James T. Newton


The chaotic condition of the rest of the world was reflected in the affairs of the Patent Office at the time when Mr. Newton became Commissioner. The personnel seemed to be leaving "en masse," some going directly into the military service, and others seeking transfers to the more remunerative positions in the war bureaus. Civil service registers were exhausted. For many months it became necessary to go into the highways and the byways to induce people to assume employment in the Patent Office at a salary less than the market price, so that the Office could somehow function, and in some way deliver service. This was the situation that confronted Commissioner Newton, a situation that arose from uncontrollable causes, external to the Office, and was precipitated without notice. It was his duty to make the best of this critical circumstance, and he did it with courage, unfailing purpose, and with exceptional poise and good nature.

But while, for reasons sufficiently shown, he could not wholly arrest the deterioration in the examining corps, he did contrive to stay the forces that were disrupting the general administration of the Office. He was able to hand over to his successor an organization much improved over the condition of decay and ineffectiveness that the war and the sudden increase in Office business initially imposed, although, through lack of personnel and facilities the organization was far from being capable of giving the public the service it demanded and was entitled to.

James T. Newton was born on a plantation in Morgan County, Georgia, July 17, 1862, coming from English colonial stock. At the age of 19 he received the degree of Bachelor of Science from the University of Georgia. He was principal of a school in that state for five years, coming to the Patent Office as a 4th Assistant Examiner on March 10, 1891. He subsequently served as Law Clerk, Chief Clerk, Primary Examiner, Assistant Commissioner, First Assistant Commissioner, Examiner-in-Chief, and Commissioner, attaining the latter position on August 27, 1917.

In addition to the routine worries of the Office there arose numerous complicated situations arising out of the state of war. Communication with the enemy countries was cut off. Enemy applications and patents were seized by the Alien Property Custodian, involving the recording of thousands of transfers. The receipts of applications, which had fallen off considerably, revived suddenly in the spring of 1919 to greater than pre-war proportions, with the result that never before in the history of the Patent Office was it so critically placed, so incapable of providing proper action, and so mercilessly subjected to public criticism.

Among other things Mr. Newton will be remembered for speeding up the classification work, and for his rule requiring an examination of advertising matter circulated by registered attorneys, which curtailed a long and powerfully entrenched abuse.

On the occasion of Mr. Newton's resignation on July 19, 1920, President Wilson in a personal letter expressed his regrets on losing such a "loyal, efficient, and intelligent service."

After his resignation from the Office, Mr. Newton was affiliated with Marks and Clerk, a British firm specializing in foreign patent work. He died while at work in his office in the National Press Building on March 14, 1935, at the age of 73.


*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.