Factoid - First Design Patent Issued in 1842
by Eugene R. Quinn, Jr.
, Associate Director, NYS Science & Technology Law Center
The first design patent issued in the United States was issued on November 9, 1842, to George Bruce of New York. The USPTO searchable online database does not have a text copy of this patent available, undoubtedly because the design patent was handwritten. It is, however, possible to obtain an image version of the first design patent by going to the Patent Search engine provided by the USPTO, searching D1 in a patent number search, and then clicking on images. The image available purports to be the best available copy of the design patent, but it is indeed very hard to read.
One particularly surprising aspect of this design patent is that there are no images or drawings. The design patent itself covered a new typeface, which was described in words rather than by claiming the ornamental design shown, as would be the case today. Another interesting aspect of this first design patent is the candor of the patentee. Mr. Bruce explains the apparent lack of newness of his design on the second page of the issued patent:
I do not pretend that I am the first who have cast the Types called Script, nor the first who have cast them of the size called Double Small Pica, nor to originality in the outlines of any of the types for which I now ask a patent, nor do I wish to prevent other founders from cutting and casting similar and better articles. But these Types are different from all others in their size, proportions, details and impressive effects, combining peculiarities by which they are distinguishable from all others, and these as a whole I claim to be mine . . .
At the time Mr. Bruce was awarded his design patent the term for design patents was seven years, which was half of the length of protection then awarded to inventions as the result of a utility patent. In 1861, the design patent law was amended to allow the applicant to elect between a three and one-half, seven, or fourteen year term, with higher fees due if the applicant selected either of the two longer terms. The Patent Fee Act of 1982 abolished the varying term for design patents, and ushered in what today is the familiar fourteen year term for design patents.
Just recently, on February, 11, 2005, did the number of issued design patents reach the half million mark. Design Patent No. 500,000 was issued to Daimler Chrysler Corporation for the design of the Crossfire convertible.