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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > The Patent Gazette

The Patent Gazette is a weekly publication produced by the Patents and Trademark Office of the U.S. government. Each week, about 1500 newly issued patents are described in its pages. It makes for fascinating reading about the inventiveness of humans and the frontiers of technology. Recently, a son of an old friend of mine from Connecticut expressed interest in the kind of inventions that creative Americans and foreigners were developing. In his mid-Twenties, he has had the stuff of inventiveness himself since he was a small boy. The Gazette could well be the kind of regular stimulus that might unleash his mind and channel his work toward new heights. So I thought a gift subscription would be in order.

It was then that I learned what the annual subscription price was for this small sized-magazine-style-weekly — a whopping $593 by first class mail and $449 by 4th class mail. In 1971 the first class price was $89 a year; inflation adjusted, that would be about $250 a year.

So why is our government—already funded by taxpayers—charging $593 a year?

The official answer is that the sales price is determined “in accordance with the requirements of 44 U.S.C. Sec. 1708 and thus is set at 150% of the cost.” So writes Grant C. Moy, Jr., General Counsel of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO).

Watch the vicious circles that bureaucrats and members of Congress weave over the people’s rights. One determinant of cost is the volume that is sold. The higher the price, the lower the number of subscribers, especially when the price is that skyhigh. Low sales volume in turn results in higher unit costs which calls for higher prices. Sounds like a business, doesn’t it, a business that doesn’t care about reaching more people and increasing overall revenues. The law states a formula and the monopoly seller decides what the costs are going to be and then marks up 150%.

While pondering this monopolistic pricing idiocy, I recollect other observations emanating from the same waste-ridden government — including speeches by legions of Patent Commissioners before they recycle themselves into more lucrative patent law firm partnerships. Ah, the sonorous phrases — “America needs to be more productive to meet the challenges of global competition.” “Yankee ingenuity needs to be nourished and encouraged.” “Americans are receiving a declining share of patents from the U.S. Patent Office compared to the number of patents being granted to foreigners, especially the Japanese.”

So what does the Patent Office do with the chief conveyor of technical knowledge — the Patent Gazette? It holds the sales down to 3700 copies per issue worldwide!! Who can afford a subscription price of $5Y3 or $44′ a year? There are hundreds of thousands of lone inventors in this country — still the most productive source of inventiveness — but they don’t sing, dance or play games, so most of them remain in modest circumstances.

Even so prolific an inventor as Jack Rainbow — with 225 U.S. patents to his name — told me he could not afford a subscription. “Most inventors don’t make much money, so if you’re going to disseminate technical knowledge, the price has to be very accessible.” he said. At a price of $2 per issue per week, going out 4th class mail, Rainbow estimates a worldwide circulation of 250,000, instead of the present 3700.

An accessibly priced Patent Gazette would be of interest to more than inventors. Students of the technical arts, citizens interested in technology, libraries and many smaller businesses would be subscribers, along with the technical and lay members of the press.

What with higher and higher patent application fees, and maintenance fees that are causing inventors to abandon their patents, and a stratospherically priced Patent Gazette, one begins to wonder whether taxpayers are paying only for access by economic elites or big businesses on tax-deductible expense accounts.

Well, let’s see what can be done. Interested readers should send their names and expressions of willingness to join together in driving the price down and the circulation up of the Patent Gazette to Joe Belluck, P. O. Box 19357, Washington, DC 20035. Who knows how many young readers may be stimulated to become the future Fultons. Bells or Edisons.