Today in History: U.S. Patent Office Opens Its Doors

Today in History: U.S. Patent Office Opens Its Doors

M.C. Millman

July 31, 1790, marks the opening day of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the day the first patent was granted. 

The patent system was created to support intellectual property as mentioned in our Constitution: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." 

The first patent was given to Samuel Hopkins of Vermont for making potash, an ingredient used in fertilization. President George Washington played a part as well by signing the first patent. 

Interestingly, the first patent given to Hopkins was not U.S. patent no. 1. Instead, patents were accessed by the name of the patentee and the date of the patent. The USPTO issued 9,957 patents before introducing a numbering system on July 13, 1836. Patent no. 1 was for a traction wheel for steam locomotives issued to John Ruggles. 

A fire at the USPTO headquarters on December 15, 1836, destroyed patent records. As a result, inventors had to provide proof of their patent or create new documents with their original drawings and specifications.

These 'restored' patent submissions were given numbers ending with an "X" and are now referred to as "X-patents" because they predate the numbering system. The USPTO reports that around 2,800 X-patents were reconstructed, but over 7,000 were never recovered.

The USPTO officially issued patent number 11 million as of May 11, 2021. The USPTO headquarters in Virginia has over 10,000 employees dedicated to protecting U.S. intellectual property rights.

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