The U.S. Patent System Celebrates 212 Years

President George Washington signed first patent act on April 10, 1790
Press Release

Maria V. Hernandez

Washington - On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed the bill that laid the foundation of the modern American patent system. This date marks the first time in American history that the law gave inventors rights to their creations.

The 1790 law gave the Patent Board members the power to grant a patent. Their authority was absolute and could not be appealed. The first board members included Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, who was considered the first administrator of the American patent system and the first patent examiner; Henry Knox, Secretary of War; and Edmund Randolph, Attorney General. The Department of State had the responsibility for administering the patent laws, and fees for a patent were between $4 and $5, with the board deciding on the duration of each patent, not to exceed 14 years.

The Act of April 10, 1790 also defined the subject matter of a U.S. patent as "any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used." Applicants were to provide a patent specification and drawing and, if possible, a model. After examining the application, the board members would issue a patent if they deemed "the invention or discovery sufficiently useful and important."

On July 31, 1790, Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia, PA, received the first U.S. patent for an improvement in "the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process." President George Washington signed the patent, as did Attorney General Edmund Randolph and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. The original document is still in existence in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society.

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