225 Years Ago - U.S. Issues First Patent

On July 31, 1790, the United States government (well before the establishment of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) issued the first patent to Samuel Hopkins for the making of potash (and pearl ash) by a new apparatus and method. The Hopkins patent was the first issued under the newly enacted patent statute (April 1790).  Several noteworthy items to note about the Hopkins patent, mostly distinguishing then-from-now. Unlike today's evaluation by a patent examiner (with a technical degree in the field of invention), the first statute required the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the Attorney General to act as a three-person committee to evaluate a petition for patent by an inventor(s).  Moreover, unlike the claiming system of today, the committee provided the written description describing the metes and bounds of the invention.

Despite the specified three-person committee set-up, the Secretary of War (Henry Knox) was occupied with the details of the many battles taking place in the Northwest Territory in retaliation for Indian raids on settlers in present-day Kentucky.  In his stead, President George Washington consulted with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Attorney General Edmond Rudolph in approving Hopkins' petition for patent for the improvement in potash production.  For the improvement, Mr. Hopkins is currently memorialized as possessing U.S. Patent No. x000001.

Also notable is the patent number.  As originally issued, the patent number was 000001.  However, in 1836, a fire destroyed the patent office and all the contents/records, including approximately 10,000 patents issued by the government.  What is now available are recovered/restored records, and obviously not the originals, have been annotated with the designation "x" preceding the patent number.  These restored patent records are labeled the "X-Patents".

As for the invention, potash is the residue (ash) after wood is burned in a pot - thus "pot" and ash".  Chemically, potash is the nickname for calcium carbonate (CaCO3).  Calcium carbonate is found in rock, esp. as limescale, and in the shell of aquatic and terrestrial animals, and has been used for a variety of things, including as a calcium supplement, stomach ant-acid, and in vivo pH neutralizers.

In fact, I owned a miniature schnauzer that frequently developed bladder stones; as a preventative course of treatment, his diet included a special dog food mixed with crushed egg-shells -- the calcium carbonate in the egg-shells providing a pH-raising effect (to neutralize his normally acidic urine).

Potash (and pearl ash) became significant precursor material in the processes of making soap, glass, and gunpowder.  Thus, Hopkins' improvement on previously-known processes was an important contribution to the early economy of the new republic.  And finally, it is notable that Hopkins' invention was an improvement and not a pioneering sea-change.  This characteristic is a predominant feature of most U.S. patents.

If you have an invention, esp. any improvements on existing technology, you should consider the appropriateness of patent protection.  York Law LLC can assist all inventors in determining the appropriate course.  Feel free to send an email (info@olenyork.com) for more information.