A New Winner: China’s First Patentee in the US and One of China’s First Patentees in China

Zongli_Yamen_members_1894 China’s First Patent Office?

In an earlier blog, I noted that Dr. Jin Fuey Moy (梅振魁; Mei Zhenkui, 1862-1924) was the owner of a 1908 patent on an enhanced nutcracker for chestnuts  (“Attachment for Nutcrackers”, USPN 883,558). Dr Jin was perhaps one of the more colorful Chinese inventors, having been the subject of two US Supreme Court cases involving the regulation of opium sales 241 U.S. 394 (1916) and 254 U.S. 189 (1920).

Alert scholar and reader Scott Seligman has  pointed out there appears to be one earlier patentee, Ding Cie Sui (Romanized Chen Tzu-sui in diplomatic correspondence), who had a residence in Fuzhou, China and filed three patents in the United States by assignment to two Americans, the Reverends George S Miner and William N. Brewster, of Hing Hua, China (莆仙儂, in Fujian language, or Putian 莆田 in Mandarin).   Moroever, his story is perhaps even more colorful to those interested in early Chinese IP history.

Mr. Ding seemed to have an active career in the late 1800’s as in inventor.  US Patent Office records show that he filed and obtained three patents US626195, (machine and process for spinning, 1899);  US640716 (spinning machine, 1900) and US733299 (spinning machine 1903).  He was also granted a patent in China by the Zongli Yamen (总理各国事务衙门), on June 17, 1898 for a spinning machine for a patent term of 15 years, which, it appears, had been transferred to the Reverends Miner and Brewster, who licensed the rights to manufacture the machine in 1898. This patent itself had been “examined” by the Zongliyamen which had found it to be a “useful machine, showing that … great skill in inventing.”

At some point, the Americans discovered another Chinese – a wealthy, retired government official named Kung I-tu  also of Fuzhou – was manufacturing something similar.  The licensees lobbied the US mission to ask the Chinese government to stop the infringement.  The local government advised that there was no law permitting the transfer of the patent in China and the right was issued only to Chinese natives.  An additional argument was made that the accused product relied on water power, while the patent invention relied on foot power, and there could be no infringement.  Moreover, the Zongliyamen replied, China had no treaty obligations to protect foreigner’s patent rights at this time. 

The U.S. legation noted that a patent treaty was not necessary as the matter involved a Chinese patent, not a foreign patent and questioned why the Zongliyamen issued patents which “it does not intend to protect from infringement.”

Further detail is set forth in the Papers Related to the Foreign Relations of the United States (1899), beginning at about page 178 under the caption “Protection of Purchasers of Chinese Patents.”  These papers include correspondence between Miner and Brewster, the US legation (Mr. Edwin Conger), and none other than John Hay (1838-1905), then serving as Secretary of State under President William McKinley.  Hay had begun his government career decades years earlier as private secretary to Abraham Lincoln.  During 1899 Hay also negotiated  the Open Door Policy (1899), which kept China open to trade with all countries on an equal basis, with international powers.  Conger was a civil war veteran who served as Ambassador to China beginning in 1898, through the Boxer Rebellion, returning to the United States in 1901.

Note: Alert readers may also remember I also described another very early patent litigation in China in the late Qing, which involved two foreign entities in Shanghai pursuant to U.S. law.  This case occured before the Guang Xu patent law was even enacted (the“振兴工艺给奖章程”), which (May 1898).  These various cases suggest that there was more patenting and IP activity in the late Qing than has previously been believed.  Indeed, some suggest that the earliest effort at a patent law may have occurred during the Taiping rebellion (1850-1864).

Here is an article from the The Culver City Herald (Culver City Indian) (December 10, 1897) about Mr. Ding (Chen)  I repeat it in its entirety, despite its unhappy racial overtones.  This article was brought to my attention by an alert reader:

Ding's invention

Photo source: wikipedia 

Thomas Jennings and Jin Fuey Moy: Patents for Struggling Minorities – Black History Month

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It is black history month in the United States.  So here’s a question: what do Thomas Jennings and Jin Fuey Moy have in common? They certainly never met each other.

Thomas Jennings (1791-1856) was most likely the first African-American patentee.  The patent was granted on March 3, 1821 for a cleaning process called “dry scouring”. He was able to patent his invention because he was a freed man.  The patent law at that time would otherwise prohibit granting patents to slaves who were viewed as the property of their master.  The first money Thomas Jennings earned from his patent was spent on liberating his family out of slavery and to support the abolitionist cause.

Jin Fuey Moy (梅振魁; Mei Zhenkui, 1862-1924), as I have blogged elsewhere, was the first Chinese to file a patent overseas (1908).  Dr. Moy came to the United States in 1875, making his way to New York, where he became a domestic servant and was baptized a Christian.  He later attended medical school in the United States.

Both individuals personally struggled in a country that treated people as property, or excluded them from entering the United States.  They also actively opposed these oppressive policies – slavery and Chinese exclusion.

Tom Wolfe described the drive to invention as follows: “Is there any more feverish dream of glory in the world, outside of Islam, than the dream of being an inventor? Certainly not in the United States; and probably not in Japan or any other industrial country. An invention is one of those super-strokes, like discovering a platinum deposit, or a gas field, or writing a novel, through which an individual, the hungriest loner, can transform his life overnight, and light up the sky. The inventor needs only one thing which is as free as the air.   a terrific idea. ”   My former colleague, Lin Xu, translated this as follows: ““ 在伊斯兰教之外的世界里,除了成为一个发明家,还有其他更加光荣和充满激情的梦想吗?在美国,或许同样在日本和其他工业国家,这是不可能的。发明是一种神来之笔,如同探索金矿或天然气田,或写一部小说,通过这些,个人——最饥渴的孤独者——可以一夜之间焕新生命,点亮整个天空。发明家所需要的只有一件事,那件事像空气一样自由,那就是:一个完美的创意。

When a patent system works well, it should be color-blind, and based on science.  It might also “transform” the inventor “overnight.”    Perhaps, in so doing, it also empowers them to work towards the betterment of others.

China’s First Overseas Patent Filer?

After reading about the early Chinese patents in this blog, USPTO Director Kappos gives a framed copy of the Jin Fuey Moy Patent No. 883,558 to SIPO Commissioner Tian on May 29, 2012 in Beijing.

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. Continue reading