The current patent numbering system began in 1836, and last week the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued patent number 10,000,000. This distinction goes to inventor Joseph Marron of Raytheon for the Coherent LADAR Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection (an improvement to LADAR, a system like RADAR that uses infrared rather light rather than radio waves).
The US patent system has grown dramatically from the early days of the republic, when presidents themselves signed patents. But this growth hasn’t been constant; it wasn’t until 1991 that USPTO issued patent number 5,000,000. In other words, almost half of all the patents issued in U.S. history were awarded in the past quarter-century or so.
What happened? The current explosion began after 1982, when Congress consolidated the patent appeals process so all appeals are made before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This has facilitated an explosion of low-quality patents and software patents, although in recent years some restraint has been exercised by the Supreme Court in a number of cases that have ruled some of these patents to be invalid.