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U.S. Patent No. 20493, held by H. L. Kendall, Baltimore, Maryland. Patent date: June 8th, 1858.

In Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 , the Constitution empowers Congress "To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Patent law must carefully balance the rights of the inventor to profit from his or her invention (through the grant of a temporary monopoly) against the needs of society at large to benefit from new ideas.

The patent bill of 1790 enabled the government to patent "any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any instrument thereon not before known or used." The patent act of 1793 gave the secretary of state the power to issue a patent to anyone who presented working drawings, a written description, a model, and paid an application fee. Over time the requirements and procedures have changed. Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is under the auspices of the Commerce Department.

The Constitution and Patent Law, The Eli Whitney Museum

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