William E. Schuyler Jr. was born on February 3, 1914, in Washington, D.C., and resided in the Washington area for his entire career. His mother operated a patent information business. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Catholic University and a law degree from Georgetown University.
He was a law firm partner and litigator who represented clients in district court patent infringement trials throughout the United States. He argued many appeals in regional Courts of Appeals in the era before the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was established. He taught a law school course in patent litigation for more than 20 years.
President Richard Nixon appointed Schuyler commissioner of patents, and he took the oath of office on May 7, 1969.
He obtained approval for the United States to host a diplomatic conference in Washington to negotiate the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which allowed patent applicants to start the process of obtaining patents in multiple countries by filing a single international application. The diplomatic conference was one of the largest on intellectual property rights ever held in the United States, with 77 countries and 22 international organizations represented. The United States and other countries signed the treaty at the end of the conference on June 17, 1970.
U.S. industry donated generously to entertain the visiting diplomats at the conference. A highlight was a one-day break to visit the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 200 delegates and guests departed on a chartered Boeing 707 from Dulles airport and returned the same day. It was less than a year after the first moon landing.
Other treaties signed or ratified during Schuyler’s term included the treaty establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization, ratified in 1970, the Stockholm revision of the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, also ratified in 1970, and the Strasbourg Agreement on international patent classification, signed in 1971.
In 1970, for the first time, the office received more than 100,000 patent applications. By 1971, with patent and trademark fees set by statute and therefore frozen, the portion of the office supported by fee income had fallen to 50 percent.
Schuyler experimented with examiners using dictating machines with support from a typing pool. Later he introduced a printed form for some examiner “actions” with the forms filled out in handwriting. The office established a Disclosure Document Program to allow inventors to deposit papers in the office describing their inventions while they were deciding whether to file a patent application, but usage was low.
In 1970 the office was one of the first large customers of the Government Printing Office to adopt a new printing system to replace hot metal printing, in which patent text was keyboarded onto magnetic tapes. A side benefit was a database of tapes to use for other purposes.
Patent printing fell behind in 1971. A few hundred patent numbers were voided, breaking the numbering sequence followed since 1836. Some patents were issued on Wednesdays, the first time in the 20th century that patents were issued on any day but Tuesday.
During Schuyler’s tenure the office accelerated efforts to use automation for efficiency and quality in patent searching and subject matter classification. The largest effort was Project POTOMAC, later abandoned in favor of programs that did not require research and development.
Schuyler started an Office of Technology Assessment and Forecast that began disseminating information on trends in technological activity. According to the 1971 Commissioner’s Annual Report, it was an effort “to take advantage of the wealth of statistical information generated by the Patent Office as a byproduct of examining and issuing patents.”
Schuyler resigned on August 26, 1971. After he returned to private life he was called on to represent the United States in additional international meetings, in at least one instance with the rank of ambassador. He practiced law for several years. He died July 25, 2007, in Rockville, Maryland, at age 93.
Bloomberg BNA, Weekly Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (1969-71).
Stacy V. Jones, The Patent Office (1971).
USPTO, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Patents (1969-71).
USPTO, The Story of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (1988).