Statement from Jerome H. Lemelson
- on his patent that took 40 years to issue
A legislative alert date January 24, 1995 and circulated by the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) presents my U.S. Patent 5,283,641 as an example of so-called "long term" patents. The IPO alert is a call to action to support a law measuring patentee terms from the date of filing rather than the current practice of measuring the term from the date of issuance. The alert claims that the patent has given me a 57 year "monopoly" -- having been filed in 1954, issued in 1994 and set to expire in 2011.
If the IPO had fairly reported my patent's history, it would have noted the following:
The patent in question covers a pioneering innovation widely recognized by industry as providing critical advances in the field of "machine vision," or automated analysis of images, which is widely used in modern factories. It should not be surprising that important patents take longer to examine.
Of the 40 years my application was pending, at least 29 years were spent merely waiting for the Patent Office to respond to my filings. I obtained extensions of time totaling 30 months.
I was required by the Patent Office to separate my patent into multiple applications which is common in applications for pioneering inventions but frustratingly slow and expensive for an inventor. Consequently, I was obliged to prosecute of these patent applications separately. As a result, more than 20 separate patents have issued form the same original filings. The '641 patent is one of the last of the group.
I was without legal rights to my inventions until, my patents issued. Until the patents issued, industry benefited from decades of royalty-free use of my inventions. I was a young man in my early 30s when I produced these inventions. As a result of the delays in processing my applications, the majority of my royalty income received from these inventions has come only since last 1992-- when I was nearly 70.
The IPO's reference to patents as monopolies that restrain trade and chill competition is misleading. As the patent courts have explained patents are not "monopolies." Rather, patents are like any other form of property but have the benefit of encouraging inventors to innovate and to disclose their inventions to the public. In the case of my patents, the system worked, generating tax revenues and encouraging important advances in manufacturing technologies.
Indeed, the IPO has selected cases that help demonstrate exactly why the new patent term piggybacked onto the GATT implementation would harm our economy. Through no fault of my own, the patent was delayed by decades by the Patent Office. Under the rule advocated by IPO, I would never have received my patent. In other words, my patent rights would have "expired" even before they issued.
Jerome H. Lemelson