Robert Gottschalk


Robert Gottschalk was born on January 10, 1911, in New York City. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from McGill University and a law degree from St. Lawrence University. Gottschalk practiced with law firms and was a patent counsel with companies including Corn Products Inc. and GAF Corp. He spoke and wrote frequently about patent law.

In May 1970 Gottschalk moved to Washington, D.C., to become deputy commissioner of patents. The position he took had for many years been called First Assistant Commissioner in the statute, but in 1969 the Patent Office expanded the duties for the position and adopted the deputy title by executive action. The statute was later amended to use the deputy title as well.

After his predecessor resigned, Gottschalk served as acting commissioner for several months, after which President Richard Nixon appointed him commissioner of patents. He took the oath of office on January 7, 1972. 

The Supreme Court soon decided a patent case bearing his name—Gottschalk v. Benson. The Patent Office had denied Benson a patent. In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled in the office’s favor, holding that Benson’s claim to a numerical algorithm was not patent eligible, but directed to an abstract idea. According to the court, “the patent would wholly pre-empt the mathematical formula and in practical effect would be a patent on the algorithm itself.”

That same year the Board of Patent Interferences decided a famous interference proceeding involving rights to polypropylene plastic. The Commissioner’s Annual Report called it “the most bitterly contested and most voluminous interference proceeding in recent years.” The case had more than 18,000 pages of testimony. Printed briefs totaled nearly 1,800 pages. 

Gottschalk led the U.S. delegation to a diplomatic conference in Vienna to negotiate the Trademark Registration Treaty. Fifty-six countries including the United States signed the final text on June 12, 1973. 

Also in 1973 the United States ratified the Nice Agreement on international classification of the subject matter of trademarks. Earlier during Gottschalk’s tenure the United States ratified the Locarno Agreement Establishing an International Classification for Industrial Designs.

The office continued efforts to automate its operations. Two significant inventory control systems came online in 1973: the Patent Application Location and Monitoring (PALM) system and the Trademark Reporting and Monitoring (TRAM) system. The office also installed an automated system for retrieving patent classification information.

On February 11, 1973, Thomas Alva Edison’s birthday, the Patent Office co-founded the National Inventors Hall of Fame in cooperation with the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations. Edison was the first inductee. The Patent Office headquarters in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia, housed Hall of Fame exhibits for several years. Later the exhibits moved to Akron, Ohio, and eventually back to Virginia.

During Gottschalk’s tenure the trademark staff prepared the first Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, identified by the acronym TMEP, thought to be clever because “TM” was a common abbreviation for “trademark.” According to office lore, a struggle occurred with the publications staff, which preferred MTEP, because it was parallel to the acronym for the patent manual, MPEP (Manual of Patent Examining Procedure). It is not known whether Gottschalk resolved the dispute personally, but TMEP won out.

Gottschalk resigned on June 20, 1973, after 18 months as commissioner, and resumed patent law practice. He died on April 10, 1994, in Cook County, Illinois.



Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (1972-73).

USPTO, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Patents (1972-73).

USPTO, The Story of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1988).