Posts Tagged ‘Department of Commerce’

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The Oscar S. Straus Memorial

The Oscar S. Straus Memorial is located just two blocks south of The White House, in the Federal Triangle on 14th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue, in front of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (MAP), and was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.

The memorial commemorates the accomplishments of the first Jew to be a member of the cabinet of a U.S. president, having served as Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1906 to 1909.  He also served under Presidents William Howard Taft, William McKinley, and Grover Cleveland, and was offered a cabinet position by Theodore Roosevelt.

Oscar Solomon Straus was born on December 23, 1850, in Otterberg, Rhenish Bavaria, now in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate (now Germany).  At the age of two he immigrated with his mother and siblings to the United States, joining their father, Lazarus, who had emigrated in 1852.  The family settled in Talbotton, Georgia.  At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Straus’s family moved to New York City, where he graduated from Columbia College in 1871 and Columbia Law School in 1873.  In 1882, Strauss married Sarah Lavanburg, and they had three children: Mildred Straus Schafer (born the following year), Aline Straus Hockstader (born in 1889), and Roger Williams Straus (born in 1891).

Straus first served as United States Minister to the Ottoman Empire from 1887 to 1889, and then again from 1898 to 1899. In January of 1902, he was named a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to fill the place left vacant by the death of ex-President Benjamin Harrison. Then in December of 1906, Straus became the United States Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Roosevelt. This position also placed him in charge of the United States Bureau of Immigration.  Straus left the Commerce Department in 1909 when William Howard Taft became president and became U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire until 1910.  In 1912, he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of New York on the Progressive and Independence League tickets. And in 1915, he became chairman of the public service commission of New York State.

The memorial fountain was designed by Adolph Alexander Weinman, and funded with a public subscription beginning in 1929.  It was dedicated on October 26, 1947, by President Harry S. Truman. It was disassembled and placed in storage in 1991 during the construction of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. After the building was completed, the fountain was reinstalled with all original materials. It was rededicated on October 26, 1998.

In the center of the memorial is the massive fountain with the inscription “statesman, author, diplomat.”  To the sides are two statues.  The one to the left is one entitled Justice, which depicts a woman representing “Justice,” with her arm resting on the Ten Commandments.   It is intended to symbolize the religious freedom which allowed a Jew to serve in such a position of authority.  The inscription on this statue reads, “Our Liberty of Worship is not a Concession nor a Privilege but an Inherent Right.”   To the right of the fountain is the statue entitled Reason.  It depicts a partially draped male figure and a child holding a purse, key, and hammer, symbolizing the capital and labor efforts put forth by Straus throughout his career.

Straus died on September 3, 1910, and is buried at Beth El Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York.  For more on his life and career, you can read his memoirs, entitled  “Under Four Administrations,” which he wrote and published in 1922.  

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

On this bike ride I travelled out to the campus of The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), located in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.  Bordered by Duke Street to the North, Eisenhower Avenue to the South, John Carlyle Street to the East and Elizabeth Lane to the West, its official address is listed as 600 Dulany Street (MAP).  Developed in 2006 to consolidate employees and resources from the dozen and a half different buildings it had been occupying, the USPTO main campus is comprised of eleven buildings.  The modern, city-like development is anchored by the East and West Madison Buildings, and surrounded by ground floor retail and high-rise residential buildings.

The USPTO is an agency withini the Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification.  Patents and trademarks, as well as copyrights, are all distinctly different issues legally.  A patent is granted for an invention, process, device or method that is deemed both new and useful.  The patent guards the product from being able to be legally copied by others.  Trademarks protect slogans, phrases and trade names.  And copyrights pertain to original expressions, ideas, books, videos and films, photographs or other original works.  Copyrights are granted by the U.S. Copyright Office, which is a department of The Library of Congress.

The USPTO is unique among Federal agencies because it the only one that does not receive any money from the American taxpayer.  Instead, the USPTO operates like a business and receives all of its funding from its users by charging fees projected to cover the costs of performing the services it provides.  This is possible because although the application, legal and other costs involved in the 13-step patent submission process may be high, the value of a patent once it’s obtained can often be much higher.   A recent study by the Brookings Institute determined that the average patent is worth over $500,000, and even single patents from relatively unknown companies can sometimes sell for a millions of dollars.  However, despite the costs of obtaining a patent and its value once obtained, approximately 16 percent of patents are allowed to expire after just four years because the owners refuse to pay a relatively nominal maintenance fee.

In addition to being potentially costly, obtaining a patent can also be a drawn out, time-consuming process as well.  The latest statistical figures available indicate that there are well over a million applications currently pending with the USPTO, and over a thousand more are added to the backlog every day. The result is that it now takes an average of two to three years for an applicant to secure a patent.

Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln is the only American president to have been issued a patent, at least so far.  Issued in 1849, (U.S. Patent No. 6,469), he was granted a patent for a device he invented for lifting boats over shoals.  It was also President Lincoln who once said, “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”

While it’s true that the patent system has encouraged genius and innovation, it has also resulted in patents for a number of inane and impractical inventions as well.  One example is a patent for a “Banana Suitcase” (U.S. Patent No. 6612440), which was issued in 2003 for a protective device for storing and transporting a banana.  Another example of an absurd patent issued by the USPTO is a patent granted in 1995 for a “Method of exercising a cat” (U.S. Patent No. 5,443,036), which covers having a cat chase the dot created by the beam of light from a laser pointer.  Yet another example would be a patent for a “Hiccup Treatment” (U.S. Patent No. 7062320), which was issued in 2003 for a device made to shock the hiccups out of a person with a friendly jolt of electricity.  A patent was also issued in 2005 for a “Wind-Harnessing Bike” (U.S. Patent No. 6932368), a design in which a sail is adapted to fit on the rear of the bicycle above its rear wheel and is secured to the bicycle seat, which when connected to the bicycle harnesses wind to drive the vehicle and rider forward.  Actually, that last one doesn’t sound to me like such a bad idea.

If you have an idea for invention that you think is worth patenting, you may want to check first to see if there is already a similar patent.  The easiest way to do this is to use Google’s Patent Search.  This search engine can also be fun for just browsing and wasting time.

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