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remember the indefensible monopolies which were abolished, and then a false association of ideas, to which some minds are liable, causes them to call patents monopolies, and to think they must necessarily be condemned. The word monopoly has acquired a peculiar meaning. No one thinks of calling your property in the coat which you have bought with the result of your labour a monopoly; no one thinks of saying that your exclusive right to publish the book, which your genius and industry have created, is a monopoly; and yet directly the genius and industry of an inventor have been rewarded by the discovery of a new art or manufacture, for which he has obtained a patent, there are numbers of men who call his exclusive right to the use of his invention "a monopoly," and condemn it, without further consideration, as something which is necessarily unjust and indefensible.
Ignorance of facts, the other source of error to which we have alluded, is less excusable than the one just noticed. We are sometimes told by the press, and by persons with whom we come in contact, that inventions are bright ideas, which often occur to several men at about the same time, and that, in a country where there are patent laws, the inventor who is fortunate enough to arrive first at the Patent Office obtains the right to debar his fellow discoverers from the free use of their own inventions.
Now, any one who has even a slight acquaintance with the history of inventions is aware that, though the first idea of an invention has sometimes occurred to the inventor suddenly, its development and working out have only been accomplished by great labour and at great expense. Indeed, a little reflection on the subject, without any absolute historical knowledge, is sufficient to convince us that inventions are not brought to perfection without many fruitless experiments, and a large expenditure both of time and money. The first idea of the separate condenser occurred to Watt as he was walking across the College green at Glasgow. It was years before he succeeded in making a satisfactory steam engine on that principle.
It took many years more, and the labour and genius, not of one man, but of many men, to bring to perfection the wonderful machines which now drive our mills and draw us along our railways at the rate of forty-five or fifty miles an hour. That inventions are only brought to perfection by the labour of inventors, is a proposition so obviously true to everyone who takes the trouble to reflect upon the subject, that we think it is unnecessary to support it by further examples and arguments. This being so, we believe that few men who realise it, will venture to argue that the laws of this country would be just, if they allowed the public to take the benefit of their inventions without paying for it. If our laws permitted this, they would have the effect of placing inventors—who must be admitted to be public benefactors in a worse position than they would have been in if, instead of following the bent of their genius, and making valuable discoveries, they had wasted their time in idleness, or had devoted themselves to common-place employment. After spending their time and money in bringing their inventions to perfection, directly their industry and perseverance had made them valuable, inventors, under such laws, would be obliged to compete, in the use of their own inventions, with opponents who had reserved and accumulated their capital, instead of spending it in mechanical or scientific experiments, and who would consequently be in a position to work them to greater advantage than they could do, and to drive them out of the market.
It may, however, be said, that though the abolition of the patent laws would be a hardship to inventors, it would be an advantage to the public, and that the interests of individuals should be made to yield to the interests of the people at large. A further exanination of this question will show us that, in addition to being unjust to inventors, the abolition of the patent laws would be highly impolitic. There are in this country a certain number of men possessed of those peculiar mental characteristics which constitute inventive genius, and it
is of the utmost consequence to the nation, that it shall have all the advantages which they can give it, by the most diligent exercise of their special abilities. In order that this may be the case, two things are necessary; (1.) Inventors must have sufficient inducement to make them devote themselves to the kind of labour for which nature has peculiarly fitted them ; and (2.) The public must be quickly put in possession of accurate descriptions of their discoveries. We have something to say upon each of these points.
Under laws which allow inventors to protect their inventions by means of letters patent, every man of inventive genius is stimulated to use his abilities to the utmost of his power, in the hope that he will succeed in making a discovery which, when so protected, will enable him to realise a fortune. It is true that many inventors fail to gain the object of their desires ; but it is also true that some of them succeed in doing so, and that all hope to be among the fortunate. Genius, however great it may be, can only be made effective in the production of useful results by means of continuous labour and self-denial, and these are seldom submitted to, unless circumstances provide an incentive to action in the hope of material gain. The hope of personal distinction is, no doubt, sufficient to stimulate some men of genius to the necessary diligence; but we must not forget that men so influenced must always be few in number, since they must belong to the very limited class of individuals in whom genius and great ambition co-exist with inherited wealth. Moreover, only a very small proportion of the useful inventions, by which the details of valuable machines are improved, and the public is benefited, bring sufficient distinction to the inventors to be any incentive to action to persons of the class in question. We must not, therefore, allow ourselves to be deluded by the hope of having the free use of such discoveries, as may be made by the very limited number of men, whose wealth and rare mental and moral qualities lead them to be diligent in following the bent of their genius, either for
the pleasure of doing so, or from the hope of achieving distinction. What we should seek to obtain is the highest development of which the inventive genius of the nation is capable; and if we are wise, we shall do our utmost to provide circumstances calculated to stimulate our inventors to activity, and to give them encouragement. We know of no way in which this can be better and more reasonably accomplished than by insuring to them the just reward of their labours, as far as this can be done by legislation. If the patent laws were entirely abolished, we think it is certain that a very large proportion of the inventive ability of the country would be at once devoted to more profitable employment than trying to make discoveries, which, if made, would at once become public property. Some men would, perhaps, still continue to invent, but the people would derive little benefit from their discoveries, for they would either leave them in a crude and useless state, as did the celebrated Marquis of Worcester, or they would take care to devote their attention to those branches of industry in which improvements are capable of being kept as trade secrets. In either of these events, the march of practical improvement, in many important arts and manufactures, would be retarded, if not altogether stopped.
Under our patent laws, a patent, as we have seen, is granted to an inventor on the express condition that he will, within six calendar months from the date of the grant, file a specification, accurately ascertaining and describing his invention, and the manner in which it is to be performed, in the Great Seal Patent Office. This specification is required to be sufficiently explicit to enable any workman of average capacity to understand it, and to make use of the invention, and it can be obtained at a moderate cost by any one who wishes to have it. Thus, on the expiration of the term of the patent, any man of average capacity who chooses to do so, can make use of the invention almost as easily as if he had himself been the inventor. If we were
to abolish the patent laws, an attempt would at once be made, by means of trade secrets, to make the exclusive use of inventions perpetual. This attempt might succeed or it might not. If it did succeed, the prices of articles produced by the trades which were successful in keeping their secrets would be permanently kept up, to the injury of all con
If it did not succeed, the secrets would generally be divulged by workmen, who, in many instances, would be unable to describe them with accuracy; and in those cases in which accurate descriptions were given, the secrets would not be likely to spread fast, for the persons who obtained them, having done so by the payment of heavy bribes, would, in their turn, guard them with the greatest care. The prices of commodities, produced under the limited competition which would be thus established, would be kept up for an indefinite period, and inventions which, under good patent laws, would soon have become the common property of the people at large, without them would remain the property of a few individuals, and would be used by them in extracting money from their customers, some of which, under the provisions of judicious patent laws, would certainly have remained in their pockets.
It has been suggested that inventions should be divided into two classes, the first class consisting of what may be called great discoveries "; the second, of inventions of minor importance, and of improvements in the details and construction of machines already in common use; and that inventors who succeed in making discoveries of the first class, should be allowed to protect themselves by means of letters patent, but that such protection should be denied to those whose inventions come within the second class. In order to carry out this idea, it has been proposed, that it should be the duty of officers of the Crown to go into the merits of inventions submitted to them by applicants for protection, and to withhold letters patent from all inventors whose inventions are not considered by them of sufficient importance to be