it was unnecessary for a Commissioner of Patents in his Annual Report to plead for additional force. As a result, all divisions were working on cases within six weeks of the filing date and no amended cases were allowed to wait more than fifteen days. His reports for 1899 and 1900 show that this record was continued and improved upon, though the report for 1900 seems to intimate that some overtime work was done.

Overcrowding of the examining divisions was somewhat relieved by the removal of the General Land Office from the Patent Office building in 1900, but it is recorded that the problem of storing soft copies was becoming more and more troublesome.

The Division of Classification was organized in 1898, and much space is given in the reports to a discussion of the methods and objectives of this work.

A number of sound changes were advocated in the patent laws by Mr. Duell, but these failed of passage.

In examining the decisions of Mr. Duell as Commissioner, one is impressed with his close interpretation of the law. He apparently believed that laws and rules ought to be followed or else changed into better form. His decisions all show a broad and clear understanding of the principles underlying the patent statutes, and his administration evidences his purpose to make the practice of the Office conform closely thereto.


*Republished with permission of the Patent and Trademark Office Society from the article Biographical Sketches of the Commissioners of Patents, 18 J.P.O.S. 145 (1936).  The United States Patent and Trademark Office is grateful for the Society’s assistance.