Librarian offers snapshot of patent history
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Also in 1872, the government regularized the date on which patents were issued to Tuesdays. So, sometimes, such as in 2001, patents are granted on Christmas Day. Also last year, they were granted on Sept. 11.
In granting a patent, the office considers three criteria, according to Running: novelty, utility (usefulness) and obviousness, 'which is where it gets squishy.' Each patent issued is constitutionally protected as 'intellectual property,' she adds, and they are granted only for what are described as 'the useful arts'.'
No two are for the same thing, but new patents may be issued, and often are, for improvements to a previously patented item.
Three categories exist: Utility patents, subdivided into 'general and mechanical,' 'chemical' and 'electrical;' Design patents, which usually show a picture of the outside of something, and, since 1930, Plant patents. Running says the color photographs of the plants that come in with those patents are extraordinary. About 14,000 have been granted to date.
Most farm inventions fall into the 'general and mechanical' area of Utility patents, which again is subdivided into 'devices,' such as corn shellers, 'processes,' such as how to make potato chips, and 'new games.'
For years, official depositories of patent information were located only as far west as St. Louis, making research a real challenge, but today, in addition to the 88 depository libraries, the Internet provides another very comprehensive source of information.
Running says the address for the federal Web site is www.USPTO.gov. To find the locations of the depository libraries, go to the 'Site Index' there, click on 'P' and go to 'PTDLs.' Located there is a listing by state of all the depository libraries, with contact information, including the librarians' names. 'Most of us are awful nice people,' Running says of her counterparts across the country, 'with a lot of curiosity about what's out there.'
Interested persons also can get more information on the patent depositories by calling the patent office in Washington, D.C. Just dial 1-800-PTO-9199 and ask for the Independent Inventors Office or the Depository Program Office, or dial 1-703-308-HELP, the patent office's help line.
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