SOMETHING ABOUT PATENTS.
AMONG the various systems in use for supplying communities with water, there are several that are so ingenious and novel in their conception and operation that they are protected by letters patent. It has been a matter of complaint among consumers of water that the persons to whom they are indebted for special facilities in obtaining it should require compensation for the use of their inventions. In other words, while availing themselves of the invention, they grumble at being obliged to pay the inventor. Fortunately for civilization, the government and the courts take a more reasonable view of the matter, and hold that he who labors for the good of mankind is entitled to fair remuneration for his services; hence patents are issued by the government, and the courts sustain their validity. It is astonishing the amount of ignorance that exists regarding the rights of patentees and the prejudice ignorant persons entertain toward inventors. We find in the last issue of The Fireman’s Herald the following:
Last week we paid our respects to the would-be monopolists of the direct pumping system, and this time we have a few words to say about the same class o( gentry and the tube, or so-called “driven well.” A shrewd firm of wide-awake business men have succeeded in surrounding the subject with patents and court decisions so thickly that the public are help. less and at their mercy. We have not examined the patents and will not mislead our readers, but we have no faith in their pretensions. We believe anybody can drive a pipe into the ground, and, if water flows into it, pump it out, and we propose to air the subject. It is a very useful device in many places and utterly useless in many other places. Our readers must not run away with the idea that because some village ten, twenty or a hundred miles away can get a good and reliable water supply from driven wells, therefore their problem is solved. Water can be got and distributed from where nature and the natural action of the elements place it, but cannot be pumped from dry earth. The first necessity is to be sure that water underlies the surface of your land, and the next is to get it to the point desired. In many instances the “driven” well will best accomplish the latter, because the cheapest and simplest way. The patents relied upon to control the business are mainly for devices found useful and handy in driving the tubes and pumping from them. Every fire company contains ingenious men that know very well how to drive a pipe into the ground. Yet we venture the assertion that no two would go at it just in the same way, while some might discover a far better way than any now known. We will try to learn more of these patents, and again speak of them.
We are surprised to find so much misinformation and so much prejudice regarding inventions and patents in a paper that is largely owned by an inventor and patentee, and who has had an extensive experience in the courts regarding patents. In regard to the “direct pumping system ” referred to—the Holly system—Mr. Holly devised the plan of pumping water directly into street mains, without the intervention of reservoirs, and so graduating the pressure that it could be used for domestic or other purposes. For this he was given a patent, and, while several attempts have been made to destroy his rights under the patent, in every instance the courts have decided in his favor. Cases have been tried in the United States courts in several different judicial districts, and every time the patent and the rights of the inventor have been sustained. Possibly the courts were wrong and our contemporary right, and the inventor is a “ would-be monopolist,” but so long as the government and the courts are on his side, it will be better for all concerned to recognize the validity of the patents issued to him.
The driven well system of water supply is substantially in the same situation. Colonel Greene, during the early days of the war, seeing the necessity for supplying armies with fresh water, hit upon the driven well. He knew that, independent of subterranean streams, lakes and springs, the earth itself was a great reservoir, holding water like a sponge. He conceived that if he bored a hole into the ground and created a vacuum, the atmospheric pressure upon the earth’s surface—equal to fifteen pounds to the square inch—would force the water held in the earth to seek the vacuum, when the operation of pumping would deliver it as required. He drove an iron tube into the ground, attached a pump thereto, and, on pumping out the air, the water followed, precisely as he claimed it would do. For having thought out and demonstrated this important discovery, he was granted a patent. Various pump makers who, like our contemporary, thought a hole in the ground was not patentable, formed a league to contest the patent, and raised a fund of many thousands of dollars to defray the legal expenses. Litigation followed, lasting over four years, at the end of which time Judge Benedict—now a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States—delivered an exhaustive opinion, wherein he declared that Colonel Greene was the discoverer of a scientific principle never before thought of; that his invention was of incalculable service to mankind; that the patent issued to him was a valid one, and he was entitled to recover from all who had infringed upon his rights. Judge Nelson, a United States Judge in Minnesota, and one or two others in other judicial districts, have given similar decisions in cases coming before them. It is possible they are all wrong and our infallible contemporary right; that the driven well is a humbug, and the owners of the patents grasping monopolists, but we would, nevertheless, advise the public to accept the legal decisions in preference to the statement of an editor who says he knows nothing of the subject. It is stated above that the patents relied on are mainly “ for devices found useful and handy in driving the tubes,” etc. The original patent was given for the discovery of a new scientific principle ; numerous patents have been issued to various persons for mechanical devices for applying the principle discovered by Colonel Greene, but all these are secondary and tributary to the original patent. Anyone can put down a driven well, using his own devices for doing it, if he chooses; but he is, nevertheless, liable to the owners of the driven well patent for royalty for using the discovery made by Colonel Greene.
It may seem hard and unjust that a farmer on the Western prairie or a citizen in a city cannot put down a driven well without paying for the privilege ; but it should be remembered that Colonel Greene’s invention has rendered it possible for them to obtain water by this means. Without his discovery these same persons would have been compelled to dig their wells, and experience teaches that this is a costly and precarious way of obtaining water, for an open well must be fed by some living subterranean supply, a stream, spring or lake, while with the driven well the water held in the earth is, by atmospheric pressure, forced into the vacuum created by the tube and the pump attached thereto. It is not necessary that there should be a lake or a flowing stream beneath the surface to obtain water by the driven well process; all that is required is a soil that holds water readily and abundantly. We have no interest whatever either in the Holly system or the driven wells ; we are sorry we have not, for the patents are valuable ; but we recognize in both a means whereby many communities can obtain a water supply, when without them they would either be left without water or subjected to great cost to obtain it. We claim to know a little something about the subject, for the little place in New Jersey where we live has combined the two systems, and has a delightful supply of water. That is to say, driven wells have been put down in a favorable locality, pumps attached to them, and the water obtained is pumped directly into the street mains, without the intervention of a costly reservoir—the driven well and Holly system combined. Ordinarily the pumps are run at a speed which gives a pressure adequate for domestic purposes, but if greater pressure is required to project fire streams from the hydrant, the engineer is signaled to that effect. But for the driven wells this little community would have been subjected to enormous expense to obtain water from a source many miles away, and with a range of mountains intervening between the source of supply and the place of its consumption.
We believe the patent office to be very good authority relative to the value of new inventions, and are ready to accept the patent issued by it as evidence of novelty and originality. Inventors have their rights as well as other men ; it is due to them that this country is further advanced in mechanical science than any other in the world ; it is due to them that life is made easier to us in thousands of ways than it was to our forefathers; it is due to them that our fire service is the best in the world. It was the part of wisdom for our national legislators to foster and encourage the inventive spirit of our people, and to reward inventors by issuing to them patents for novel and original ideas, conferring upon them the exclusive right to use or sell their inventions. But to provide against such ideas becoming a grinding monopoly and inflicting a burden upon the people, Congress has wisely limited the life of a patent to a few years, after which time the invention covered by it becomes public property. Occasionally, where an inventor has shown that he has not been adequately f compensated, the life of His patent has been extended for a period, but even this is prohibited now. Among the many improvements in the fire service that are due to our patent system are the means of water supply we have discussed ; every make of steam fire engines in use ; nearly every kind of hose employed; the best ladders in use; hose couplings, play pipes, nozzles, relief valves, and, in fact, almost every article that has undergone any improvement since the primitive days of the fire service, is due to the fact that inventors have been encouraged to set their wits to work to advance the science of fire protection and fire extinguishment. It should be the aim ol every journalist and of every honest man to do everything in his power to stimulate invention in every line of industry, by respecting the property rights of inventors in their inventions, which the government recognizes when it issues its patent to them.