Leahy, On Vermont’s Long History Of Innovation And Invention

WASHINGTON (Thursday, March 3, 2011) – The U.S. Senate is debating legislation authored by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy to update the nation’s patent system.  It has been nearly 60 years since the last comprehensive reforms were made the patent system.  The America Invents Act was introduced by Leahy on January 25, and is the culmination of nearly six years of debate.

Vermont receives more patents per capita than any other state in the nation.  The first U.S. patent issued was awarded to Vermonter Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford. 

Today on the Senate floor, Leahy delivered the following remarks, highlighting Vermonters’ role in innovation and invention since the early days of the country.


Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy,

On Vermont And The America Invents Act Of 2011

March 3, 2011

Since this debate began, we have heard a lot about how the America Invents Act will help unleash the American inventive spirit.  Vermonters have a long history of innovation and invention, and it is that creative spirit that has given rise to some interesting and revolutionary inventions.  Few people may know that Vermont is issued the most patents per capita of any state in the country.  Fewer still may know that the first-ever patent issued in the United States, which was signed by George Washington, was granted to a Vermonter in 1790.  It was Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford who began the great tradition of Vermont innovation.

Throughout America’s history, Vermont has contributed to our economic prosperity with inventive ideas.  Thaddeus Fairbanks of St. Johnsbury patented the platform scale in 1830, which revolutionized the way in which large objects were weighed.  Charles Orvis of Manchester, the founder of the well known sporting goods retailer Orvis, patented the open fly fishing reel in 1874.  Many other inventions originated from Vermont in the early years of America, including an electric motor, an internal combustion engine, and the paddle wheel steam ship.

Today, that innovative, Vermont spirit continues, and Vermonters are contributing to the American economy through innovation and invention every year.  Exploring new ways to modify existing products to limit their environmental impact is a quintessentially Vermont idea.  Researchers at the University of Vermont have developed and are now seeking a patent for a wood finish that releases fewer toxins into the air than standard finishes by utilizing whey protein instead of petroleum.  In his State of the Union Address, President Obama noted that advances in green technology will be a key driver of our economy in the 21st Century.  Vermont inventors have been and will continue to be out in front in this area.

Computer technology will also be a driver of our 21st Century economy, and Vermonters are active in producing the next generation of this technology as well.  Viewers across the country were fascinated by the recent appearance of IBM’s Watson supercomputer on Jeopardy!  Components used to power Watson were invented by IBM researchers in Vermont, and I am sure that those Vermonters watched proudly as Watson defeated Jeopardy! legends Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in the recent man vs. machine matchup.

Modernizing the patent system will help to ensure that Vermont inventors will still be able to compete, not just on a national stage, but in the international marketplace.  Much has changed since Samuel Hopkins received the first U.S. patent in 1790, but the need for a flexible and efficient patent system has remained constant.  Inventors from Burlington to the Bay Area require the appropriate incentives to invest in the research required to create the next platform scale, the next Watson computer, or the next life-saving medical device. 

Over the last six years, as I have worked on meaningful, comprehensive patent reform legislation, I kept in the mind the tradition of great Vermont innovators like Thaddeus Fairbanks and Charles Orvis.  The next generation of Vermonters is as eager as the last to show America and the world what they can produce.  Vermont may be one of the smallest States in our nation, but it is bursting with creativity.  The America Invents Act will ensure that the next Samuel Hopkins can flourish well into the 21st Century.

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