Congress passed the first federal patent law, "An
Act to Promote the Progress of Useful Arts," in 1790. Because the nation
was founded during the Industrial Revolution, the
Founding Fathers well understood that the encouragement and protection
useful inventions was a necessity to national growth.
Patent legislation was therefore submitted and passed by the First
of the United States at their second session.
Prior to the national law, patents had been
granted by individual states. A person might obtain a patent from both
and Virginia, but not New York and Massachusetts.
Under the law of 1790, a nationwide patent could be issued by the
of State, the Secretary of War, or the Attorney
General. Once granted, a patent-holder would hold the exclusive rights
the substance or object patented.
The first to gain this exclusive right was
Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia. His invention was a method of producing
pearl ash, a material used in soap-making. Patent
registration was slow in the waning years of the 18th century, but
in the beginning of the 19th century.
The patent law was modified several times in
the decades following 1790. One change allowed aliens who had resided in
U.S. for more than two years to apply for patents;
another change extended the window of opportunity for using a patent.
U.S. Patent Office expanded and was under the control
of various federal agencies during its history. Through praise and
the Patent Office has steadfastly enforced the laws
under its jurisdiction. As the Freeman's Journal declared on February
9, 1792: "There is no part of the world, where the
introduction of new and useful inventions in the arts, would be more
beneficial, than in the United States..."