Sunday, May 22, 2011

Was President Lincoln the First IP President?

Among President Lincoln's notable "firsts", and there were several (the first president to preside over a civil war, the first president to proclaim the release of slaves in Washington, DC, the first president to seize the family homestead of a rival military leader -- the Robert E. Lee family home in Arlington -- and others), he was the first president to obtain an issued patent. On this date, May 22, in 1849, the U.S. Patent Office issued a patent to Abraham Lincoln for his invention of affixing bellows to the undersides of a ship so that, upon inflating the bellows with air, the ship achieves greater buoyancy, thereby enhancing safe passage over sand bars and shoals.

Lincoln whittled the wooden specimen of his invention, and this carving now resides at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

That Lincoln recognized the value of invention, and the importance of protecting invention, cannot be denied.

"The patent system . . . secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things." A. Lincoln, Feb. 11, 1859.

Presently, the U.S. patent system is bowed under serious strain. Congress has appropriated PTO user fees for other government purposes. The PTO's expedited patent review program has been suspended due to these budget cuts. The PTO's program to open satellite offices around the country (beginning with Detroit) has been likewise suspended. The PTO's need to upgrade its computer system and examination processes are stifled under this budget stress.

For a country that many believe continues to lead the world in creative invention and innovation, the government's budgetary burden on the patent system fails to head the admonition of Lincoln to preserve the patent system, thereby causing the diminution of "the fuel of interest to the fires of genius."

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