The patent system is certainly back in the spotlight these days and high profile cases such as Apple-Samsung are sure to create a lot more debate about it. One thing I find amusing, based on the comments placed on articles about the case, is how many people think the jury should have ignored the patent system and done what was right – or in other words, it was really the patent system that was on trial and not if one side copied the patented materials of the other. For this blog entry I thought I would talk about the failure of the patent office to actually put backup systems in place and the impact that this had.
In 1790, the patent office was created and Samuel Hopkins became the first person to receive a patent for an improved method of making Pot Ash. The patent system became quite popular and by 1936 approximately 9957 patents had been issued. How come we don’t know exactly how many? Well, they decided that the patents were being stored in a way that was not very fireproof and that a better facility should be built. So, the patents were moved to a temporary storage facility that was right next door to the fire station.
Well, you know what happened next – right. In December 15th 1936 the building went up in flames and the fire brigade could do nothing because all of the pumps and hoses were frozen. They sat and watched all the records go up in flames – and no they had no backups, nor did they have a list of the patents that had been issued. They tried to recreate the archive by getting copies from the inventors but only 2800 were restored. Also because patents were given a name rather than a number, they started numbering from 1 and gave the restored patents an X after the number. This led to some patents being assigned fractional numbers, such as 1536½ X.
Even recently one of the original lost patents has been found and restored.
So, patent number 1 (in the new numbering system) belongs to Senator John Ruggles of Maine for a cog mechanism for locomotive wheels issued July 13th 1836.
When was the last time you did a backup?
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