Michael Risch


Courts and commentators vigorously debate early American patent history because of a spotty documentary record. To fill these gaps, scholars have examined the adoption of the Intellectual Property Clause of the Constitution, correspondence, dictionaries, and British and colonial case law. But there is one largely ignored body of information—the content of early patents themselves. While many debate what the founders thought, no one asks what early inventors thought—and those thoughts are telling. This Article is the first comprehensive examination of how early inventors and their patents should inform our current thoughts about the patent system. To better understand our early patent history, we read every available patent issued prior to the institution of the ―modern‖ examination system in 1836, totaling nearly 2,500 handwritten patents. For good measure, we also read the first 1,200 patents issued after 1836, the last of which issued in the middle of 1839.