Today in Patent History: Blue Jeans Patented May 20, 1873

By Gene Quinn
May 20, 2014

The only Figure from Davis’ U.S. Patent No. 139,121.

On May 20, 1873, an icon American fashion was born, or at least patented, when the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued U.S. Patent No. 139,121, titled Fastening Pocket-Openings. The ‘121 patent, which was granted to Jacob W. Davis and jointly assigned to himself and to Levi Strauss & Company, ushered in the era of denim blue jeans. The ‘121 patent specifically related to copper rivet fasteners for denim trousers, which proved to be extremely desirable and durable.

Davis, a tailor by training, revolutionized fashion after being asked by a customer if he could create a durable pair of trousers for her husband, who was a woodcutter. When Davis created these pants he used the now familiar copper rivet fasteners. Davis charged only $3 for that first pair of jeans in 1870. See Your Denim Jeans Are a Nevada Invention.

The durable patents with the rivets turned out to be extremely popular, with more and more customers asking for Davis to make them a pair of the rivet clad durable pants. It was at this point that David thought that he was on to something big, which lead him to want to patent what he had invented. In order to accomplish this he approached Levi Strauss and ask him to partner with him. Strauss agreed and paid the patent fees. See Jacob Davis and the Copper-riveted Jeans.

The patent, which included only a single photograph and text not even amounting to a full page, described the invention in this way:

“[The] invention relates to a fastening for pocket-openings, whereby the sewed seams are prevented from ripping or starting from frequent pressure or strain thereon; and it consists in the employment of a metal rivet or eyelet at each edge of the pocket-opening, to prevent the ripping of the seam at those points. The rivet or eyelet is so fastened in the seam as to bind the two parts of cloth which the seam unites together, so that it shall prevent the strain or pressure from coming upon the thread with which the seam is sewed.”

The inventor goes on to describe the invention narrowly with an eye toward known prior art, saying:

I am aware that rivets have been used for securing seams in shoes, as shown in the patents to Geo. Houghton, No. 64,015, April 23, 1867, and to L.K. Washburn, No. 123, 313, January 30, 1872; and hence I do not claim broadly, fastening of seams by means of rivets.

Having thus described my invention what I claim as new, and desire to secure by Letters Patent, is—

As a new article of manufacture, a pair of pantaloous having the pocket-openings secured at each edge by means of rivets, substantially in the manner described and shown, whereby the seams at the points named are prevented from ripping, as set forth.

Today a patent application written like this would have absolutely no chance of being issued because the description is quite open ended. Of course, anyone who reads the patent would easily be able to understand what the inventor invented and wanted to cover. But somewhere along the way in patent history we moved from an honest, good faith understanding of what was invented and what a patent is intended to cover to a hyper-legalistic approach to patents that requires each and every permutation of an invention to be described with excruciating detail.

Of course, whenever you describe something with such detail and you leave something out then the argument becomes you must have intended to leave that out since you described everything so painstakingly otherwise. Thus, more and more description is required, at greater and greater expense. I’m not sure there has been any improvement in quality of patents, but the cost to prepare and obtain a patent has dramatically risen.



The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

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Discuss this

There are currently 4 Comments comments.

  1. Moshe May 20, 2014 1:23 pm

    I see an August 1872 filing date — these were sold in 1870?
    Technicalities aside, from this we see the importance of a strong grace period.

  2. Gene Quinn May 20, 2014 3:26 pm


    Yes. I believe the grace period at this time was a full 24 months.

    Since the US did not follow the absolute novelty path there was absolutely no reason that we had to give up a strong grace period.

  3. frank burns May 20, 2014 3:48 pm

    “Only $3” — but it is a lot, because in 2014 dollars $3 is $58.82

  4. Michael Langley May 24, 2014 7:36 am

    My jeans cost around $58. That makes them the same price they were back in 1873. Though they are probably lower quality.