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Patent Model Expert Still Chasing PTO History



Unofficial Gazette
01/24/02
July 18, 2015 – Well, I finally caught up with the elusive Jim Davie today; he was present at the dedication of the new paperless public search room here in Alexandria. Jim is retired from the Patent and Trademark Office now, and told me he had plenty of time to sit down and chat about the PTO (although I notice that several times during our conversation his eyes would close momentarily; he later informed me that he was bidding on some lots of old paper patent files on e-bay). “Imagine how amazed patent examiners like you and me would have been even fifteen years ago if someone had suggested that by now people would be conducting business on the internet in their head, using a wireless “biointerface” which allows us to access images on the backs of our eyelids, and “point and click” using intent recognition software without having to move a muscle. I’m an old fogy, though, so I still get a kick out of sitting in front of a computer screen and staring at a flat LCD monitor while I type on a keyboard and click a mouse.” It takes all kinds, I thought to myself as I mentally switched my electronic assistant to autopilot.

What I really wanted to find out about from Jim was the story behind paper patent copies, and the story of how they went from being an integral part of the work of the PTO to being an impediment and a nuisance; but Jim wanted to start off by going back even farther, to the age of patent models. “Like paper patent copies, there was a time when patent models were an indispensable part of an examiner’s job at the Patent Office. Eventually they became obsolete, and their removal was not handled in the best of ways. And as you know, they achieved status as collector items which they retain to this day, sort of mementos of 18th and 19th century Americana.”

Jim recounted in detail a presentation he gave in the PTO in June of 2001, in which he explained the fascinating and complicated tale of the patent models:

From 1790 to 1880, the Patent Office required inventors to submit working models of their invention. These served as a resource for examiners in the same way that printed (and now electronic) versions of patent disclosures do: as a record of technological advancement and the “state of the art”. By 1890, having accumulated some 150,000 models, the government kept them in storage until 1925. No longer willing to pay for their storage, the government disposed of them, and the bulk of them (those which had not been given to the Smithsonian as historically significant models or identified and returned to descendants of patentees or dedicated to cities or museums) passed through the hands of a variety of well-intentioned and not-so-well-intentioned people who variously sought to profit from the models and/or make them accessible to the public. Jim showed numerous images of these unique creations to the audience that day, explained how to verify that a model was an official Patent Office model (look for the tag noting that the model had been “received” by the Patent Office), and noted the origin of government “red tape” being used by the Patent Office to attach these tags to the models.

I asked Jim if he thought the paper patent files would suffer a similarly complicated and frustrating fate now that the PTO is ridding itself of this massive amount of paper in an attempt to make room for more computers and employees (or at least employee offices; the latest work-at-home figures show a marked increase, and the PTO is looking to forge an office-sharing agreement with employee unions to cut down on unused space at the PTO). While he admits that some paper files have in a modest way become collector items like the models (“some people have a thing for old paper documents” he notes with a grin), Jim told me he didn’t think the two situations were comparable.

“The essence of the paper files is retained in their electronic versions, in which we have captured the images and the text which will presumably be available for centuries to come. So the holder of a paper patent copy does not become the exclusive holder of the information, and the individual manner of presenting the information, that is found in the document. And the loss of a paper patent copy does not deprive us of these things. Patent models were unique and self-contained; in most cases, when we lost a model through fire or when the government dispersed the remaining models, we lost not only the only representation of an inventor’s idea we may have had, but we also lost a unique and in many cases personal representation of that idea in three-dimensional form. One could look at a patent model as a more direct physical link to the past.”

And what about the wooden shoe cases, I asked?

“Ahh. That’s another story altogether. Have you got a minute?” You bet, Jim. Just let me change the datastick in my digital voice recorder/transcriber . . .Patent Model Expert Still Chasing PTO History Posted on: 24th January, 2002, Written by: Committee

July 18, 2015 – Well, I finally caught up with the elusive Jim Davie today; he was present at the dedication of the new paperless public search room here in Alexandria. Jim is retired from the Patent and Trademark Office now, and told me he had plenty of time to sit down and chat about the PTO (although I notice that several times during our conversation his eyes would close momentarily; he later informed me that he was bidding on some lots of old paper patent files on e-bay). “Imagine how amazed patent examiners like you and me would have been even fifteen years ago if someone had suggested that by now people would be conducting business on the internet in their head, using a wireless “biointerface” which allows us to access images on the backs of our eyelids, and “point and click” using intent recognition software without having to move a muscle. I’m an old fogy, though, so I still get a kick out of sitting in front of a computer screen and staring at a flat LCD monitor while I type on a keyboard and click a mouse.” It takes all kinds, I thought to myself as I mentally switched my electronic assistant to autopilot.

What I really wanted to find out about from Jim was the story behind paper patent copies, and the story of how they went from being an integral part of the work of the PTO to being an impediment and a nuisance; but Jim wanted to start off by going back even farther, to the age of patent models. “Like paper patent copies, there was a time when patent models were an indispensable part of an examiner’s job at the Patent Office. Eventually they became obsolete, and their removal was not handled in the best of ways. And as you know, they achieved status as collector items which they retain to this day, sort of mementos of 18th and 19th century Americana.”

Jim recounted in detail a presentation he gave in the PTO in June of 2001, in which he explained the fascinating and complicated tale of the patent models:

From 1790 to 1880, the Patent Office required inventors to submit working models of their invention. These served as a resource for examiners in the same way that printed (and now electronic) versions of patent disclosures do: as a record of technological advancement and the “state of the art”. By 1890, having accumulated some 150,000 models, the government kept them in storage until 1925. No longer willing to pay for their storage, the government disposed of them, and the bulk of them (those which had not been given to the Smithsonian as historically significant models or identified and returned to descendants of patentees or dedicated to cities or museums) passed through the hands of a variety of well-intentioned and not-so-well-intentioned people who variously sought to profit from the models and/or make them accessible to the public. Jim showed numerous images of these unique creations to the audience that day, explained how to verify that a model was an official Patent Office model (look for the tag noting that the model had been “received” by the Patent Office), and noted the origin of government “red tape” being used by the Patent Office to attach these tags to the models.

I asked Jim if he thought the paper patent files would suffer a similarly complicated and frustrating fate now that the PTO is ridding itself of this massive amount of paper in an attempt to make room for more computers and employees (or at least employee offices; the latest work-at-home figures show a marked increase, and the PTO is looking to forge an office-sharing agreement with employee unions to cut down on unused space at the PTO). While he admits that some paper files have in a modest way become collector items like the models (“some people have a thing for old paper documents” he notes with a grin), Jim told me he didn’t think the two situations were comparable.

“The essence of the paper files is retained in their electronic versions, in which we have captured the images and the text which will presumably be available for centuries to come. So the holder of a paper patent copy does not become the exclusive holder of the information, and the individual manner of presenting the information, that is found in the document. And the loss of a paper patent copy does not deprive us of these things. Patent models were unique and self-contained; in most cases, when we lost a model through fire or when the government dispersed the remaining models, we lost not only the only representation of an inventor’s idea we may have had, but we also lost a unique and in many cases personal representation of that idea in three-dimensional form. One could look at a patent model as a more direct physical link to the past.”

And what about the wooden shoe cases, I asked?

“Ahh. That’s another story altogether. Have you got a minute?” You bet, Jim. Just let me change the datastick in my digital voice recorder/transcriber . . .