The First United States Patent Statute
Patent Act of 1790, Ch. 7, 1 Stat. 109 (April 10, 1790)
CHAP. VII. – An ACT to promote the Progreſs of uſeful Arts.
Be it enacted by the Senate and Houſe of Repreſentatives of the United States of America in Congreſs aſſembled, That upon the petition of any perſon or perſons to the Secretary of State, the Secretary for the department of War, and the Attorney General of the United States, ſetting forth, that he, ſhe, or they, hath or have invented or diſcovered any uſeful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement therein not before known or uſed, and praying that a patent may be granted therefor, it ſhall and may be lawful to and for the Secretary of State, the Secretary for the department of war, and the Attorney General, or any two of them, if they ſhall deem the invention or diſcovery ſufficiently uſeful and important, to cauſe letters patent to be made out in the name of the United States, to bear teſte by the Preſident of the United States, reciting the allegations and ſuggeſtions of the ſaid petition, and deſcribing the ſaid invention or diſcovery, clearly, truly and fully, and thereupon granting to ſuch petitioner or petitioners , his, her or their heirs, adminiſtrators or aſſigns for any term not exceeding fourteen years, the ſole and excluſive right and liberty of making, conſtructing, uſing and vending to others to be uſed, the ſaid invention or diſcovery; which letters patent ſhall be delivered to the Attorney General of the United States to be examined, who ſhall, within fifteen days next after the delivery to him, if he ſhall find the ſame conformable to this act, certify it to be ſo at the foot thereof, and preſent the letterſ patent ſo certified to the Preſident, who ſhall cauſe the ſeal of the United States to be thereto affixed, and the ſame ſhall be good and available to the grantee or grantees by force of this act, to all and every intent and purpoſe herein contained, and ſhall be recorded in a book to be kept for that purpoſe in the office of the Secretary of State, and delivered to the patentee or his agent, and the delivery thereof ſhall be entered on the record and endorſed on the patent by the ſaid Secretary at the time of granting the ſame. . . . .
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Like § 101 of the 1952 Act, § 1 of the 1790 uses language echoing the Constitution: “have invented or discovered” and “said invention or discovery” (twice). Are those words so self-defining that they tell us what kinds of invention and discovery, as a subset within the broader set of the everyday usage of the hoi polloi, are patent-eligible?