Define: X-Patent

Quick Summary of X-Patent

An X-patent is an early form of patent issued in the United States before the implementation of the numbering system in the Patent Act of 1836. The term “X-patent” originates from the practice of adding an X to the number of existing patents to prevent duplicate numbers. For instance, if a patent was already numbered 123 and another patent was granted with the same number, the second patent would be designated as X-123 to distinguish it from the first. This method was used for a brief period before the numbering system was established, and X-patents are now regarded as a historical relic of the early days of the U.S. patent system.

What is the dictionary definition of X-Patent?
Dictionary Definition of X-Patent

Before the establishment of the numbering system in 1836, X-patents were granted in the United States. To prevent duplication of numbers, the existing patent numbers were appended with an X.

Full Definition Of X-Patent

X-Patents, historically significant in the context of American patent law, represent a unique classification of patents that were issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from July 31, 1790, to July 13, 1836. These patents, numbering from 1 to 9,957, were issued under the initial U.S. patent laws established by the Patent Act of 1790 and subsequent amendments. This legal overview will delve into the history, significance, legal framework, and eventual obsolescence of X-Patents while also exploring their impact on modern patent law and their relevance in contemporary legal discourse.

Historical Context

The X-Patent era began with the Patent Act of 1790, which was the first statutory patent system in the United States. This Act was relatively rudimentary and only required the submission of a written description of the invention, a model, and a petition to the Secretary of State. The power to grant patents was vested in a board comprising the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the Attorney General, who collectively evaluated the novelty and utility of the inventions.

The first patent under this system, X000001, was granted to Samuel Hopkins for a process of making potash, a key ingredient in fertilisers and soap. These early patents were issued without rigorous examination and were often handwritten. Despite the lack of formal examination procedures, X-Patents laid the foundation for a robust patent system that would evolve significantly over the ensuing decades.

Legal Framework of X-Patents

The legal framework governing X-Patents was established by the Patent Act of 1790 and later modified by the Patent Act of 1793. The 1790 Act allowed inventors to secure patents for “any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement therein not before known or used.” This definition of patentable subject matter was broad, reflecting the early American emphasis on innovation and technological progress.

In 1793, the patent law was revised to streamline the application process and reduce the administrative burden. The Patent Act of 1793 introduced a system where patents were granted upon submission of a proper application, provided the inventor submitted a written description and, when required, a model of the invention. The new Act removed the requirement for examination by a board, effectively making the issuance of patents a clerical task. This lack of rigorous examination led to a proliferation of patents, some of which were of dubious merit.

The Significance of X-Patents

X-Patents are historically significant for several reasons. Firstly, they represent the genesis of the American patent system, a system that has since become one of the most influential in the world. The early patent laws encouraged innovation and invention, which were crucial to the economic development of the fledgling United States.

Secondly, X-Patents provide a fascinating glimpse into the technological advancements and inventive spirit of early America. Many of these patents covered fundamental inventions and improvements in diverse fields, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation. For example, Eli Whitney’s patent for the cotton gin (X000072) revolutionised the cotton industry and had profound economic and social implications.

Challenges and Criticisms

Despite their significance, X-Patents were not without their challenges and criticisms. The lack of formal examination procedures meant that many patents were issued for inventions that were not genuinely novel or useful. This led to a proliferation of patents that were later deemed invalid, creating uncertainty and hindering technological progress.

Moreover, the record-keeping practices of the time were inadequate, resulting in the loss of many patent documents. This issue was compounded by the disastrous Patent Office fire of 1836, which destroyed a large number of original patent records, including many X-Patents. Although efforts were made to reconstruct the lost records, a significant portion of the early patent history was irrevocably lost.

Transition to Modern Patent Law

The inadequacies of the early patent system eventually led to significant reforms. The Patent Act of 1836 marked a pivotal moment in the history of American patent law. This Act established the modern USPTO, introduced a rigorous examination process, and created a system for numbering patents sequentially, starting from patent number 1. Consequently, all patents issued before the Act of 1836 were retrospectively designated as X-patents.

The 1836 Act also instituted a comprehensive system for maintaining patent records, including the requirement for duplicate copies of all patent documents. This reform significantly improved the reliability and accessibility of patent records, laying the groundwork for the modern patent system.

Impact on Modern Patent Law

The legacy of X-Patents is evident in several aspects of modern patent law. The emphasis on detailed written descriptions and the requirement for inventors to provide clear and comprehensive explanations of their inventions have their roots in the early patent laws. These principles continue to underpin the modern patent application process, ensuring that inventions are fully disclosed and can be replicated by others skilled in the art.

Furthermore, the transition from a registration system to an examination system, as embodied in the Patent Act of 1836, remains a cornerstone of modern patent practice. The rigorous examination process helps to ensure that patents are only granted for genuinely novel and non-obvious inventions, thereby promoting innovation and technological advancement.

Contemporary Relevance of X-Patents

Despite their historical nature, X-Patents continue to hold relevance in contemporary legal and technological discourse. Scholars and historians study these early patents to gain insights into the technological and economic development of early America. Moreover, the principles and challenges associated with X-Patents provide valuable lessons for modern patent law and policy.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in X-Patents, driven by efforts to digitise and preserve historical patent records. Initiatives such as the USPTO’s Digital Access Project aim to make these early patents accessible to researchers, historians, and the general public. These efforts highlight the enduring significance of X-Patents and their role in shaping the trajectory of American innovation.


In conclusion, X-Patents represent a foundational era in the history of American patent law. These early patents, issued between 1790 and 1836, were instrumental in fostering innovation and technological progress in the nascent United States. Despite the challenges and limitations of the early patent system, X-Patents laid the groundwork for the robust and sophisticated patent system that exists today.

The evolution from the rudimentary patent laws of the late 18th century to the comprehensive patent framework established by the Patent Act of 1836 underscores the dynamic and adaptive nature of patent law. The principles and practices that emerged during the X-Patent era continue to influence modern patent law, ensuring that the spirit of innovation remains at the heart of the legal framework.

As contemporary efforts to preserve and study X-Patents demonstrate, these early patents are more than historical artefacts; they are a testament to the enduring importance of intellectual property in driving economic growth and technological advancement. By understanding and appreciating the legacy of X-Patents, we can gain valuable insights into the development of patent law and its critical role in promoting innovation and progress.

X-Patent FAQ'S

An X-Patent is a type of patent that is granted for an invention that is deemed to be unpatentable under traditional patent laws.

Inventions that are not eligible for traditional patent protection, such as abstract ideas, laws of nature, and natural phenomena, may be eligible for X-Patent protection.

An X-Patent lasts for 20 years from the date of filing.

Yes, you can license or sell your X-Patent just like any other patent.

Yes, you can enforce your X-Patent against infringers just like any other patent.

You can apply for an X-Patent through the same process as a traditional patent application.

The fees for filing an X-Patent application are the same as those for a traditional patent application.

Yes, you can convert a traditional patent application to an X-Patent application if your invention is deemed to be unpatentable under traditional patent laws.

Yes, you can file an X-Patent application internationally through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system.

X-Patent protection is limited to the specific invention that is described in the patent application. It does not provide broader protection for related inventions or ideas.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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