For more than ten years, Binta Robinson has served as a patent examiner in biotechnology for the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). An agency within the Department of Commerce that assumes responsibility for the issue of patents to businesses and inventors for their products and intellectual property, the USPTO is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia and maintains a total employee roster of nearly 10,000 federal workers. Patent law as a discipline traces its roots back hundreds of years to Medieval Europe.

During Medieval times, monarchs often used a system of exclusive rights to a monopoly as a way to generate funds without raising taxes and angering their subjects. The first incarnation of the patent occurred in England during the 1300s, when John Kempe acquired a royal grant called a “letter patent,” which enabled him to develop his company in the name of introducing England to a new industry. These letters patent, however, did not grant inventors sole ownership of their inventions, a hallmark of the modern patent system. In the late 15th century, lawmakers in Venice enacted a system of patent law that allowed inventors to apply for exclusive rights to their inventions. During the early years of the 17th century, the Statute of Monopolies in England restricted the power of the sovereign to grant monopolies and limited patent terms to 14 years, laying the foundation for patent law in the United States.

In the wake of the Statute of Monopolies, a number of U.S. colonies began to pass similar legislation. The first known patent in the United States occurred in 1641, when Samuel Winslow registered a proprietary method of making salt with the Massachusetts General Court. Several other states followed suit and, by the time of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which established the U.S. Constitution, the majority of states possessed sophisticated patent laws. The Constitution itself contains a number of provisions for protecting patents, granting Congress the power to "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." In 1790, Congress passed the first U.S. Patent Act, which laid the foundation for a wealth of future legislation protecting the rights of inventors to exercise sole ownership of their inventions.