The Process of Invention and Innovation

Inovation and Invention was so important to the framers of the constitution that a provision in the Constitution was provided under Article I, section 8 that gave congress the power "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. 

The first Patent Act was passed in 1790.  It gave the power to issue patents to the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and the Secretary of War, or "any two of them".  A new patent law in 1793, gave Secretary of State with the approval of the Attorney General, the power to issue patents valid for fourteen years.

In 1836, Congress passed a law establishing a "Patent Office" headed by a "Commishioner of Patents" within the Department of State.  The Commissioner could grant patents only if the subject patent had not been previously invented or discovered; that the applicant was the actual inventor of the device and that the article sufficiently useful and important to deserve a patent.  Disputes were handled by a board of three disinterested persons appointed by the Secretary of state.  One of the three would be an expert in the field in which the article pertains.  Current patents are protected for 17 years.

The fundamental question that plagued our law-makers was that "to grant patents liberally might encourage inovation, but each patent was a little monopoly, and monoply was generally undesireable."  Striking a suitable balance between the two has been the policy of the Patent process.