10 million US patents since 1790... and counting (Part 1)

How has US patenting changed over the past 230 years? Inspired by the announcement that the USPTO has just issued its 10 millionth patent, litigation supremo Andrew Waugh QC has delved into the inventions behind the statistics.  The Constitution of The United States of America (then 13 states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina) was negotiated in Pennsylvania between May to September 1787. It was engrossed on parchment and sent to Congress on 18th September 1787 and Section 8 of Article 1 of the Constitution provided that “The Congress shall have 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”.

Andrew has looked at the first US patent ever (both of them, read more and you’ll understand) and number 1 million, 2 million and so forth to see what technology was around, and how fast patenting has accelerated during its existence.

From a process for making pot ash through vehicle tyres, ethanol production and, inevitably, data processing, the documents are remarkably representative of how technology has developed.  Interestingly, the fastest million patents were granted between 2011 and 2013 (this is between patent number 8 million and patent number 9 million) – the next million took 5 years – two and half times longer. There has been talk of a slowdown in patenting, but this is a pretty clear statistic that either filing or granting has slowed down. Andrew’s review is not really about the numerical variation, more a celebration of two centuries of patenting, but it provides food for thought in many ways - and some light-hearted summer reading if you want a break from your beach novel.  Over to Andrew.

1st US Patent - 31st July 1790

Samuel Hopkins (1765-1840) was granted the first U.S. patent on July 31, 1790, for an improvement "in the making Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process." Hopkins was a Philadelphia Quaker who later moved to New Jersey, although other sources say that he was from Pittsford, Vermont, and was living in Philadelphia when the patent was granted. Whatever the case, Patent No. 1 was signed by President Washington, Attorney General Randolph and Secretary of State Jefferson. The original document is still in existence in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society.

Patent No.1 (9,957th) – 13th July 1836

9,957 in 46 years – 216 a year.

Patent No. 1 - 1836
U.S. patent no. 1, was issued to Senator John Ruggles of Thomaston, Maine. Senator Ruggles was chair of the Committee on Patents and the Patent Office and the chief framer of the 1836 Patent Act, which came into force on July 4. The Act abolished the old patent registration system that had been in force since 1793 and re-introduced an examination system based on novelty and non-obviousness.

Patent No. 1,000,000 - 1911
Patent No. 1,000,000 (1,009,957th) – 8th August 1911

1,009,957 patents in 121 years (8346 a year)


Granted to Francis Holron

To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, FRANCIS HOLRON, citizen of the United States, residing at Akron, in the county of Summit and State of Ohio, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Vehicle-Tires, of which the following is a specification.
My invention has reference to an improvement in vehicle tires adapted to take -the place of the pneumatic tire now in common use.
To this end the invention consists in a tire which is provided with a specially constructed yielding member or part of a more or less cellular or equivalent formation and adapted to provide substantially the same kind and measure of resiliency that is obtained by the pneumatic tube and yet is proof against injury by puncture and very much more durable in service as well as being considerably less expensive in original cost, as will hereinafter fully appear."

Parts 2 and 3 to follow.

10 million US patents since 1790... and counting (Part 1) 10 million US patents since 1790... and counting (Part 1) Reviewed by Eibhlin Vardy on Sunday, August 19, 2018 Rating: 5

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