July 13, 2011 was the 175th anniversary of the granting of U.S. patent no. 1, issued to Senator John Ruggles of Thomaston, Maine. Senator Ruggles was chair of the Committee on Patents and the Patent Office and the chief framer of the 1836 Patent Act, which came into force on July 4. The Act abolished the old patent registration system that had been in force since 1793 and re-introduced an examination system based on novelty and non-obviousness. Senator Ruggle's invention was a wheel traction system for steam locomotives. It has been cited in several patents including US 6,725,751, issued in 2004 for a "rotary punching apparatus".
The USPTO has enhanced its PAIR system (Patent Application Information Retrieval) by adding a tab for cited references under which is listed all references cited by the examiner and application, including patents and NPL (non-patent literature) documents. Cited US and foreign patent documents may be downloaded but not NPL (for copyright reasons).
Interesting article in the WSJ about a false patent marking case involving Wham-O, maker of frisbees. The company is the latest defendant in a string of lawsuits against firms accused of marking their products with patent numbers that are long expired. The frisbee or "fying disc" was conceived by Walter F. Morrison in 1938. He patented the design in 1958, D183,626, and then sold the rights to Wham-O. There are over 200 patents classified in USPC 446/46, the main class for flying disc toys.
I'm the librarian for research services in the Engineering and Science Library at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I've been working with patent information since 1991, including seven years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I believe that the dissemination of patent information is a public good and should be promoted, especially in the education of science and engineering students.