The Federated History Department at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University-Newark has launched the Annotated Patent History Digital Archive. Funded by a faculty seed grant from NJIT, this project makes use of undergraduate, graduate, and faculty research to explore the history of patents in the United States.
While both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Google maintain databases of every patent filed in the United States, there is no resource online that puts these technical documents into context. The Annotated Patent History Digital Archive changes this. Essays at patenthistory.org look at patents individually to determine what problem the innovation sought to solve and during what historical moment. The annotated archive will make the history of innovation accessible to students, scientists, tinkerers, historians, attorneys, and the general public by explaining the science behind patents, the historical context of their creation, and the connections between them.
The ultimate goals of this project are to analyze legal protections for innovation, critique both those legal protections and the myth of the “lone genius inventor,” communicate scientific innovations to the public, provide a resource for historical and legal researchers, and create an opportunity for student-led historical research
To generate the first round of patent entries, Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor Elizabeth Petrick taught History 384: Invention and Regulation. After months of studying the history of technology and its relationship with law, students selected a patent filed by a New Jersey Institute of Technology researcher to investigate. In small teams, these students crafted essays that involve technologies ranging from gun safety to solar energy. The entries by these students shed light on research that is understudied within its historical context and relationship to other researchers and patents.
Dr. Petrick will continue to offer History 384, and students will have the chance to contribute to the archive as research assistants and in other classes. In the future, NJIT will also collaborate with other universities, including the University of California, Davis, to generate new entries and expand our understanding of scientific research and innovation at different places. This launch marks the beginning of the Annotated Patent History Digital Archive’s mission to survey and analyze the history of innovation in the United States.