On April 10, 1790, George Washington signed “An Act to Promote the Useful Arts,” ch. 7, 1 Stat. 109 (1790), establishing a patent system for the young United States.  The law was the first of its kind to specifically permit the sale of patent rights.  Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution establishes Congress’ power to secure for “limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

The Act provided that any person or persons could petition the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the Attorney General that “he, she or they hath or have invented or discovered any useful art, manufacture, engine or improvement therein not known before or used and praying that a patent may be granted…”  The patent gave the holder, his, her or their heirs, administrators or assigns “the sole and exclusive liberty and right of making, constructing, using and vending to others to be used, the said invention or discovery” for a term not exceeding 14 years.

In 1793, the Act was repealed by “An Act to Promote Progress of  Useful Arts,” ch. 11, 1 Stat. 318 (1793).  Changes to the prior act included limiting petitions to “any person or persons, who are citizens of the United States.”