The second Commissioner of Patents was born at Westminster, Vermont, Jan. 23, 1809. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1829, practised at Newport, New Hampshire, established the New Hampshire "Argus," and edited it for several years. From 1839 to 1845 he was a member of Congress. Appointed Commissioner of Patents, May 5, 1845 by President Polk, he served ably and faithfully in this office until May 9, 1849, after which he became for a brief period official editor for the "Union" in Washington, D. C., and later resumed the practice of law at Newport, New Hampshire, and Boston, Massachusetts.
At the beginning of his administration, the examining force consisted of two principal and two assistant examiners, and the classes of inventions were twenty-two in number. It is interesting to note that in his report to Congress for 1846 he urged that body to provide for the transfer of the records from the Patent Office of Texas to the United States Patent Office, the Republic of Texas having become part of the United States.
This early Commissioner had occasion to criticise Congress for failing to provide for the necessary help to get off the work. "The office is seven or eight months in arrears of its business and is daily becoming more and more embarrassed. Thus have I in five separate communications to Congress and its appropriate committees within the last two years made full expositions of the embarrassed conditions of this Office growing out of its greatly increased and increasing business and the inadequacy of its force to perform its duties."
In 1848 the salary of the principal examiners was raised from fifteen hundred to twenty-five hundred dollars, and that of assistants from twelve hundred fifty to fifteen hundred dollars.
In referring to the standard of the work performed by the examiners, he said, "The rigid examinations now made in the Patent Office with regard to originality and patentability of new discoveries and improvements result in the rejection of a much larger proportion of the applications than formerly when a less scrutinizing system of examination was pursued. The proportion of applications patented to those rejected is now about two to three, whereas formerly half were patented."
While Commissioner of Patents, Mr. Burke made an able technical report on "Steam Boiler Explosions," for the Senate. In 1846, he published a series of twelve important essays on "The Protective System Considered in Connection with the Present Tariff."
The agricultural reports begun by the Patent Office during Commissioner Ellsworth's administration grew to such popularity in Commissioner Burke's administration as to create demands for reprinting and excite the comment of Congress on the enormous number of requests for them.
Commissioner Burke's death occurred at Newport, New Hampshire in 1882.
*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.