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1790 Two Hundred Years Ago

May 2024
1min read

On April 10 President George Washington signed the nation’s first patent law, enacted under Congress’s constitutional power to “promote the Progress of science and useful Arts.” The law stipulated that any two members of a patent board, made up of the Secretary of War, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State, could grant a fourteen-year patent to “any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used.” The Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, opposed the granting of monopolies, but he assumed the board’s main responsibilities because he hoped the patent law would stimulate American science. Though Jefferson’s high standards of originality and utility permitted the board to grant only three patents in 1790, he welcomed the new nation’s “spring to invention.”

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