Page images
PDF
EPUB

Two substantially distinct inventions cannot legally be combined in one patent, and if, in the opinion of the Comptroller of the Patent Office, an application cover more than one invention, the grant is refused, subject to an appeal to the Attorney or Solicitor-General; but the applicant has the option of a patent for one of the inventions set forth in his specification, and of making a fresh application or applications for the others. These, if he desire it, and if they be made within six months of the original application, are dated as of the day of the original application, or such later date as the Comptroller may direct.

From various decisions of the Law Officers, the unwritten rule adopted by the examiners appears to be as follows:-Any two or more distinct inventions, dependent for their successful operation upon each other, and tending together to produce one result, can be covered by one application; also two or more ways of accomplishing the same result, if they have apparently novel points in common, can be covered by one application. Practically, where two inventions are allowed in one provisional protection, they are not afterwards required to be divided, except at the request of the inventor.

A patent once granted cannot be objected to at law, on the ground of its covering more than one invention.

A new application of a known thing can be patented, provided it be not analogous to any existing application thereof, or a similar material has not already been so applied. Thus, the new application of vulcanised india-rubber in place of iron in the tyres of traction engines was the subject of a valid patent, while the employment of vulcanised india-rubber, then a known substance, for a purpose to which nonvulcanised rubber had been already applied, was held to be no invention, and the patent for it invalid.

The new combination of two known means to effect an improved result can be patented. Thus, the hot blast and anthracite had both been used separately in the smelting of iron; yet a patent for using the hot blast in combination with anthracite was decided to be valid, the combination producing great commercial advantage.

A patent specification may refer to subject-matter of another prior unexpired patent, but the patentee cannot of course work the previous patent without a license from the owner thereof. This license, however, he can under some circumstances obtain from the patentee (or should the latter be unwilling to grant it otherwise), by petition to the Board of Trade and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, as hereafter explained, under the head Compulsory Licenses, page 28.

WHAT INVENTIONS ARE MOST
PROFITABLE.

Patents for improvements on small objects in common use, or in the manufacture thereof are usually much more profitable than those for steam-engines, blast furnaces, ships, or other large and costly structures. Bessemer, who made more than a million sterling out of his steel-making patents, is a comparatively rare exception to this rule. In an official report of a chief examiner of the United States Patent Office appears the following:-"A patent, if it is worth. anything, when properly managed, is worth, and can easily be sold for, from ten to fifty thousand dollars. These remarks only apply to patents of minor or ordinary value. They do not include such as the telegraph, the planing machine, and the rubber patents, which were worth millions of dollars each.

A few cases of the first kind will better illustrate my meaning.

"A man obtained a patent for a slight improvement in straw-cutters, took a model of his invention through the Western States, and, after a tour of eight months, returned with forty thousand dollars (£8000) in cash, or its equivalent.

"Another inventor obtained extension of a patent for a machine to thrash and clean grain, and sold it in about fifteen months for sixty thousand dollars (£12,000). A third obtained a patent for printers' ink, and refused fifty thousand dollars (£10,000), and finally sold it for about sixty thousand dollars (12,000).

"These are ordinary cases of minor inventions, involving no very considerable inventive powers, and of which hundreds go out of the Patent Office every year. Experience shows that the most profitable patents are those which contain very little invention, and are, to a superficial observer, of little value."

Another species of patent, almost always highly profitable, is that of small improvements on existing processes in the arts. Almost all the principal manufacturing firms that have risen and become eminent during the last fifty years, date their prosperity from some occasion when, making an improvement upon the then existing methods of manufacture (frequently only in some insignificant detail), they obtained for a time almost a monopoly of the trade. Thus a firm in Birmingham are believed to have made more than a million sterling out of their patent for making screws pointed, so that they may enter the wood more easily.

A firm of London candle manufacturers took out a patent for making the lower ends of candles taper, instead of parallel, so as to more easily fit the sockets, and to this small improvement, "which any fool might have invented," but did not, a large part of their present enormous business is owing.

The patent for making umbrellas out of alpaca instead of gingham realised a princely fortune for its inventor, while the simple patented idea of heating the blast in iron smelting has certainly increased the wealth of this country by hundreds of millions.

In most cases where men have risen to eminence through inventions, they did not stop at a single patent, but kept on improving, and buying also the improvements of their workpeople and others. Howe, the inventor of the sewing-machine, was an exception. He made a large fortune out of that one invention, and left improvements on it to others. One firm among his licensees, Wheeler and Wilson, by taking out fresh patents, and working them, are said to have made more than $1,000,000 (£200,000) a year net profits, during the continuance of Howe's patent, after paying the latter his magnificent royalties.

RIGHTS CONFERRED BY PATENTS.

A patent gives its owner the sole right, for 14 years (subject to his paying the taxes at the end of the fourth and subsequent years), of making, using, selling (or importing) the article or process patented, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, and on the adjacent seas, but not in ships of those countries or colonies that grant similar exemption to British shipping in their waters. This sole right is, however, subject to the exceptions set forth in the article Compulsory Licenses, page 28.

It is an infringement of the patentee's rights to manufacture for one's personal household use.

REGISTERED PATENT AGENTS.

The Government does not guarantee anything in the patent, but simply gives the patentee a right to

the exclusive use of his invention, subject to certain limitations, and so long as nothing against the validity of his patent shall be proved. It is a common mistake to suppose that " a patent is a patent," and that so long as an inventor has his letters patent he has a good and sufficient title deed. It is, indeed, an undoubted fact that the majority of the patents at present existing will not "hold water" (generally through defective drawing up, or from embracing what is old). This is owing in a great part to the employment of "cheap agents," and inventors doing their own patenting. It is notorious in the profession that certain individuals who send round circulars to all those taking out provisional protection offering to complete the same or take out foreign patents at prices that cannot pay for good work, almost invariably draw up the specifications in a manner that will injure or nullify the patent rights. Nothing, indeed, in the whole range of law requires so much skill to draw up as the final specifications of patents. With other law documents there are books of precedents to keep one straight. This is not and cannot be the case with patent specifications, and without great care and skill on the part of the man who draws these up, they are almost certain to be valueless. It is for this reason that solicitors usually decline to take out patents, but refer their clients to men whose special business and training qualifies them to draw up these documents.

So great has this evil of incompetent practitioners become, that in 1888 an Act was passed allowing no fresh individuals to advertise themselves as "Patent Agents" without first passing an examination. This will be very beneficial in the long run, but the first effect of the Act was the registration of a large number of inexperienced men anxious to come in without examination.

« PreviousContinue »