David P. Holloway


The war-time commissioner was David P. Holloway, the ninth incumbent of that office.

Holloway was born in Waynesville, Ohio, on December 6, 1809. With his parents he moved in 1813 to Cincinnati where he attended the common schools. He learned the printer's trade at Richmond, Indiana, and for four years worked on the Cincinnati "Gazette". In 1832 he established the Richmond "Palladium" and was its editor for several years.

He was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1843, and to the state Senate in 1844, serving there until 1853, when he was elected on the Republican ticket as a representative in the 34th Congress, serving from March 4, 1855, to March 3, 1857. He was Chairman of the House Committee on agriculture, and introduced a bill to establish a department of agriculture.

President Lincoln appointed him Commissioner of Patents on March 28, 1861, which position he held until August 17, 1865. During his term a number of procedural changes occurred in the patent laws, due, no doubt, largely to the efforts of others who preceded him. The act of March 2, 1861, establishing a permanent board of Examiners-in-Chief, was passed just before his administration began. (It may be noted that the permanent board first appointed by Commissioner Holt and established by the act of 1861 was found satisfactory in many respects though Commissioner Holloway criticized it on the ground that it had increased the work of the Commissioner instead of decreasing it, and recommended that its decision should be made merely advisory, the Commissioner to adopt them or not as he should see fit, whereby there would be but two appeals, i. e., from the primary examiner to the Commissioner, and from him to the Court.) This permanent Board of Examiners-in-Chief found great favor with applicants and attorneys.

Due to the establishment of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia by the act of March 3, 1863, the practice in regard to appeals was again changed. Appeals were taken care of in different ways under the different acts of 1836, 1839, and 1852, all of which acts were superseded by the act of March 3, 1863.

Provision for abandonment was contained in the acts of March 2, 1861, June 25, 1864, and March 3, 1865, and the act of March 2, 1861, also extended the term of all subsequently-granted patents to seventeen years, and prohibited the extension of such patents.

On the recommendation of Commissioner Holloway the practice under the act of 1836 of requiring every amendment to be supported by a supplemental oath was abrogated by the act of March 3, 1863, this action apparently being precipitated by the difficulties and delays encountered in prosecuting applications during the war period.

At the beginning of the Civil War the great decrease in business caused receipts to fall from $256,000 to $137,000. The statute prohibited a deficit in the "patent fund”. There could be but one result. A policy of rigid economy was instituted, many clerks, watchmen, etc., being dismissed, as well as a number of examiners, and the remainder of the examining corps were reduced in grade. To make matters worse for the patent fund, the salaries of the Commissioner and Chief Clerk had just been increased and the Board of Examiners-in-Chief established with salaries then considered high, and there seems to have been no way feasible to reduce them. On the other hand, food supplies from Virginia were cut off by the war, while the increase of population due to the presence of many soldiers and a multitude of civilians of all sorts contributed to raise the cost of living to a very high point.

Of course, the action of the Commissioner in reducing salaries was bitterly criticized as being without warrant in law, and the examiners petitioned Congress to authorize the Commissioner to reimburse them for their loss. It appears that such payment was not made until after the war.

Commissioner Holloway was very ambitious to bring the Office to the front rank in every way. He considered the patent law and practice of this country superior to any other in most respects, and but for the accident of war would probably have improved materially those features subject to criticism. In accordance with the authorization found in the act of 1861, he proceeded to introduce the system of reproducing the drawings by the silver print photographic process. However, the war upset the patent business to such a degree that photographic reproduction of patents was discontinued and not resumed until 1869, after which the photolithographic process soon superseded it in large measure. He also prepared and caused to be published a new scheme for classification of patents.

Mr. Holloway's death occurred in Washington, September 10, 1883.


*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.