US Alien Property Custodian patent documents: A legacy prior art collection from World War II - Part 1, history.
White, Michael J.
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In 1943, at the height of World War II, the U.S. Patent Office, by the authorization of the Alien Property Custodian (APC), published 2,964 pending patent applications that had been seized from nationals of enemy and enemy-occupied countries. This unusual act—only in 2001 did the USPTO begin publishing some pending patent applications—was prompted by the APC’s wartime mandate to make enemy technology available to American industry. During and after the war many of these applications were issued as patents assigned to the APC. However, up to 58 percent were abandoned, becoming, in effect, orphan documents. APC documents, although they resemble contemporary patents and are granted prior art status by the USPTO, are virtually unknown today, even among patent professionals. This two-part paper investigates the origins, history and profile of this unique collection of prior art documents. Part one reviews the wartime organization and activities of the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, the agency responsible for the creation of APC documents, the use of vesting orders to seize patents and the APC’s patent portfolio. Part two describes applications published by the APC, their national and technological profiles, and snapshots of the inventors and companies who lost and, in some cases, regained their patent rights.