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Invented by Law

Invented by Law: Alexander Graham Bell and the Patent That Changed America

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Invented by Law
    Book Description:

    Christopher Beauchamp debunks the myth of Alexander Graham Bell as the telephone’s sole inventor, exposing that story’s origins in the arguments advanced by Bell’s lawyers during fiercely contested battles for patent monopoly. The courts anointed Bell father of the telephone—likely the most consequential intellectual property right ever granted.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73554-5
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On April 8, 1891, dignitaries assembled in Washington, D.C., to mark the hundredth anniversary of a landmark event: the passage of the United States’ first patent law.¹ Three days of celebrations were planned, including banquets, receptions, a military parade at the White House, a grand Congress of Inventors and Manufacturers, and a sixhundred-person excursion on the luxury steamerExcelsiorto Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon. At two o’clock on the first day, attendees gathered for the opening ceremonies at the Lincoln Music Hall, halfway between the White House and the Capitol. The hall thronged with senators, cabinet officials, lawyers, and...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Invention in the Lawyers’ World
    (pp. 11-34)

    In 1836, an imposing building began to rise in the center of Washington, D.C. The site, seven blocks east of the White House, had been specially reserved in Pierre L’Enfant’s original plan for the city. L’Enfant had proposed a patriotic church, “intended for national purposes, such as public prayer, thanksgiving, funeral orations, &c., and assigned to the special use of no particular Sect or denomination, but equally open to all.” This pantheon-like structure would also house monuments to the heroes of the Revolutionary War and to “such others as may hereafter be decreed by the voice of a grateful Nation.”¹...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Acts of Invention
    (pp. 35-57)

    The history of the telephone did not begin with an invention. Instead, it began when a small group of entrepreneurs, including Alexander Graham Bell, formed a company for the purpose of seeking improved methods of telegraph transmission. These men plunged into a race to develop sound-based electrical signals, a contest which led unexpectedly to the transmission of human speech. What happened next—the commercialization of the telephone as a disruptive stand-alone technology, in de pen dent of the telegraph—was not inevitable. Nor was it the result of visionary choices by an individual inventor. Instead, the fate of the new...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Telephone Cases
    (pp. 58-85)

    If patent laws were not so opaque to historians, theTelephone Caseswould loom much larger in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court than they presently do.¹ Consider the following headline features. In 1888, the Court upheld the most valuable intellectual property of the nineteenth century, Alexander Graham Bell’s fundamental patent for the telephone, by a 4–3 vote. The opinion of the Court was both legally and commercially momentous: legally, as a landmark ruling in the law of patent scope; commercially, because it sustained the monopoly of the American Bell Telephone Company, already a “hundred-million-dollar” corporation, whose prominence...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The United States versus Bell
    (pp. 86-108)

    The Bell monopoly tested the limits of patent law. Nowhere was this clearer than in the U.S. government’s attack on the Bell patent—a remarkable intervention beset by scandal. At the height of the telephone litigation, the federal government launched a lawsuit charging that Bell had obtained his patent by fraud. The resulting outcry shook President Cleveland’s administration and spread charges and countercharges of corruption across the national press. Yet the Bell case was only the latest in a line of attempts to draw the federal government into action against monopolistic patentees. It would become an important test of the...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Atlantic Crossings
    (pp. 109-129)

    From the start, the telephone story was an international one. Even as Alexander Graham Bell prepared his American patent application, he had begun moves to protect and exploit his invention abroad. This task involved more than just submitting foreign patent applications. Bell and his backers scrambled to form partnerships with distant investors and to strike agreements with foreign governments, all while promoting Bell’s inventive claim and reputation abroad. Not all the challenges were local in nature. The Bell interests soon found themselves locked in competition with other American inventors, particularly Thomas Edison, in securing foreign patents and establishing overseas companies....

  9. CHAPTER 6 Patent the Earth
    (pp. 130-161)

    In 1913 the Royal Society awarded its Hughes Medal to Alexander Graham Bell, “on the ground of his share in the invention of the Telephone and more especially the construction of the Telephone Receiver.”¹ According to a contemporary observer, this relegation of Bell from sole inventor to ensemble player reflected a generally lower appreciation of his role in Britain than in the United States.² Such national disregard may seem surprising. It was natural for Germany to claim the original invention for Philipp Reis and for Italians to hail their own Innocenzo Manzetti, but the Scots-born Bell remained Britain’s one serious...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Patents, Firms, and Systems
    (pp. 162-184)

    Standing before the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1887, Bell counsel James J. Storrow recounted the words of a beaten opponent. “It seemed to him,” Storrow recalled, “that this whole telephone system was like a pyramid balanced on its apex; that this vast system all over the world to-day was based on this one little imperfect machine in the Bell patent.”¹ In the heat of the nineteenth century’s biggest patent trial, with competitors poised to rush in should the Bell claim fall, the image of a great monopoly teetering on the narrow foundation of Bell’s rights seemed highly...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Patents and the Networked Nation
    (pp. 185-204)

    The beginning of the 1890s saw the Bell telephone monopoly preparing for the end of its basic patents. Alexander Graham Bell’s seventeen-year American grants would expire in March 1893 and January 1894. These dates were moments of truth for the telephone companies. Governments and corporations alike would now find out whether the monopoly model created by the patents was sustainable or appropriate for the industry once legal protections were gone.

    On the eve of the Bell patents’ expiration, America’s telephone companies presided over roughly a quarter of a million telephones.¹ The record of growth to that date was mixed. Between...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-212)

    On November 23, 1936, Washington, D.C., hosted another patent centennial, this one marking the hundredth year of the U.S. Patent Office. Like the 1891 gala in honor of the first patent law, this event attracted cabinet officials, inventors, and lawyers from around the country. Once again, speakers lauded the leading inventions of the day and celebrated a patent system that had “served as a model for the world and made possible unified, coordinated progress toward happier living for all peoples.”¹ Novelties on display included a rayon-clad “Maid of Science” modeling a synthetic silk purse made from the gelatine of sows’...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-260)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 261-262)
  15. Index
    (pp. 263-272)