tv Alexander Graham Bell and the Telephone CSPAN February 7, 2016 4:45pm-6:01pm EST
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weekend on c-span3. up next on american history tv, brooklyn law school professor chris beauchamp talks about his new book "invented by law: alexander graham bell and the patent that changed america ." he argues that the reason bell is remembered as the inventor of the telephone is because his lawyers. although others contributed to his invention, bell won out because of america capozzi patent laws. -- america's patent laws. >> thank you for coming to tonight's program. can you hear me? now?
tonight. for coming out of courtesy to the speaker, please turn off your electronic devices, he gets even though we are talking about telephones, we do not actually to hear them during the program. [laughter] >> like this? ok. thank you. the 1800s were a time of rough and ready idealism in the united states. washe federal era transformed into a template for what we know now. it was a time in which are learning to cope with the , steel andught steam electricity and laid the foundations for the 20th century. it was a time when customs were argued over and formalized into laws. among the types of folk heroes generated during these times, was that of the loan, genius
inventor. from the founding of our country, americans have been obsessed with creativity. it is possible to become a famous and rich to be the first person to invent something useful. privileges of this exalted status has been the granting of a patent, and official acknowledgment that one is responsible for an idea or invention and has the right to grant the permission for others to duplicate it. a patent has been described as a copyright for stuff instead of writing. tonight, we will get in insider's view of the 19th century had laws as well as to some insight into the process of the invention itself. professor chris beauchamp presentation will be based on his new book "invented by law: alexander graham bell and the patent that changed america." is an associate
professor of law at the brooklyn law school. he teaches and writes in the areas of intellectual property and legal history. his work has received numerous awards and he earned his phd in history from cambridge university. please wore me -- join me and extending a warm welcome to professor chris beauchamp. [applause] professor beauchamp: thank you so much to the library for having me. thank you for having me speak. can you hear me? i will give a little more if that works. i have a separate presentation of the history of the microphone, but i will say that for another time. you who invented the telephone, there is one name that i think would spring to your mind, and that is the name of alexander graham bell.
he and his invention have, for a very long time, been one of the classic stories of american invention. call, mr.telephone watson, come here i want to see you. this is one of those moments that we may learn about in grade school, and is popular in the history of technology. the same is true if you did not grow up in the united states. if you years ago, he was voted one of the 100 greatest americans because of his invention. at the same time, he was voted one of the 10 greatest persons and canadians. everyone wants a piece of him. it is worth thinking about why, this question, who invented the telephone is such a well-known question with such a well-known answer. sure, it is a modern assessment. -- cecily. most households -- necessity.
most households would have a telephone. ubiquitous technology has the same argument. you probably have a refrigerator, but may not know the inventor. you can say the same thing about the television, or the internet. there is not one person we would name straight away. one puzzle, who invented the ?elephone question ma there is another puzzle, a deeper one in a sense about what it means to ask and answer that question, who invented the telephone? there arenk about it, a few big assumptions going on here. one, there is a single thing called the telephone. that this is one invention, one device, rather than a cluster of different inventions or
components of technology. whiteystem aspect is somebody would not point to one single inventor of the internet, besides al gore. you can say the same thing about the telephone. every telephone has two bits. there is a transmitter and a receiver that you would listen to. beyond that, there are batteries, wires, switches, exchanges. there is a whole system behind it. second, sort of related, there is one person who invented the telephone. personere is a single who can claim all of the credit, as opposed to a variety of people creating the same invention at the same time, or contributing parts to the system.
it is entirely possible to imagine telling the story of the telephone in a way that no one person gets all of the credit. in britain, alexander graham bell was mentioned as the inventor of the telephone receiver, one bit of it, does everyone knew the inventor of the transmitter was thomas edison. one inventor, that is a second assumption. another assumption is this invention is a break from what came before. it is not just an incremental improvement, but a whole new thing. we see the telephone as a new thing entirely, as opposed to seeing it as an it danced -- advanced telegraph. where do you draw the line in a progressive technology? assumptions, the
telephone is a single thing, new thing, has a single in enter, singlere some things -- inventor, there are some things we take for granted. reason why we start with these assumptions about the telephone. -- theason is, the wall, , patent law. this is a story told by alexander graham bell's lawyers. his lawyers succeeded in turning the story beyond everybody's wildest dreams. they persuaded the u.s. courts, and through them, created this cultural memory that alexander graham bell was the great inventor. the outcome went like this,
this, extra of lady liberty garnering alexander graham praise of the invention. you can see the telephone of the 1880's behind him. that is a telephone with its arms raised in triumph. these lawyers secured for bell, control over this technology. the warriors were on the others -- there were lawyers on the other side as well. there were other inventors as well. that is the story of like to talk about. it all begs the question of who invented the telephone and the 19 century? was it a mere question of scientific curiosity? this was a question about who
would have legal control over an entire growing new industry. about who fighting control the telephone, who invented the telephone was defined by the law. the law defined who was the inventor, who would be seen as a great inventor, determined the questions of evidence and strategies and views. this is a process that plays out to all of these institutions, and that is why the name of the law."s, "invented by it can be made by a certain person, but defined by lawyers. the book tells the story of the bell telephone patent. it is a very different retelling of the famous bell inventor story.
he is mostly offstage and sitting with a different cast of characters that come before, lawyers, judges, money men, politicians. sagais a truly fascinating . you have great inventors, charlatans, politicians. power, tond corporate play as well as corruption. in this case, corruption reaches the very highest level of the american government. it went all the way to the top and involve the united states attorney general. the story has everything. at the heart of this is bill posey patent. this is probably the most valuable patent ever granted, perhaps the most valuable intellectual property of the 19th century. into a worldindow
in which patent law had a place in american life. time feel itover is a boring topic, but not then. shows the outside's role of patent law in our own understanding of invention. let me dive into the story. understandhing to about the race to invent the telephone is that the major protagonists around bill posey time not racing to invent the telephone as we understand it. they did not think they were going for a speaking machine, a speaking telegraph. what they really thought they were doing was essentially broadband for telegraph. this is where the big money was in the 1870's, inventions that they create the carrying capacity for telegraph.
this is an important industry but powerful companies at this point. the invention is to cram more and more in first-rate -- information into the infrastructure. that means for messages going along one line at the same time. ae next idea would be harmonic or acoustic telegraph. this would give more sound on the wire if you produced signals using sounds at different pitches. these were distinctive electrical signals that could be scrambled at the other end. there were several inventors looking into this. one of them was thomas edison, which you have probably heard. another was eli should gray -- famousgray who is less now, but imports into the story. those inventors were telegraph inventors, electrical engineers.
alexander graham bell came to this from a slightly different perspective. his background was in speech therapy. he was a teacher of the --. --deaf. he and his brother taught a method of signage and learning speech, more visible speech involving visual and tactile techniques to teach people who were deaf. this was his profession and occupation. he knew a lot about sounds. one of the demonstrations they had was that he and his father would take a dog, a scott terrier, and they would make you late -- manipulate its mouth and throat to make them believe it was speaking. he knew a lot about sounds and visual things to produce sounds.
in the 1870's, now living in boston, he started studying electricity, doing experiments talking about the compliments of andd and electricity telegraph transmission. around that time, he was fortunate to attract and connect with investors in inventions he may make. one of them to his lasting fortune, was a longtime patent lawyer and a player in the telegraph industry, a critic of the dominant telegraph company, western union. parent ofc was the bill posey student, mabel. --bell's student mabel. him, noted to impress
because he started to fall in love with mabel, who he would eventually marry. he said the greatest achievement of his life was not inventing the telephone, but winning her heart. was motivated to come up with investortion that the was looking at. he began working on harmonic telegraph in the 1870's. at the beginning of 1876, he had an important patent application ready to go on acoustic telegraph. this would transmit some sound, especially at different pitches, and he hoped this would be the basis for a multiplex telegraph invention. he knew it was a neck and neck
race with elisha gray. 1876 in february, is a famous date in the history of american invention. this is the date that alexander graham bell's and elijah grey's patterns met at -- patents met at the same time. on valentine's day, this is all i am thinking about. seen assometimes histories greatest example of simultaneous invention. many people are working on the same thing at the same time, and that idea is in the air. what a coincidence that this should be the same day they reach the patent office. maybe, but maybe not. if you are interested in this area, you may have come across this a few years ago.
this is a book about the telephone patent conspiracy. they went through a paper trail of alexander graham bell's patents and the patent office. this tells eye-popping stories about misconduct within the office. this is how it works. bell had a patent application ready to go. he was waiting. the reason he was waiting is because he had arranged to have somebody file a patent. waiteal was, he would until he had work that the british patent was filed. his lawyers found out that elisha gray was about to file a caveat, a provisional, save the date patent application in the
patent office. they hear he was about to do this, and they created a plan to get ahead of that. to get a full patent application and before the caveat, and under the rules, they would not need to be a to decideice hearing who was the first inventor. only the first inventor could get the patent, and that is a long-standing feature of the patent office. seemed able to pull off this plan. application was hand-delivered to the patent office, it was not a standard practice at the time. declare a office did priority hearing initially, but his lawyer said, we have a
recording of the time this came in, and so the hearing was withdrawn. the office went on to patent -- process bill posey patent. 's patent. there is a lot that is shady about this process. we know the person who handled the applications had a drinking problem and was in debt to one of the patent lawyers and had an embezzlement problem as well. that raises suspicions about what is going on. , and thesepossible recent books have talked about that, that there was a deeper conspiracy at work. essentially, this corrupt file andopened up the let the lawyers copy material into bilell
's patent. i do not know if we will ever know what really went on there. anyway, alexander graham bell 1876 withatent in these feelings behind him. on the other hand, just getting a patent settled very little. the books that are focused on the patent conspiracy and what went on in those few weeks, they only have the beginning of the story. in 1876, the patent but what was this for? about read it, it is harmonic telegraph's, transmission of sound. what it is claiming is the use of what dell called the undulated current.
this is his insight as he understood it. if you look at the diagrams on the left, this is not like the way the official telegraph works. breaking an electric current to produce signals. insight was to have a constant but fluctuating current. this way, you could get transmission of acoustic tones, notes and pitch. his patent does mention speech. it does not say it is an invention that lets you talk to someone else over a vocal wire. he does mention sounds though. sounds, but vocal at the time, he had only gotten articulate -- inarticulate like humming.
achieved articulate speech before the patent was filed. afterappens three days alexander receives the patent for the telephone. patentd not stop his from being the crucial, fundamental patent for the telephone. fortunately, it turned out that the description of the telephone that appears in the patent would allow you to make the device that could transmit intelligible speech. if set up carefully enough, it goes from calming to mumbling and you can just about make out speech. that bell has his
telephone, the telephone business begins a company and they begin to market national telephone businesses. because he was forming the patent, and not the telephone as a technology, i am going to fast forward three years. three years later, the bell company, the american telephone company has formed and its licensees, local telephone companies to operate this technology are competing with western union, the big telegraph giant. they had decided to enter this field and set up major telephone companies, and the companies were going head to head. finally, the patent would get its first real test. the bell company sued one of the union companies.
it discussed what it covered and what its scope was, if it was even valid. patent, it tells you how to use the technology and has claims at the end. it is supposed to say, here is what this patent covers. here is what no one else may do. what itr really know will cover until the patent has been applied. that is what will happen now. again, before the trial the day before it began against western union, alexander graham bell was engaged with a regular battle with his own lawyers, fighting about what? telephone patent meant. here are his two lawyers, these were prominent patent lawyers.
small, wiry patent lawyer and had an active command of the technology and could persuade a jury with you deck -- exact details of the technology. large, benjamin franklin type guy who could become menacing. was used to say storo begun, and smith was the canon. at the eve of the trial, bell is contending with these people about what the patent says and what the strategy was. he was literally, physically sick about what his lawyers were doing, that he writes them a letter before the trial. " my lawyers are dissecting my
patent to decide what valid claims there may be to base an argument tomorrow. of 1876, my patent specification of which i was so proud. a have hacked into pieces, torn it limb from limb and they have thrown it away. they have cast aside its useless invaluable pieces. they have squeezed out the lifeblood idea. in the dust, which they blow in my face. " he did not agree with them. say, anin vain that i inventor is the worst judge of his own case. here is what was going on. , and the five claims
of them.ddress four dot his lawyers wanted to was focus only on the fifth claim. this was the method and transmitting vocals. they did not want to get bogged down in arguments about electrical theory. do, wasy wanted to stake everything on the working telephone. here is an invention that can transmit vocal sounds. let's just focus on that claim. as he suggests in his letter, his lawyers choked him into submission. their strategy was an immediate success. , having day, bell observed the first day of the
says, now it turns out to western union's astonishment, that the invention they said is old, is not the invention that has been in france. they do not know what to do. -- infringed. they do not know what to do. you wante a lawyer, your client to listen to you. on the basis of the fifth claim, ell's whatgy, bill pose control every telephone in the country. how did he achieve this? how did this patent get to cover every form of telephone? it used a pioneer patent
document. if you are the true first inventor of a great breakthrough invention, then your patent entitles you to broaden protection. if you invented an improvement, then your patent entitles you to protection for the specific device you described in the patent, but if you are the pioneer, then your patent should be broadly understood and should byer the basic principle which that invention works, regardless of what the form is. this is much broader protection for your patent. did not secure that in his case against western union, because they decided to settle, pulled out of the telephone field. lawyers arranged another test case in boston, the hometown of the bell telephone company called spencer case and
a hammer on this fifth case of the patent. they win in grand style. art,has discovered a new the art of transmission means speech by electricity. be givenld allow us to the exclusive rights of communicating by electricity. around hisget patent. there is no way around it. what those who would challenge the patent tried doing is in validating it. you can get the patent only if you were the true inventor, under american law. if they could prove there were other inventors, the patent would fail.
are solid,se respectable, credited characters. philip reis, who is the inventor of the telephone in germany, the father of the telephone. l is sometimes the midwife of the telephone, that this is your guy. he was able to transmit voice sounds in the 1860's, and he had some american supporters, but they never slated anyone. you have -- persuaded anyone. you have a license great, but he have as patent to -- you elisah gray, but he sold his patent to western union. instead of these characters, a host of other speakers come forth. you have sylvanus cushman. this gentleman was working on a
lightning conductor with telegraph wires in wisconsin. he claimed that during a moment waiting for a storm, he could hear the croaking of bullfrogs in a nearby swamp. make a he went on to number of speaking boxes, although he never came forward with this until alexander graham bell. , he claimed to invent a form of the telephone in havana. he worked towards the making and patenting of a telephone, that had been injured in an accident on a ferry. instill has his fans though
staten island. congress has recognized his role in the invention of the telephone in 2001 or 2002. honored as an italian-american of the year. another figure is daniel drawbaugh. he is from pennsylvania and the .elf-described edison he said he invented the working parts of the telephone in the 1860's and 1870's and pennsylvania. he brought a number of local witnesses who said they saw him working, and the reason he was never heard of, is he did not produce a viable telephone. his obscurity is part of his argument on why he was the first inventor. these inventors and others like them, or to varying degrees, dangerous to bell.
here is why. by the time all of this comes into the courts in the 1880's, the bell company, a monopoly of telephones, as the system group, users were getting frustrated with it. qualityxpensive and the was variable. as the technology spread, people became frustrating with its working. tool for rich man's businesses. they were grieved by the actions of the bell company and the charges. the company, for their part in the security of the patent monopoly are compromising. they are not sympathetic to this. ratena passes a telephone regulation, maximum prices. the local telephone company that covers most of indiana responses, and says, for that
price, you do not get telephone services. they deny service to a large chunk of the state, and so regulation is done away with. these kinds of actions, high-handed actions made people unsympathetic to the bell company. tolic opinion was available be on the side of the rival inventors. they called it things like the people's telephone company. as this shared certificate suggests, there was some money behind this. there is capital breaking into and trying to shake down this growing bell telephone company. for a while, it looked threatening, but the bell company continued to win patent cases. they began to clear the field. but, of course, the supreme
court had not ruled on bell's patent yet. this point, by the middle of the 1880's, this was not a simple matter of a few, obscure patent cases. this is a big public issue. sam is a cartoon with uncle without his trademark hat. he is wondering who invented the telephone. the receivers are barking up the names of rival inventors. the bell company monopoly at were described as a $100 million corporation, vast for the time. it is attacked in the press and congress. it attracted scandal. there are multiple scandals here. is about allegations
of judicial misconduct. earlier in 1886, the herald revealed that the key judges who ruled for alexander graham bell, that family members had large holdings in the bell company's stock. case, thehe spencer federal judge presiding over that case, his family owned a lot of bell stock. horace gray of the supreme court also had ruled sitting in a lower court, in favor of bell. he also had family interest in the company. this breaks in the press and casts a series shadow over the case. justice gray had to recuse himself from the upcoming supreme court case. that is the judicial
scandal. it also involve the executive branch. pan electric telephone company was not like the others. it is inexplicably political venture. tennessee, but it had its eyes on washington. its backers were southern democratic politicians, officeholders. when the democrats won the presidential collection -- election of 1884, a number of this company took positions in the administration. what it did was petition the el.. government to sue b l. allowed was case law
pursuit to cancel a patent in lawful. you cannot just bring this suit as an american citizen, only the u.s. government could cancel a patent by fraud. pan electric said they would happily run the suit for you, and the name of the american government. they said they would figure out the fraud allegation as we go along. there must be one and it must be shady, so just authorized the suit in the name of the united states, and we will come up with this suit. this comes to the united states .ttorney general he is seen here in a cartoon of the day. he is an arkansas democrat and a pan electric shareholder.
he says, i could not possibly authorize a government suit. i am too close involved. he goes on vacation, and the suit is brought forth. ofer this, you get a host cartoons like this. i love this. is see the attorney general ileting down, blinded wh the serpent like telephone is whispering in his ear, corruption. a bunch of new york newspapers that are hostile toward the administration pick up on this. the herald, the world, the son. un. mob of an fleeing the the press hostility chasing after the scandal. the attorney general has to step
and theold the suit government suit stops for a wild. by this point, --a while. by this point, the question of who invented the telephone has become political and industrial. a year after all of this, the bell patent comes to the supreme court and there are a variety of challenges. at this point, it is a huge case. pagesare more than 14,000 in record of the case. this is big at the time. the supreme court heard .rguments nowadays, you get 30 minutes set aside, but they heard arguments for two weeks on both sides. when the case was decided, the report of the case, it is the only one that takes up an entire volume of the u.s. reports.
withoutsive case is not drama. eighs in, justice and four days later he was dead, although i do not think this is entirely because of the patent law. for the most part, the arguments of the supreme court were covered in the courts below. l's discuss -- lawyers discuss the history of the invention and they pick apart the rival claims of other inventors, focusing especially on drawbaugh. they felt he had the best lawyers and the best fight. he thought he was their main rival.
there's something new at this stage as well. a week before the supreme court 's lawyers drawbaugh argued bell gray. this is the argument that the telephone patent office conspiracy books had revived. those opponents brought out the ndaminer, who examined it, a he signed an affidavit saying he had help the lawyers steal from the patent. lawyers produced what they said was an original copy of the patent application, covered in pencil marks, showing what it was they had changed. this was the smoking gun, a huge moment of drama. at the time, itwas clearly a disaster. bell says it is not an original alcoholic embezzlement
problems in the last stages of a tragic life, he was clearly a problematic source. everyone agreed that bell's lawyers have a ripped it apart, the justices threw it away. that didn't mean they fell for bell. it was a knife edge decision, 4-3. justice gray had to recuse himself because of the corruption allegations. it gets decided by one vote, be ll is acknowledged as the inventor of the telephone the three justices dissenting went for drawbaugh. they said that drawbaugh was the inventor and the evidence was so overwhelming in regards to the number and character of witnesses that it could not be overcome. i don't think they were making that up. i read the notes in the justice's papers and they are
definitely talking about the drawbaugh evidence. i think that politics played an enormous role here. the other two dissenters, they were the great dissenters on the supreme court. they were skeptics of industrial monopoly in the gilded age. they couldn't overturn the pioneer patent doctrine, the idea that you give a broad patent to a great inventor is one they were happy with. instead, the dissenters found in drawbaugh a way to overturn the patent, to say that anyone would naturally tended toward bell as the famous and well resourced inventor. character, we should recognize that someone like that can invent something great. again, what this shows is that the question of who invented the telephone was in just about who had invented the telephone. it was about who should control telephone service. it was about monopoly, the
re the system, who and whe power lay in the economy. that is what you see when the supreme court decides this narrow decision. that brings the to a part of the story that i have kind of glossed over so far. there is much more of this in the book. this is about the rise of bell's monopoly, the rise of his company, american bell, which later would become at&t. you may have heard of them. a dominant telephone company. it secured this monopoly in 1888 it until 1894 until the patent expired. bennett had a competition. at that point, the pressure on the patent was incredibly clear. thele flocked to them and bell company share went down to about half in the early 20th
century. company, the system was starting to reestablish control. they bought off, they co-opted, they defeated the so-called independent rivals, and rebuild their position of dominance so that by 1920, bell companies were running everything again. that greatest 20th-century business organization cap alexander graham bell at the forefront of their publicity, even though he didn't really have any involvement in the company after the earliest years. the next generation of important telephone inventions were made by others. the bell system kept bringing him out as the origin figure. bell inaugurating the new york to chicago line, an enormously
forward in telephone technology. likewise, in 1915, with the first trans-continental line. they do the "mr. watson, come here, i want to see you" thing. it's not just winning in the courts that makes them famous. the telephone giant made sure of his heroic status, and a lot of bell's cultural prominence in the middle of the 20th century, his fame had a lot to do with the eponymous bell system, which was at one point the largest business organization in the world. course, the patent is behind this and all sorts of ways. the dollar the position of the bell company begins with, is contributed to by the patent monopoly filte built from bell's patent, the lawyers at the root of it all.
closing, let me offer up a little bit of broader context. one thing you might wonder after hearing this story is, is this a one off? is a telephone patent case unique? not really. it's certainly a great story, but on a couple of points, it's a window into something bigger. is that the close link between the idea of the great inventor and the patent law. ins is a picture that hangs the national portrait gallery in washington, d.c., the old patent office building. in it, you can find this fictional group portrait from 1862, "men of progress," meant to show the great inventors of american history. a lot of familiar names here -- said gilmore's of the telegraph, samuel colt of the revolver, elias howe who invented the
showing machine. just out of curiosity, i went to see which of them had been involved in big patent litigation. turned out, most of them. [laughter] this makes sense if you think about it. the courts, in upholding a foundational patent, are picking a winner. they are choosing a first inventor. credit, andnneling perhaps fortune, to that person to whoever owns the patent. the winning patent then generates further publicity and a set out to enforce their patent. that's part of and is enjoined to a strategy of saying, i am the first inventor, i adhere to claim i do. as a result, a lot of our pantheon of inventors, perhaps our notion of heroic invention, which is still an intuitive idea, comes from the law.
the way we think about invention now, historians have written about the history of american technology, they probably don't consider themselves to be influenced by the work of pain lawyers from a century or more ago, but i think in meaningful ways they are. story i thinkader is accessible from the bell tale. another story reveals is the scale -- the patent battle continued both before and after his patent in the 1850's to the electric light, bicycle, barbed wire, automobile, airplane. baking soda, farm tools, false teeth, cheese hoops -- whatever they are.
patent law was all over the 19th century, and the prominence is startling. heard, looking back from where we are today -- we're widely thought to be going through a crisis in the patent system, and particularly a patent litigation explosion. particularly in the last few tors, this is from 1991 2013. the number of patent suits has spiked. over 6000 per year. i dig around in the 19th century, the more i see patent contests on the stunning scale. it wasn't just the bell company filing 600 lawsuits and arguing his case before the u.s. supreme court for two weeks. there were other patent owners who filed thousands of suit in campaigns that were just as big and controversial as bell's.
certain courts were swamped by patent cases. i have a lot of this in the book. but if you'll forgive me giving a preview of where have taken this work next, and where i think it opens into, here'somethings that is my favorite graph at the moment. this is the number of patent suits filed every year from 1923 to 2013. end as thebit at the patent explosion happens. a number of lawsuits hurt per selected years in the 19th century. 1860 is fully 10 times what you get in 2013. 19th-century cases are just the ones i found filed in new york city, in philadelphia, not the rest of the country. if there was a great patent litigation explosion in america, today, it's the middle of the 19th century.
at the golden age of patent madness. i've put those details and others in an article i have forthcoming in "the yield law journal." just to wrap up on the book, this is not just a great gift for the inventor pain lawyer in her life, it is also an argument aw has been a bigs been influence on america's technological past, on the way we think about invention in american history. thank you so much for listening. [applause] i'm happy to answer some questions. i think somebody has a microphone. >> thank you for your talk.
would the principles reflected on technology today like the invention of the phone -- does he receive any added toe of what's his invention? --does bell later received - ? >> a phone that we have today? does he get any percentage -- >> the great trade-off of the patent is that it gives you was afraid to the invention, but only for a limited time, and then it expires. in the late 19th century, it was for 17 years. the u.s.different, but constitution authorizes congress to create patents to give exclusive rights for limited time to inventors. you can get a patent that gives
you some -- there was a time after that, where it becomes for the public. this telephone available to people, and when? what year? >> when did it become available to the broader public, you mean, rather than just a few people? it spreads gradually in the time of the bell patent. the real takeoff, interestingly, is after the patent runs out. it's really in the early 20th century that the telephone becomes this thing that people have mass access to. you go from a quarter of a million telephones in the country near the end of the patent period to 7 million a couple decades later. that is when people start getting telephones in their homes and apartment buildings and farms. it spreads much more quickly.
then we have the 20th century as the century of the telephone. >> hi. i was wondering, what do you think is the modern-day equivalent of patent law, or technology industry? could it be something like algorithm willlaw, where compans get ito use the same algorithm n the back end of whatever they are producing? >> patent law for today's patent law. and the number of patent issued every year is out in a norm is high, half a million patents. companies use those to protect their inventions, their processes, software, technologies of all kinds. it's really striking, in some
ways, how much the patent system of today is built along similar lines. it's been very interesting, the telephone cases, the supreme court still gets cited. it's really the same institution that we are looking at for the , andcentury and today looking back to the period can tell if a surprising amount. >> there was this argument over i couldn'th understand how anybody could be stupid enough to let them patent something in nature. first of all, how has that been resolved, and second of all, what other similar thing has schemers trying to sabotage us?
a very fair point about patent. he supreme court took an important case about patenting genetically engineered organisms, about bacteria, and they said this is a human invention, so you can patent it. the patent office took that as a signal that they should be awarding patents for inventions in biotechnology. eventually, that included giving patents for human gene sequences, animal gene sequences, that companies would claim has an isolated gene. theory was after a while but this was not something that was a nature, because the nature it's bonded up with all sorts of other stuff, and the claim as to the isolated, pure version. that was a bit of a legal
fiction, but it rumbled on for a couple decades. a few years ago, there was very prominent case to do with on a genetents whose mutations were importantly associated with cancer, with breast cancer, in particularly the braca-1 and 2 enes. the aclu and others challenged that, saying how can you have patents on these genes? making a point that the owner of the patent would have power to say whether or not a doctor could run a test. the courts took on this question and said, oh, yeah, that's a fair point. the federal court in new york city said, you can't patent
this. in a study move, the u.s. department of justice agreed, and said, yeah, you can't patent things that are just nature. this is a patent for a product of nature. a very interesting legal tale that rumbled on for a while and stopped suddenly. in terms of the other things that are going on with what you campaignean patent and what you can't, there was a big expansion in what you could patent and how. cap did of business methods, diagnostics, genetic material. thehe last few years, supreme court has started to restrict that, started to gradually squeeze back patentable subject matter, saying you can't patent abstract concepts. this is a pendulum that swung in
the direction of few can patent anything you want now back toward, only certain things. >> [indiscernible] so during the free-for-all period, there are some things that people were, to take the critical view, patenting established business methods and said do it on the computer. we will figure it out using computers, matin to patent it -- stuff, thert of supreme court has cracked down on. methods of two advertising, but on an iphone. there are happens out there for those things and now the supreme court is increasingly making them invalid. >> hi, professor. it's my understanding that after
the original phone patent went out, the bell company continued to patent other things our also critical to the infrastructure. can you talk a little bit about how bell maintained its dominance through additional payments later on? >> one of the interesting things about that is that this model o getting one great patent in suing everyone else. when that patent runs out, there are more. it doesn't really work. thery were unpopular, the legal climate had shifted. then they gradually realize they don't need to sue people. we are the telephone company. newadvantages we have, technology like loading coils, belljust give the system a a good advantage.
so one of the stories that changes, and one of the reasons we had loads of patent litigation in the 19th century and not so much by the 1920's and 1930's, is because companies don't need to do this in courts anymore. , generalhave at&t, rca electric's. they license them to each other, divide up the technological world between them, and that they don't need to go to court. it's been, in the last couple decades, when those big companies that dominated the 20th century lost their hold on the high-tech economy, and now it is venture capital and startups, it's not a coincidence that patents have come back to prominence with that move. now it is more important to go to court, to enforce the patent in the same way that would have been done back in bell's day.
periods, the two period when patent law is boring, when they can use their financial power, it's fascinating. when was patenting initially established, and was a conflated with the industrial revolution? also, copyright is for items written only, and patent is a physical invention? >> so i'll take the first of those questions first. t depends where you want to look for the origin point. the u.s. patent system is authorized in the u.s. constitution. it has a clause that says congress can set up a patent law, and they did straightaway. 1790, a federal patent law.
before that, state patents. an english systemt, of awarding monopolies to people. the monarch will convey some particular activity. over time, it turns into a modern idea -- you invent something, and the government gives you an exclusive right to practice that invention. certainly, a patent system as old as the united states, in subform significantly older. as for the difference between patent and copyright -- copyright protects creative works of all kinds. musical works, written works, videos, sculpture, some architecture. if it's creative and it's fixed, somehow, and not
ephemeral, the creator will have some form of copyright in i t, and it lasts for a long time. payments protect inventions, which is a more narrow idea. the keeping with the patent is that this document at the heart of it, you have to write a document in your patent application that explains what the invention is, how it works, tells people how to make it and use it, and says here's what i invented. it it doesn't have to be only for one kind of machine, like a specific one that you can build. the patent can cover the ways it works. someone could change a little bit about it and it would still be under the patent. but if you get a patent, you file the claim. but the general distinction is creative works are copyrighted, payments are for inventions. >> [indiscernible]
>> they were called literary patents -- >> [indiscernible] >> yes, i think so. that it's the same kind of idea. the monarchical permission, which was initially seen as -- the english contrived to have a civil war about the powers of the monarch and exactly what a patent is disaffected. none of these big monopolies anymore, you can just grab a patent for someone who invent something. s often seen as the origin of the anglo-american patent system. we have time for a couple more. thank you for your talk. before i heard you talk, i thought patent is such a good
way to promote creativity, but when i listened, the legal -- it i find it kind of just promotes monopoly in markets. it kind of suppresses the if 20 peopleecause were inventing the telephone, the wisdom will be better than just one person. he has a monopoly. it's a fault, i think. >> yes. this is a great trade-off in the great, everlasting debate about patent law -- is a good for what
we wanted to do? on the one hand, the theory of getting an incentive to an inventor is a very plausible one. you can't stop other people for using your invention, then why would you sing so much money into it? patent lets you invent something, make it, sell it, control it, sell the rights to it. yes, there are examples of patents gumming up the works, blocking other inventors. there is a perennial complaint that all the money is flowing to the lawyers. this is good for us in law school, but not good for us in society. the adjusting thing about the bell case is that you can see this in both lights. on the one hand, the patent becomes the basis for this extraordinarily innovative, new telephone enterprise, which has
its faults, but which is very much invested in building its cell phone system and developing the technology . that company has a lot of technological dynamism. on the other hand, not many people have the telephone when it was enforced. when it comes off, there are four more telephones, working men's telephones, cheap to put up. many more people get access. ory crystallizes a lot of the dynamics about whether we think patent law is good or bad. the answer is it's good in some cases, batted in other cases. it's tricky to manage. one more -- >> i understand that there is quite a backlog in the patent office these days. could you please talk about that? >> there are just hundreds of thousands of patent applications. it takes time to process them. gets tent office usually
through its whole examination process within 2-4 years. that might be slow to you if you are trying to get a patent on your invention, but given how many applications turn through the office and how little time each individual examiner has to sit down and think about -- is this really a new, nonobvious invention? it's an incredibly oppressive operation may have. the patent office has been working on bringing down its backlog in the last few years, and with their staff of thousands and budget of billions, they are doing a herculean task. i think that's all the time i spend given. thank you so much. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
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