David L. Ladd


David L. Ladd was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, on September 18, 1926. He attended Kenyon College for a year before serving in the U.S. Army. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, attended Illinois Institute of Technology, and returned to the University of Chicago to earn his law degree. After graduation he practiced patent, trademark, and copyright law in Chicago for about eight years.

President John Kennedy appointed Ladd commissioner of patents, and he took office on April 17, 1961. At 34, he was the second youngest person to hold the position. The youngest was William Bishop, who was appointed at age 31 in 1859.

In September 1961 the office granted patent number 3,000,000 for an automatic reading system. The patent was granted at noon on a Tuesday, the traditional time for granting patents.  

In October 1961 the office hosted a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Patent Act of 1836, with numerous programs and guests from patent offices in other countries. A meeting after the celebration resulted in a new organization for cooperation among patent offices on patent documentation and information retrieval. In 1962 Ladd reorganized the office and made one of the three statutory assistant commissioners responsible for research and development on automating patent operations.

During Ladd’s tenure the office inaugurated the Patent Office Academy, to provide advanced training for newer patent examiners. Starting in late 1962, two classes of 60 examiners each attended half-day sessions for six months.

In 1963 the office prepared for printing the roster of registered patent attorneys and agents by using magnetic tape and computer processing. It was the first publication printed by the Government Printing Office using that method.

The 20 percent annual turnover of examining employees concerned Ladd. He cut the number of examining divisions and supervisors and gave more examiners full authority to sign their own actions. He started summer internships for college students who might become examiners and experimented with patent technicians to support examiners.

On February 19, 1963, Ladd gave a “dream speech” in Wilmington, Delaware, in which he described the Patent Office of the future. Its rooms were filled with computers and other formidable equipment. Nearly all documents were stored and translated by machines. Companies, inventors, attorneys, and other patent offices were connected to the U.S. Patent Office’s electronic system. 

Machines routed patent applications to examiners and formulated and answered search questions. High-quality patents were granted promptly after filing. Most companies would not start a research and development project without a patent search. Examiners were more important than ever for their professional judgment, Ladd concluded in this vision of the future.

Ladd resigned as commissioner on October 1, 1963. He returned to his law practice in Chicago and then practiced law in Ohio and Florida. He was an adjunct or visiting professor at several law schools.

In 1980 he accepted appointment as head of the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress, where he served until 1985. He was the only person who served as head of both the Patent and Copyright offices.

Afterwards he practiced law in Washington, D.C., until retirement. He died on October 12, 1994, in Alexandria, Virginia.



Stacy V. Jones, The Patent Office (1971).

USPTO, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Patents (1961-63).

USPTO, The Story of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1988).