Dr. Jin Fuey Moy (梅振魁; Mei Zhenkui, 1862-1924) was not principally an inventor, and his 1908 patent on an enhanced nutcracker for chestnuts (“Attachment for Nutcrackers”, USPN 883,558) is in fact, the only thing he is known to have patented. He filed for patent protection for the same invention in Canada. Like many men from Taishan County (Toisan) in Guangdong Province, he came to the United States to seek his fortune and never returned to China. Following his elder brothers, he emigrated in 1875, making his way to New York, where he became a domestic servant and was baptized a Christian. Through the beneficence of some well-to-do Methodists who foresaw a missionary career for him, he was sent to New Jersey’s Pennington Seminary and then to Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He earned his M.D. degree in 1890, the first Chinese to graduate from the school, and one of the first to become a physician in the United States.
In addition to working as a doctor, Moy made his living as an interpreter. He worked for the U.S. Immigration Bureau until he was discharged for allegedly smuggling Chinese immigrants into the United States. But he is most famous as the subject of two Supreme Court cases in which he was charged with misusing the mails to promote the illegal sale of drugs and for writing prescriptions that put heroin and morphine into the hands of drug addicts: United States v. Jin Fuey Moy, 241 U.S. 394 (1916), and Jin Fuey Moy v. United States, 254 U.S. 189 (1920). The cases helped shape early federal efforts to regulate narcotics and, unlike his patent, are cited frequently to this day. The Court reversed his conviction in the first case but affirmed in the second; he paid for his crimes with a two-year term in the Atlanta Penitentiary.
It is rare to see a patent, such as this (see also drawing here), which was filed in a foreign country and begins “I…. a subject of the Emperor of China.” However, the first efforts at a patent law in China were during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), and later at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1889). Is it possible that there were other patents, filed within China, by “subjects of the Emperor of China.”
The total pendency on this patent appears to have been less than two years from date of application in the United States (applied July 18, 1906 and granted March 31, 1908). We hope that the USPTO and SIPO can once again achieve this admirable record of keeping patent pendency to below two years. The patent itself could probably be filed today in China as a utility model patent, as it consists simply of a new apparatus. We could find no further citation to it in the USPTO database.
Dr. Moy’s biography, together with those of two of his brothers, is the subject of Three Tough Chinamen by Scott D. Seligman, which will be published in Fall, 2012 by Earnshaw Books.
This blog was prepared primarily by Scott Seligman, with some assist on patent law by Mark Cohen.
Thank you, Scott!