Lost patents found in Rauner library
By Megan Peck, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, August 19, 2004
In the process of searching for historic U.S. patents, two New Hampshire attorneys -- Dartmouth alumnus Andrew Cernota '99 and colleague Scott Asmus -- found their way to a set of 14 missing patents in Rauner Special Collections Library that date back to the very early years of American history.
The 14 patents discovered were issued before 1836, when a fire destroyed all of the original copies of the first 10,000 patents recorded by the U.S. Patent Office.
Consequently, all 10,000 of these original copies, now referred to as the "X patents," were destroyed.
Since the fire, fewer than 3,000 copies of these patents have been recovered.
As a majority of the X patents still remain missing, Cernota and Asmus's discovery was no small feat. The 14 patents belong to an early American inventor named Samuel Morey who lived most of his life in nearby Orford, N.H.
According to Rauner's administrative and reference specialist Eric Esau, these items are not only valued for their age, but also for the signatures they bear from historical figures like George Washington and John Quincy Adams.
Furthermore, one of the patents among this prized collection was issued for the internal combustion engine, an important technological advancement that marked the beginning of the industrial revolution.
In light of Cernota and Asmus's discovery, media coverage of the event has portrayed the patents as turning up only recently, yet Esau emphasized that the College has known that they have been here all along.
"What is rare is for a trove of patents like these to be coming to light right now," Esau said. "So many years have gone by since the fire in 1836."
Whenever copies of missing patents turn up, the United States Patent and Trademark Office tries to retrieve them in order to slowly build up the incomplete records, Esau said.
Yet even with the discovery of the missing patents, the Dartmouth special collections library does not have to worry about losing its treasured patent collection. Today's technology allows libraries with such precious collections to send high quality digital scans to the Patent Office instead of providing the originals.
The Dartmouth library acquired Morey's documents in the 1960s when his heirs presented the papers to the College.
Morey's geographic ties to the area span Orford, N.H., which his family first helped settle, to Fairlee, Vt., where Morey later lived. Both Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vt., as well as the Samuel Morey Memorial Bridge between Fairlee and Orford, N.H., were named after the inventor.
The two patent attorneys for the Nashua law firm of Maine & Asmus began researching the missing patents as a sidelight to their work which involves a good deal of patent and trademark law.
According to Esau, the attorneys contacted Rauner Library in January once they found Morey's name and connected it to the College.
While it is doubtful that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will ever find copies of all the missing X patents in order to add to the 7 million patents currently on record, the 14 patents found in the Rauner Library mark a step toward a more complete record of the technological improvements that have taken place over the course of American history.