Intellectual Property Law

New Matter FALL 2015 Volume 40, Number 3

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief


Welcome to the fall edition of New Matter for 2015. The cover art of this edition features a patent by Abraham Lincoln, the only president to hold a patent. Lincoln displayed a lifelong fascination with mechanical things. William H. Herndon, his last law partner, attributed this to his father, saying, "he evinced a decided bent toward machinery or mechanical appliances, a trait he doubtless inherited from his father who was himself something of a mechanic and therefore skilled in the use of tools." Lincoln learned river navigation early in life and took flatboats down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers even as a teenager. On one trip his flatboat became stranded on a mill dam. As the boat took on water, Lincoln had part of the cargo unloaded to right the boat. After drilling a hole in the bow, he let water run out, plugged the hole to refloat the boat, moved the boat over the dam and proceeded to New Orleans.

The patent he later developed is directed to getting a riverboat over a shoal. Lincoln had his idea and worked on his invention later in life between sessions of Congress in 1848. On one trip from Washington D.C. home to Illinois, he was again stranded, this time on a sandbar. The boat captain ordered men available to collect empty barrels and boxes and force them under the sides of the boat. The empty casks were used to buoy it up. After forcing enough of them under the vessel she lifted and swung clear of the sand bar. That riverboat trip helped forge his idea.

Models were required for patents at that time, and Lincoln worked to create his own scale model. Lincoln was at times seen busy in his Illinois law office whittling on the model. Lincoln took the model with him to Washington and hired an attorney to apply for a patent. Part of his application read, "Be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield, in the county of Sangamon, in the state of Illinois, have invented a new and improved manner of combining adjustable buoyant air chambers with a steam boat or other vessel for the purpose of enabling their draught of water to be readily lessened to enable them to pass over bars, or through shallow water, without discharging their cargoes…."

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