U.S. Patent Office

Tattoo Archive July 2019

United States Tattoo Patents

The U.S. Congress established the first laws relating to patents called, the Patent Law of 1790. It was enacted by President George Washington and defined the subject matter of a patent as, "any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used." Patent laws gave inventors the right to exclude all others from making, using, or selling their inventions. This law was based on the British Statute of Monopolies, which had been in existence in North America since the establishment of the first British colony. In order to apply for a patent, an inventor had to present to the U.S. Patent Board specifications and drawings, and if available, a model of the invention. 


Throughout the years there have been many changes in patent laws and what is required in order to obtain a patent. Three years after these laws were enacted, only 55 patents had been granted. This was due to the vast amount of paperwork involved. As a result, in 1793 the law was changed so that anyone who applied for a patent with the proper drawings and required fees was granted a patent. This worked until 1836 when the examination process was reestablished. 


Today the patent office is flooded with applications. Long waits have been a problem for many years and in 2011 an effort was made to deal with this backlog. The patent office will now guarantee, for a fee, that your application for a patent will be reviewed within one year. When the law was enacted large companies paid $4000 while small ones paid $2000. What a great way to collect more fees!


Because of the ease with which applicants can apply for patents, we have seen applications for patents for things like peanut butter pancakes (#US6797310) and aiming devices for slingshots (#US 6754968). What are these inventors thinking? Are they simply using the patent process to get their fifteen minutes of fame?

In the tattoo world inventors who receive patents seem to have a difficult time capitalizing on their inventions. Few of the patented tattoo machines show up in collections making us think that few were even manufactured and sold.


Included with this article are a few of the more unusual tattoo machine patents that have been granted. 


Necessity is the mother of invention, the father is unknown.


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