Patents of Persuasion

Tempo-Metrics and the Shaping of Knowledge about Knowledge


  • Eva Hemmungs Wirtén Linköping University



USPTO, Quantification, Commemoration, Temporality, Acceleration, Patents


The “Million Milestone” chart found on the website of The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a timeline of the eleven million patents that the office has granted since 1836: a visual depiction of patenting as accelarion and speed. With the chart as the backdrop, the narrative focus of this essay is on the third marker on the timeline, patent 3 million, granted to Kenneth R. Eldredge for “Automatic Reading System” on September 12,1961. Two overlapping lines of inquiry are pursued. First, looking behind the chart in order to locate the history of patent three million as it happened, which is in conjunction with the 125th anniversary of the 1836 Patent Act, the moment when the “Million Milestone” begins. Second, looking at the chart to unpack how “Automatic Reading System” became part of an evidentiary chain that in 2023 seeks to convince us that accumulation and quantification stand as proof of technological progress. The over allobjective of this essay is to show how the patent system synchronizes time and numbers in order to create knowledge about itself as a system, introducing the term "tempo-metrics" in order to account for the specific intersection of calculation and commemoration where such self-fashioning gains specific momentum.


Before this article appeared in Volume 4 (2023), it had been published as 'online first' article on the website of Journal for the History of Knowledge on July 5, 2023. The article was not changed when it was published in the annual volume.

Author Biography

  • Eva Hemmungs Wirtén, Linköping University

    Eva Hemmungs Wirtén is Professor of Mediated Culture at Linköping University, Sweden, focusing on the interdisciplinary study of intellectual property. Her most recent book, Making Marie Curie: Intellectual Property and Celebrity Culture in an Age of Information was published by University of Chicago Press in 2015.






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