Patent Act of 1836 Celebrates 180th Anniversary

Today is the Fourth of July, the 240 birthday of the United States of America. It also marks the 180th anniversary of the modern U.S. patent system. On this date in 1836, a new patent statute went into effect. A week or so later, on July 13, the first patent issued under the new act was granted to John Ruggles of Thomaston, Maine. In addition to being an inventor, Ruggles was a senator and one of the principal authors of the new law.

The Patent Act of 1836 was a watershed in U.S. patent history. It introduced (or re-introduced) the concept of examination: Patent examiners were required to search the prior art in order to validate the inventor’s claims that their inventions were new and non-obvious. The term of a patent was 14 years with the possibility of a seven year extension. The term was changed to 17 years in 1861.

Ruggles’ patent was called “Traction Wheels” for a “Locomotive Steam-engine for Rail and Other Roads.” The main idea of the invention was a system of cogs attached to a locomotive’s wheels for improved traction during icy or snowy conditions. Ruggles’ patent probably expired in 1850; there’s no evidence that he requested a seven year extension. He received at least one other patent, no. 202, in 1837 for a “rail for railways.”

Since 1836, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued more than 9.3 million patents.

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