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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/391

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THE LAW OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY.

easily be gathered from the court reports of the past two years, showing very clearly that inventors need to be on their guard against soliciting patents for trivialities.

That an applicant for a patent must frankly and fully disclose his invention, but that if his description is, through accident or mistake, insufficient, he may have a "reissue" correcting the mistake, is familiar, yet not so well understood but that new explanations have been found needful. The volume published last summer of Justice Clifford's decisions contains a case in which he assigns three reasons for requiring fullness and accuracy in the description: 1, That the Government may know what they have granted, and what will become public property when the term of the monopoly expires; 2. That licensed persons, desiring, during the term, to practice the invention, may know how to make, construct, and use it; 3. That other and subsequent inventors may know what part of the field of invention remains unoccupied.

The privilege of reissue has no doubt been abused. A glaring case was presented in the Supreme Court. An inventor applied for a patent, but the Commissioner thought that he claimed too much, and refused letters unless the applicant would omit a part. He did so, and a patent was issued for the invention, the description being limited according to the Commissioner's view. Several years afterward, he applied for a reissue, to include the feature of his invention formerly rejected, and, through some error, it was granted. The Supreme Court Judges say that this, though it has often been done, is a fraud on the public. Reissues can only be allowed to cure errors attributable to inadvertence, accident, or mistake. What was omitted from the first patent, because the inventor consented to abandon it, can never be lawfully brought in afterward by a reissue.

Several lawsuits have culminated in a group of decisions which, if they shall be sustained by the Supreme Court, will open the way to an efficient judicial remedy, whenever Government officers assume to use a patented invention. The English idea has long been that a patent is a monopoly or privilege which the Crown—though forbidden to grant monopolies as freely as might be done centuries ago—may give to a favored person. Hence it is there considered that the privilege does not prevail against Government. The Crown does not engage not to use the improvement. Upon the American view, a patent is a compact made with the inventor to induce him to disclose his invention for the public benefit; as a reward for which he receives an exclusive privilege which is in the nature of property. As respects many important inventions, the privilege would have little value if not good against Government, for the reason that the thing is only useful in Government business. What would be the worth of a patent for articles useful only in the army and navy, for a revenue or postage stamp, or the like, if Government might use the invention free? Offi-