U.S. issues 10 millionth patent protecting inventors

Two-color cover with 'Patent' written in gold lettering, statement from USPTO director and gold seal (USPTO)
The United States Patent and Trademark Office unveiled a new cover for U.S. patents, starting with U.S. patent 10 million. (USPTO)

President Trump on June 19 signed the 10 millionth U.S. patent, more than two centuries after George Washington — one of America’s founding fathers — signed the first.

3-D image of crater surrounded by buildings (© Cessna Citation Jet/AFP/Getty Images)
The 10 millionth patent improves upon the same type of remote sensing technology used to make a 3-D image of Ground Zero of the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001, attacks. (© Cessna Citation Jet/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. patent number 10 million is for an improvement invented by Joseph Marron, an optical engineer for the Raytheon Company, to a remote sensing method that uses laser pulses to deliver 3-D images of the Earth and other objects. It has potential applications in fields such as self-driving vehicles, medical imaging, defense, and space and undersea exploration, says the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Protection of intellectual property rights is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, which 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.”

That means if someone comes up with a good idea for something new and useful — an invention, an artistic work or even a business method — they deserve exclusive rights to profit from it, at least for a number of years.

Person standing in aisle between shelves of documents (Library of Congress)
U.S. Patent Office files in 1971 (Library of Congress)

The first patent, which Washington signed on July 31, 1790, was for a new way to make potash, an ingredient used in fertilizer.

USPTO received 647,388 applications and granted 347,243 in fiscal year 2017 (October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017), both records. At that rate, U.S. patent number 11 million will be granted in three years.

The office issues patents for inventions, copyrights for literary and artistic works, and trademarks for logos and brand items.

Presidents do not customarily sign new patents. The last to sign one was President Gerald Ford in 1976 to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial.