How a Strong Patent System Built America

Thursday, Aug 4th, 2016

Stop what you’re doing right now. This is your chance to learn something truly amazing: this blog post will [hopefully] help you to appreciate the history of the patent system and better understand the part it has played in building the America we know today.

The first patent
In the 1641, the first unofficial patent was awarded to Samuel Winslow by the Massachusetts General Court.1 Even during a time of great change in the early stages of what would later become the United States, the value of intellectual property was known. And while Winslow’s new method for making salt isn’t on par with inventions like the steam engine, its recognition marked the beginning of a history of innovation. Keep in mind this was 146 years before the adoption Constitution of the United States.

Strengthening the system
By the late 1700s, the patent system was in need of an overhaul to help further define term lengths and the necessary procedural infrastructure. The Patent Act of 1790 addressed these issues. The Patent Act of 1793 built on what the Patent Act of 1790 started, making it even easier for inventors and innovators to obtain patents. Thomas Jefferson, an inventor who had at one time held an anti-patent viewpoint, was in charge of approving patents for a brief period of time and had become fond the impact the patent system was having on innovation.

Reaping the rewards
The 19th and 20th centuries were periods of explosive growth for American innovation. The patent office was formally established in 1836 and through 2011 it had granted nearly 8 million patents. Influential inventions patented during this time include an automobile assembly line, the torque wrench, the home air conditioner, the electric guitar and many more.

And here we are today – innovation and technology are literally changing our lives every day. From jobs and entertainment to education and breakthroughs in life-saving medicine; it’s all because of the desire to do great things and trust in the patent system.

We made this video as a call to action for all Americans to keep inventing and to help keep our patent system strong.

Let’s make sure our kids and grandkids can look back at our time as a period of great innovation bolstered by intellectual property. Take action today by [signing up for our newsletter/contacting congress/tweeting your rep].

Sources cited:
1Cortada, James W. (1998). "Rise of the knowledge worker". Resources for the Knowledge-based Economy. Knowledge Reader Series 8. Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 141.
2 http://www.archipelago.org/vol10-34/matsuura.htm