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Alexander Graham Bell

"My God, it talks!" exclaimed the Brazilian emperor while watching Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) demonstrate his telephone at Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exposition. But Bell's invention--originally designed to improve the telegraph--was more than merely a source of wondrous amazement. With the establishment of the Bell Telephone Company in 1877, it became the chief fomenter of a worldwide revolution in communications.

Bell's development of the telephone was an outgrowth of his research on deafness that had been inspired by his father's work in that area. Following the success of his company, Bell devoted much of both his time and his new fortune to further investigations of deafness and methods for overcoming it.



Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gave Congress the power to establish post offices and post roads that joined state to state and person to person. The colonial postal system developed by Benjamin Franklin was adopted by the new federal government in 1789; the first postage stamps were issued in 1847. Improvements since then include a uniform rate for all distances; free delivery of mail both in urban and rural areas; and parcel post service, inaugurated in 1913. Today zip codes and automation ease the complexities of handling a monumental volume of mail.

In 1970 the U.S. Postal Service was created, an independent establishment of the executive branch, operated by a board of governors appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The private development of other types of communications has often been encouraged by government support.

In 1846 money from the Post Office appropriation was used to string the first telegraph wire between Washington and Baltimore so that Samuel F. B. Morse could demonstrate his invention. And in 1858 the U.S. Navy vessel "Niagara" helped Cyrus W. Field to lay the first Atlantic cable.

Under a broad interpretation of its power to regulate commerce, Congress regulated the communication of ideas - by telegraph, telephone, radio, and television. This includes regulating rates and service.

From "We the People: The American People and Their Government" (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) 131.


U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Congress established the United States Patent and Trademark Office to issue patents on behalf of the Government. The Patent and Trademark Office as a distinct bureau may be said to date from the year 1802 when a separate official in the Department of State who became known as "Superintendent of Patents" was placed in charge of patents. The revision of the patent laws enacted in 1836 reorganized the Patent and Trademark Office and designated the official in charge as Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. The Patent and Trademark Office remained in the Department of State until 1849 when it was transferred to the Department of Interior. In 1925 it was transferred to the Department of Commerce where it is today.

The Patent and Trademark Office administers the patent laws as they relate to the granting of patents for inventions, and performs other duties relating to patents. It examines applications for patents to determine if the applicants are entitled to patents under the law and grants the patents when they are so entitled; it publishes issued patents and various publications concerning patents, records assignments of patents, maintains a search room for the use of the public to examine issued patents and records, supplies copies of records and other papers, and the like. Similar functions are performed with respect to the registration of trademarks. The Patent and Trademark Office has no jurisdiction over questions of infringement and the enforcement of patents, nor over matters relating to the promotion or utilization of patents or inventions.

The head of the Office is the Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, and his staff includes the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Deputy Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, several assistant commissioners, and other officials. As head of the Office, the Commissioner superintends or performs all duties respecting the granting and issuing of patents and the registration of trademarks; exercises general supervision over the entire work of the Patent and Trademark Office; prescribes the rules, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Commerce, for the conduct of proceedings in the Patent and Trademark Office, and for recognition of attorneys and agents; decides various questions brought before him by petition as prescribed by the rules; and performs other duties necessary and required for the administration of the Patent and Trademark Office.

The work of examining applications for patents is divided among a number of examining groups, each group having jurisdiction over certain assigned fields of technology. Each group is headed by a group director and staffed by examiners. The examiners review applications for patents and determine whether patents can be granted. An appeal can be taken to the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences from their decisions refusing to grant a patent, and a review by the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks may be had on other matters by petition. The examiners also identify applications that claim the same invention and initiate proceedings, known as interferences, to determine who was the first inventor.

In addition to the examining groups, other offices perform various services, such as receiving and distributing mail, receiving new applications, handling sales of printed copies of patents, making copies of records, inspecting drawings, and recording assignments. At present, the Patent and Trademark Office has about 5,700 employees, of whom about half are examiners and others with technical and legal training. Patent applications are received at the rate of over 200,000 per year. The Patent and Trademark Office receives over five million pieces of mail each year.

Excerpted from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's "General Information Concerning Patents" brochure.


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Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

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