Friday, April 13, 2012
In 1857, Oscar Stuart applied for a patent for an improved plow, invented by his slave Ned. The U.S. Patent Office denied his application on the grounds that Ned, the inventor, was not a citizen, while Stuart, the slave owner and citizen, was not the inventor. The following year, Joseph Davis (brother of future Confederate President Jefferson Davis) applied for a patent for a ship's propeller, invented by his slave Benjamin Montgomery. Like Stuart's application, the patent office denied this one also.
In 1861, the Confederate Congress established a patent office. The Confederate patent law specified that a slave owner could receive a patent for inventions by his or her slave. Here's the statute.
Between 1861 and 1865, 266 patents were issued. Yet, Benjamin Montgomery was again denied a patent for his propeller in 1864 by the Confederate patent office. Unfortunately, almost all of the records of the patent office were lost when Richmond was captured in April 1865.
What relevance does Confederate patent law have to either race in America or patent law today? I can't see any relevance, but I still think it's interesting.