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In 1899, Charles H. Duell, head of the U.S. Patent Office, was credited with suggesting that the agency should be closed, because “everything that can be invented has been invented.” From his vantage point at the end of the 19th century, the sentiment made sense. The previous decade had brought the world dozens of life-improving advances, from the zipper and the typewriter, to the radio, aspirin and the gas-powered car.

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