What a Difference 226 Years Makes

On July 31, 1790, the United States government issued its very first patent to Samuel Hopkins of Vermont. He invented a new way to make potash, a fertilizer.[1] It then took the government more than 40 years to issue its first 10,000 patents. Yet, a few days ago, on July 19, 2016, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued approximately 6,500 patents, including Patent Nos. 9,394,265 (“Slide operated scissors”), 9,394,831 (“Turbomachine drive arrangement”), 9,393,934 (“Windshield wiper arm and method for producing same”), D761541 (“Shoe sole”), and 9,393,118 (“Unified location and presence, communication across real and virtual worlds”).[2] Some were issued to large corporations, others to small businesses or universities, and some to your neighborhood garage tinkerer. The pace of innovation in this country and worldwide has grown tremendously since Mr. Hopkins invented his potash formula. Over 226 years, the federal government has granted more than 9 million patents, covering everything  from fertilizer to cancer genes, unique plants, TEFLON® and other chemicals, engines, and social networking apps.

A patent is a license granted to an inventor by the government, giving the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling his or her invention for a set period. In exchange for sharing the details of your invention with the world, you are allowed to monopolize your invention for up to 20 years. (This, by the way, is one reason prescription medicines are so expensive before generics can be sold.)

Patents can be extremely lucrative: Apple paid Nokia $1 billion, and pays $13 for every iPhone® sold because of a touchscreen patent Nokia obtained in 1999. Lonnie Johnson, a former NASA rocket scientist, has obtained about 100 patents for his inventions. He invented the Super Soaker and some sources state he made more than $300 million from his inventions. Without the protection granted by the United States patent system, these profits would not exist.

Even if a patent does not generate millions for an inventor, the inventor has the knowledge, and the accompanying pride, that he or she created something new that did not exist before.

If you or anyone you know wants to discuss patents, please call and set up a consultation. Not every attorney can acquire patents for inventors, but our associate Evan Schechter is licensed to practice before the USPTO.

Written by Attorney Evan Schechtereschechter@hgplaw.com

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