For most of the history of the patent office, recorded patents were used primarily to enforce the patent holder’s rights during the life of the patent and to evaluate prior art, in determining patentability. The limits of manual indexes and hand counts of entries made more sophisticated analyses impractical. Recently, a number of researchers have begun to apply scientometric methods to assess trends and causation in patterns of innovation in the United States by organizing data elements from patent documents. Although most patents are now searchable, fully digital records, the records of the earliest patents (1790–1836) were incinerated in a fire at the Patent Office in Washington, D.C. Of approximately 10,000 patents destroyed, original duplicate copies have been located and re-recorded for about one–quarter of the total. These patents are now available in the USPTO PatFT database. Occasionally, additional duplicate originals are still being found. A more complete record of these Early American patents would allow better and more complete analysis. This article suggests methods that librarians and archivists can use to contribute to additional recoveries of the missing patents.
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