Patented GOVERNMENT SERVICE—AND YOU
Romance, Comedy, Tragedy—All are found in the files of Canada's Patent Office at Ottawa
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
A CANARY in its cage, a ball of yellow feathers with head sunk into its plumage, reeled crazily on its perch with closed eyes, then dropped, and the tiny body disappeared through the trap door. This closed an electric circuit and bells rang wildly through the house of the canary’s owner, announcing to its alarmed inhabitants the presence of death-dealing coal gas in dangerous volume. At the same moment, a giant, turbine-driven ocean liner from the Orient nosed up Burrard Inlet tow'ard its dock at Vancouver while a sleeping man in an Alberta city was raised in his bed, tilted by an obliging mattress and neatly decanted on the floor at the precise hour at which it was necessary for him to commence preparing for his day’s work.
The above is not based on an opium-eater’s dream; it is merely a somewhat scrambled reference to manifestations of the extraordinarily varied and incongruous forces which may be, and have been set in motion by that department of the Federal Government at Ottawa which, more than any other, has to do with human frailty, genius, hopes and fears—the patent office. Through the hands of officials of the patent office have passed momentous inventions that have conquered time, annihilated space, shattered mysteries of nature and brought fame and fortune to their sponsors; in its files are buried the tragic army of the unwanted ones, carrying between the lines of their careful drawings and painstaking descriptions poignant stories of life-long struggle, of poverty and of hope deferred.
Few among us have not said, at least once in our lives; “If only I could invent something . . . something —” with the subsequent day-dream of wealth and fame. But the Acting Commissioner of Patents, Thomas L. Richard, his keen, shrewd eyes growing contemplative, will tell you Nom an experience of twenty-nine years in the patent office, that for every invention that proves a commercial success, for every invention that brings profit to its creator there are a thousand failures. Unless one has sufficient money or backing to market one’s invention adequately, or is employed, for one’s ideas, by some large corporation, it is a terrifically uphill game. The popular idea of the inventor making a fortune from some simple thing, is a rosy dream —yet, despite its oft-proven fallacy it is a dream to which most inventors tightly cling, and no amount of contrary proof can shake them.
Once an inventor, always an inventor, say officials of the patent office, who really ought to know.
It is a virus that bites deep and stops at nothing. In its grip men will suffer years of discouragement, hardship and starvation, condemn those most dear to them to a like fate, and sacrifice the money of their closest friends in pursuit of that golden willo’-the-wisp which flits nearer—nearer—yet always just heart-breakingly out of reach. Fallen, they rise again, goaded by ambition which, like that grim blast of Dante ‘with restless fury drives the spirits on’.
The Odds Against the Free-lance Investor
UNLESS a man can bring his invention forcibly to the notice of the leaders in the field he invades, by developing or threatening dangerous competition, he has not much chance. A man residing near Ottawa has an extraordinary ability—despite a slight mental deficiency—for the invention of ingenious safe locks, and although he has patented a number of them they have not found a market. The manufacturers whom he approached rejected him, because the experts they employ in ceaseless search for new ideas will undoubtedly some day better his own—and they have the facilities at hand whereby in a few hours they can reduce their ideas to practical working models. He has nothing but plans and written description, the cost of wooden or metal models being far beyond his purse. And still he perseveres.
On the other hand, the inventor who is granted a patent may not withold the usefulness of his idea from the public which, for eighteen years—the term of the patent—has given him a monopoly. A patent, after all, is the reward the inventor receives for contributing to the the progress of a nation, on the definite understanding that it will be available, at a price, for use. An idea, patented, but withheld from use, may exercise restraint upon the development of a particular trade or industry, therefore the Patent Act requires that the article patented shall be manufactured or produced in Canada at a reasonable rate and in sufficient quantity to supply the demand. If this is not done it is possible for interested parties legally to force the inventor or holder of the patent to comply.
The term of a Canadian patent is for eighteen years, but this time limit is not inflexible, if good reason is shown for its extension. The most outstanding case of this kind is the one involving the invention of the turbine by Sir Charles Parsons. Application for an extension was made and granted by parliament, because, when the invention first was patented, the idea was far in advance of the development of steamships, and the turbine was forced
to lie useless until the latter art had advanced to a point where it could be utilized. Sir Charles spent large sums in perfecting, experimenting, and taking out patents, and it was felt that he was entitled to some return for his foresight, particularly in view of the immense benefit to the world of his invention. The Canadian Patent Office alone has issued between forty-five and fifty patents, covering various progressive processes in the perfection of the Parsons steam turbine.
A case recently refused extension by parliament resulted in a saving to the Canadian public which should approximate $15,000,000 in ten years. The holders of a patent upon a valve or tube of the utmost importance to radio fans-and manufacturers of radio parts applied for an extension which would continue to give them the exclusive right of production, the valve then retailing at nine dollars. The refusal of the application automatically made the idea the property of the public. Similar valves now are available to the consumer at about two dollars and a half.
When war broke out in 1914 the supply of Salvarsan, a remedy essential in the treatment of a certain dangerous disease, was cut off, because the patent was held by Germans. Representations made to the Patent Office that the public health demanded this prepartion resulted in parliament giving certain responsible manufacturing chemists the power to produce it. Intensive research soon revealed to our Canadian chemists the secret of it composition, and the resulting product not only was as efficient as that of the Germans, but was cheaper to the public. As an illustration that even the war spirit did not lessen our spirit of fair dealing, a royalty of five per cent, on all Salvarsan sold in Canada was turned to the Custodian of Enemy Properties, to be placed to the credit of the original patent holders. The First Canadian Patent
'T'HE first patent granted in Canada of which there is record was to Noah Cushing, of Quebec, ‘in the Province of Lower Canada,’ for a washing and fulling machine. It was issued in 1824, under an Act of George IV, promulgated, as the preamble says, ‘for the encouragement of genius and the arts.’ A similar act was passed in Upper Canada exactly one hundred years ago, and at a later period each province issued its own patents. In 1872, however, the Federal Patent Office was established to supplant these, and the first patent it granted was for a sewing machine The number of that patent was 1645, and that of the latest one issued as this article is being written, in February of this year, is 268,163.
Progress has been made not only in the number of things patented, but in their form also. The following is a ‘medical compound’ on which an Ontario farmer secured a patent in 1883. It was for the treatment of ‘Salt Rheum, Ring Worm, Chilblains, Running Sores, Itch and all forms of skin diseases, to be administered externally as an ointment.’ Here is the formula: ‘Fresh unsalted butter two pounds; three fresh eggs; flowers of sulphur two tablespoonfuls; black wool cut from a sheep’s breast at the
Full of the Moon, one ounce.’
Forty years later another patent was granted for the relief of suffering humanity, to Frederick G. Banting. Charles Herbert Best and James Bertram Collip, to cover the invention of ‘an extract, obtained from the mammalian pancreas or from the related glands of fishes, useful in the treatment of diabetes mellitus, and a method of preparing it’—in other words, the world-famous insulin
The work of the Patent and Copyright Office of the Federal Government comes under the jurisdiction of that most versatile body, the Department of Trade and Commerce. Its duties embrace not only the granting of patents but the registration of copyrights, timber marks and trade-marks including trade slogans. The difference broadly may be defined by saying that copyright has to do with the arts, that is, literary work, painting, etching, and so on, and music, and that patents concern themselves with material things like machinery, manufacturing processes and other things calculated to increase industry and provide employment.
A Service With a Heart
MUCH of the work of the patent office has to do with the detail of copyright and trade-mark registration but its most interesting and most important phase is granting of patents for inventions. In strong contrast to some of the more impersonal activities of officialdom, the supervision of patenting is a service which demands tact and sympathy as well as efficiency. Certain rules are laid down to cover the procedure of gaining a patent and to regulate whom one may, or may not see, in the office itself, but Acting Commissioner Richard and his staff of examiners go by the spirit rather than by the letter of the law. That regulation which states that these gentlemen cannot grant personal interviews except under certain special conditions, more often than not, is observed in the breach.
I am going to describe what frequently occurs—at risk, I was going to say, of bringing criticism upon the heads of the staff from those legal gentlemen who draw their livelihood from inventors; but that probably would be unjust to that finest type of patent attorney who, no less than the patent officials, realizes that the main purpose of a department of the government is to give service to Canadians, and who would be first to prevent the useless expenditure of money by inventors who ill can afford it.
Recently a man entered the office of the commissioner —a working-man, spruced up for the occasion in well worn Sunday suit, and clean, mended linen, his big knuckles grained with the toil of years. He was ill-atease in this throne-room of officialdom. He approached the desk diffidently, and when invited to a seat, lowered himself to the extreme edge of the chair. He was a mechanic who had invented a new automobile wheel rim. For long months he had toiled on his idea, in the back of his mind warm thoughts of what it would mean to his family and himself when he won through. A home that he could build and own; little comforts, a new dress, better food; things long denied to them. But, now that his invention was complete, he hesitated. Application for a patent cost fifteen dollars, and if the application was granted his certificate would require twenty more—the government patent fee. Thirty-five dollars, saved at cost of many a personal and family sacrifice; on top of that, fees for the patent attorney. If his idea was sound, it was worth the sacrifice. If not, well, he could not afford to take chances. Would the commissioner mind advising him . . .?
Mr. Richard’s kindly tones at once relieved him of embarrassment. More; his first few words convinced the inventor that this man could understand and discuss his invention, not only as a government official, but also as a practical mechanic with more than a working knowledge of the inventor’s own trade. The man explained what he had been working toward, then answered several concise questions. In the end the commissioner sent for numerous files—files which contained literally scores of inventions for which patents had been granted, along the identical lines, many of them, on which this man had been working. The inventor was too late. He was astounded; for, in common with the great run of inventors it had not occurred to him that other men, long before him, had thought and labored and perfected what he had come to regard as the heaveninspired child of his own brain. It was a bitter pill, but it had its filmy coating of sugar, too. He had been prevented from spending money uselessly.
He put one trembling hand in his pocket. “Thank you, commissioner?” he said. “What do I owe for your advice?”
“Not a thing, my friend,” replied the commissioner in his fatherly way. “Keep your money and buy a suit of clothes with it.”
Service seems to be the fetish of the patent office. The spirit of the organization is this; that above all other considerations must be upheld the policy of saving money to the Canadian citizen. The mechanic in overalls, the businessman and the patent attorney of a great corporation are met with the same degree of courtesy and cooperation. There is no niggling over contentious minor points of procedure, and the voluntary assistance given to inventors and others quite aside from what the strict letter of the Patent Act calls for saves them a quarter of a million dollars a year.
A few months ago an expert in the employ of a big
Canadian company called at the patent office and outlined an idea which his firm had under consideration. The acting commissioner listened attentively, then said: “You seem to have something there, but I recollect a similar process in operation in Scotland (naming the place) and it might be well if you were to go there first and investigate before going further with it on this side.” Acting upon this advice, and supplied with the names of certain concerns in the Old Land who might be of assistance, the expert left for Europe. As it happened, he returned one day while the writer was in the patent office, to express enthusiastic thanks. Not only had the assistance given him been the means of preventing unnecessary expenditure of money at home, but the information gained as to manufacturing processes along allied lines abroad, materially had altered his original ideas, and would result, not only in savings and profits amounting to many thousands of dollars to his company, but also would provide employment for an additional number of Canadian workers.
When Inventors Clash
THE personal appearance of the applicant for a patent, or his representative, is not required at the office unless requested by the commissioner, nor are models necessary, unless, in exceptional cases, they are asked for. Applications must be on the forms supplied by the patent office and must conform to certain rules which are too lengthy to detail here, but which will be supplied by the office upon request. An application fee of fifteen dollars must accompany the documents. While the employment of a patent attorney is not essential to those capable of supplying adequate drawings and specifications themselves, it is advisable in the case of uneducated or inexperienced persons.
When an application is received, it is checked for errors, numbered and sent to a classification clerk who determines what class or category it comes under and then sends it on to the examiner who scrutinizes all previously granted patents of a similar class to see if the application in hand conflicts with them. If not, the inventor is notified, and upon payment of a further fee of twenty dollars the patent is granted and, six weeks later, issued.
Where any of the claims in the application conflict with a patent granted the applicant is notified and given an opportunity to modify his claims; but where two applications are identical ‘conflict’ is declared Both parties are notified. Supposing you are one of them, you may have the matter settled by arbitration, before a board of three,, one selected by yourself, one by your opponent and the third by the Commissioner of Patents. Or, in lieu of this, you may carry the case to the Exchequer Court, which handles all cases of patent litigation. In either case, the finding is final. Many applications are amended a number of times and returned to the patent office in hope of getting through. When it is obvious to the commissioner that this is being done either through obstinacy, or a desire to prolong the case for the sake of fees, he may give a final rejection which automatically closes the discussion so far as his office is concerned. The only resort, then is the Exchequer Court.
Occasionally a second patent is allowed on an article already patented by some other person, but this is a strictly protective measure. Assume that a man had been working for months upon a certain invention. When it was perfected he sought to patent it only to find it already patented. Investigation disclosed the successful patentee to be someone—an employee, a relative, a friend—who had gained access to the invention either directly or through a third person and had hastened to forestall the true inventor; in other words, had stolen the idea. Upon making the facts known to the Commissioner of Patents and showing reasonable grounds, the second applicant would have no difficulty in securing his patent. He then would carry the case to the Exchequer Court with the certainty, if he had sufficient evidence, of being sustained. The first patentee then would become liable to further legal action.
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A Colossal Task
/"\NE of the most exacting jobs in the patent office is that of the examiner. In the Canadian office are sixteen examiners and four assistants who handle, between them, about 250 main classes of inventions, some of which have nearly 800 sub-divisions. When an application comes before the examiner he must read the case and become thoroughly familiar with it and all its claims. He must visualize a picture of the article in operation. Then he turns to the back files of patents granted in the same field and individually examines each one, point by point, in search of conflicting claims.
Some of the granted-patent classifications contain from 1200 to 1500 cases, (peach of which must be searched, and as some of these cases, such as patents for shoe machinery, contain 150 to 300 typewritten pages, and sixty or more finely detailed drawings, the colossal nature of the task, and the tremendous strain upon mind, memory and technical training, becomes apparent.
It must be remembered that the scope of the examiner's work may range from the simplest mechanical contrivance to highly involved industrial machinery. He must have expert knowledge of the construction of the most intricate inventions and be able to judge them, not only theoretically, but from a practical working basis. That is why Canadian examiners, in contradistinction to those of the United States patent office men, are required to have actual experience in the scientific or industrial sphere with which they are concerned before being appointed to the government service.
Every examiner is a university man— from Queen’s, McGill, Laval, Toronto, Moni real Polytechnic Institute, the Ontario College of Pharmacy and overseas, institutions of learning—and the staff includes electrical mining, and mechanical engineers, metallurgists, chemists and authorities in all branches of science and the arts. Incessantly, they must read and study to keep abreast of professional progress, and most of this reading is done in their hours off duty because, as will be demonstrated, they have no other time, a knowledge of aeronautics alone demands familiarity with metallurgy, alloys, paints, internal combustion engines and many other things, it is a constant source of amazement to men high in the industries, who have business in the patent office, when they discover that the examiners not only have a wid ; range of information respecting other processes, but that they often can—and do—give valuable pointers to them respecting their own manufactures This has occurred time and again.
Examiners must be sound of character and absolutely honest. They take an oath of secrecy regarding applications submitted to them, and nothing is dis-, closed concerning any pending invention to anyone except the inventor or his accredited representative. Despite their most strenuous efforts it is impossible for the present staff of the patent office examiners to keep abreast of the applications that pour in. Some of them have six hundred applications awaiting their attention. It sometimes is three months or more before an application can be acted upon in its proper numerical sequence, and despite the effort to give each case all possible consideration some applications cannot get the careful degree of search to which they are entitled.
The staff is undermanned and overworked, and comparison with the activities of the United States Patent Office bears this out. Leaving aside the great number of applications which have to be searched and rejected, the number of patents granted in the Canadian Patent Office last year, with sixteen examiners and four assistants, was 14,834—an average of about 742 per examiner. In the same period the United States granted 108,817 patents with 642 examiners—an average of 174 per man. In other words, if the Canadian examining staff, according to work accomplished, were placed on the same footing as the United States staff, Canada would require eighty-five examiners instead of a total of twenty as at present. Twenty men doing the work of eighty-five! Can one wonder that our cases are piling up, and that the examiners wonder if they ever can extricate themselves from the morass?
A Unique Library
'T'HE Canadian patent office library proves an invaluable aid to those contemplating applying for patents. In it are records of all British patents from the year 1622, the United States bound patents from 1872, more than 600,000 French patents and, in addition to 267,500 Canadian patents, the official current reports of granted patents from the Antipodes, Belgium, Japan, Switzerland, Norway, Mexico and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. To this great store are added about 400 volumes a year. Every record is available to inventors, patent attorneys, and the interested public, and every facility and assistance is given without charge in the matter of search.
There are few women inventors, and of this few the majority bend their efforts to distinctively femine things. They patent dress designs anc^garment patents. They invent patent lingerie and raiment fasteners, hooks and eyes and other things about which mere man is not supposed to be too inquisitive, and with it all—prick up your ears, friend husband—are infinitely more amenable to reason when being shown that their ideas are not the fruit of pure genius nor the first in the field. The masterful sex having taken great pains throughout the centuries to point out to them their manifold inferiorities, they accept disappointment like the good sports they are, and thus are saved the overpowering buffets that floor their lords when their pet schemes gang agley.
According to the patent office staff, it is a most difficult job to convince an inventor whose application has been refused that his invention could possibly infringe upon any other man’s idea. He seems to have the notion that he alone was touched with the genius necessary to enlighten the world upon this particular point, and he will defend his invention against the most formidable attacks of reason. As a matter of fact, to refuse a man a patent upon something which already has been patented is the kindest thing to do for, assuming that his application was granted and he manufactured, it would not be long before he would find himself in the throes of a lawsuit from which he would emerge, perhaps not much wiser, but considerably poorer.
Those Perpetual Motion Machines
A/TOST obstinate and persistent, and most difficult of all to deal with are the inventors of perpetual motion machines—so-called. In the face of all the laws oí physics and static equilibrium they spend years and talents and money in desperate endeavor to attain the absolutely unattainable. The basic idea of all perpetual motions machines is that the power which runs the machine shall be produced by the machine to run the m t chiner That’s it. A perpetual whee: To quote Deiterich, an eminent authority, a man attempting to hoist himself by his boot-straps is working exactly on the same line, and with equal chance of success. The slave of the ideal of perpetual motion runs an added risk—a risk far out of proportion to any conceivable material gain that he might reap—for nearly every insane asylum in the Dominion has its perpetual motion devotee.
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Like bloodhounds on the trail, they stick. Some are diverted for a while to other spoor, but—well, here is a typical sample. A brilliant lawyer living in Eastern Canada worked, or rather played, in his spare time, with the idea of inventing such a machine. He became more deeply interested; in time neglected his business. Then it became an obsession and he threw career, family, and the money he had saved, into the bottomless bucket. Time after time he saw the commissioner of patents—or rather the acting commissioner—who exercised great patience in endeavoring to get the man away from his mania by pointing out its fallacy. No good. Then, with almost all his money gone, alienated from his friends, and on the verge of nervous breakdown, his eyes seemed opened.
With the remnant of his fortune he bought a farm in the west and moved there with his family. For awhile he did well, but once more the deadly germ bit. He returned to Ottawa, having sold his farm and everything on it, and borrowed a considerable sum from his simple, credulous neighbors, through his trained persuasive powers. It all went, as the first had done. When, for the second time he was ruined, he came to the commissioner. “I am through, Mr. Richard,” said he. “It’s beaten me at last. There is no such thing as perpetual motion. You were right and I was wrong. I am going to start life afresh and forget about it.”
That was two years ago.
The commissioner was glad, and even against the conviction of years of experience tried to believe. Then, a short time ago his door opened and the lawyer walked in. “Well, Mr. Richard,” he triumphed, “I’ve got something real this time. No, no—!” he disclaimed hastily, “Not perpetual motion. I’m through with that bunk forever. This is something that really will work, and its going’to net me a fortune. Look!”
Mr. Richard looked. It was a totally different design—for a perpetual motion machine.
The Pump Which Runs Itself
TN ALL the history of patents in Great ^ Britain only one patent ever was granted for a perpetual motion machine, and that was forced through by the House of Lords over the heads of the British patent office. It was never used, because, of course, the actual tests proved it abortive. The United States, similarly granted only one patent. This, too, proved a fallacy in operation. Canada? Well, Canada will not grant a patent on a perpetual motion machine. The Patent Office simply refuses point blank, to consider it, and for a long time it was thought that such an one never had been granted in the Dominion, but—and this will be news even to certain of the Patent Office staff when they read it—one was granted in 1897 to John George Gigleux, of Louisiana, and the patent number is 56178. True, the specification did not state that it was a perpetual motion machine; it called the contrivance a pump; a pump which pumped up water which flowed back over a wheel, thus furnishing the motive power which ran the pump—in short, a perpetual motion machine. Nowadays, when an inventor is particularly insistent that he has discovered the true thing, the commissioner simply says, “Fine! Bring me a working model and I’ll grant you a patent.” The model never has been produced.
Change in style affect to a certain degree the work of the patent office. For example, a few years ago, when men’s shoes were changed from high box toes to the flat ones now in fashion, it was necessary to effect almost complete alterations in those most intricate affairs, shoe-making machines, and applications for patents poured in. When women’s fur coats were worn longer, it was discovered that they were caught and torn on the fasteners of certain types of overshoes. Such fasteners now are rapidly being replaced by a new type of fastener which does away with the danger of torn garments, and is equally effectual upon clothing and tobacco pouches. This new fastener passed through, and was approved, by the Canadian patent office.
Occasionally inventors write, applying for a government pension which, they have been told, is the prerogative of those whose inventions have been on the market for twenty years or more, and it is difficult indeed to persuade them that they have been misinformed—that no such provision has been or ever will be made. Where the idea had its inception is a mystery to the officials, but it is wide-spread, and occasions much irascible correspondence.
The Service More Than Pays Its Way
T T IS significant that the operation of the 1 Canadian patent office does not cost the tax-payers of Canada one cent. Seventy per cent, of patents granted are to the United States, and the balance is divided among Canada and other foreign countries, Canada’s share being slightly larger than the combined totals of countries other than the United States. Thomas L. Richard, the acting commissioner, who for four years has been carrying on the active management of the office in the absence, through illness, of the commissioner, Mr. O’Halloran, who is due shortly to retire, in explaining the work of the office declared that it was his intention, if possible, to make the Canadian patent office the most efficient organization of its kind.
This is not an unreasonable ideal, and one of the ways in which it may be carried out is by utilizing some of the annual surplus which accrues to the office through the payment of fees for the employing of add’tional examiners. The expenditures of the Canadian patent office during 1926 were $208,966.86 and the receipts, $535,139.34 leaving a favorable balance of $326,172.48. The diversion of even a small proportion of this would mean that a more careful search could be made when Canadian inventions were under consideration, and that even greater facilities could be afforded the public in the scrutinizing of patents now on file in the patent office.