Harry F. Manbeck Jr., was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania on June 26, 1926. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Lehigh University and was hired as an engineer by General Electric Co. in 1949. A few years later he received a law degree from the University of Louisville and became a GE patent attorney.
He rose through the ranks at GE, a company with a large patent department, to become the chief patent counsel, a position he would hold for 20 years. During that period he was a prolific, well-known speaker on intellectual property rights.
President George H.W. Bush appointed Manbeck assistant secretary of commerce and commissioner of patents and trademarks, and he took the oath of office on March 12, 1990.
In May 1990 the USPTO, led by Manbeck, joined with the Copyright Office and Foundation for a Creative America in a week-long series of public events to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first U.S. patent and copyright laws. The secretary of commerce opened a festival at the USPTO in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia, with more than 4,000 USPTO employees attending. Thousands of patent and copyright attorneys, foreign government officials, and other guests attended numerous events in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
Manbeck had been an organizer of the Foundation for a Creative America before he joined the government. The foundation raised $2 million to support bicentennial activities. Afterwards it published a book recording the bicentennial year and patent and copyright history. It also republished a book of the proceedings celebrating the first hundred years.
During Manbeck’s tenure the office hired more trademark examining attorneys to cope with the increased workload resulting from the change that allowed trademark applications to be filed based an intent to use a mark. In 1991 trademark operations were consolidated in a new building in Crystal City known as the “South Tower.” By 1991 a program funded by the private sector since 1982 had enabled about 2,000 patent examiners to visit industrial sites.
In March 1991, at a ceremony hosted by the secretary of commerce, Manbeck granted a patent numbered 5,000,000 under the numbering system started in 1836. In 1992 Manbeck responded to public debate by amending the rule that defined the duty of patent applicants to disclose information to the USPTO.
In 1991 Manbeck led the U.S. delegation to a lengthy, two-part diplomatic conference on a treaty to harmonize patent laws of individual countries. The countries came close to agreeing, but in the end Manbeck decided the United States could not change its law from “first to invent” to “first to file.” That change eventually came in 2011 with passage of the America Invents Act.
Manbeck resigned his position on June 1, 1992. He continued to reside in Washington, where he practiced law for more than 20 years before he retired.
In 2011 Manbeck, along with former office heads Mossinghoff, Quigg, Lehman, and Dickinson, and a former acting head, filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to preserve the clear-and-convincing-evidence standard for invalidating a patent in litigation. They said, “The USPTO examiners are best situated to determine patentability.” Their view prevailed in the case, Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. Partnership.
Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (1990-92).
Foundation for a Creative America, Proceedings, Events, and Addresses of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Patent and Copyright Laws (1990).
Foundation for a Creative America, Centennial Proceedings of the U.S. Patent System 1891 (Bicentennial Commemorative Edition 1990).
USPTO, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks (1990-92).