Presidents' Day and the Foundation of the U.S. Patent System

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February 19, 2018

Today we celebrate Presidents' Day, also known as George Washington's birthday, which is a federal holiday held in honor of all of the U.S. presidents. Although Washington was born on February 22, 1732, Presidents' Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February, which can occur anywhere between February 15th and February 21st.

Included on George Washington's long list of celebrated accomplishments is the founding of the U.S. patent system. On April 10, 1790, almost immediately into his first presidential term (which was between 1789 and 1793) and about one year after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, President George Washington signed a bill -- the Patent Act of 1790 -- that paved the way for today's patent system in the United States. This bill marked the first time in American history that granted an inventor the "sole and exclusive right and liberty of making, constructing, using, and vending to others to be used" of his invention. The Patent Act of 1790 defined the subject matter of a U.S. patent as "any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used."

Although the Patent Act of 1790 has since been amended several times, the underlying goal of promoting the progress of science and the useful arts remains intact.

The very first U.S. Patent, issued on July 31, 1790 to Samuel Hopkins for the improvement in "the making of Pot ash and Petal ash by a new Apparatus and Process" can be accessed here.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Press Release #02-26
"George Washington Founds the U.S. Patent System,"