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Inventing the Telephone, Independently 203

Posted by Zonk
from the i-invented-the-hippo dept.
An anonymous reader writes "There is a nice article about the history of the telephone at AmericanHeritage.com. Most of us know that Alexander Bell beat Elisha Gray to the patent office by mere hours to claim credit for the invention of the telephone, but did you know that two other inventors can also claim the invention, including Thomas Edison? Similar disputes about independent invention and patent ownership can be found regarding the television, the airplane, and the automobile. Maybe it really is true: the economic benefit of encouraging patents is like that of encouraging window breaking."
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Inventing the Telephone, Independently

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  • by y00tz (952744) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:29AM (#14896868)
    little known fact: Al Gore also invented the telephone.
  • and like Calculus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geoffrobinson (109879) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:30AM (#14896875) Homepage
    Duplicating good ideas should be expected. Something like calculus shouldn't be trademarked, etc.

    But if you place the threshhold high enough, patents (esp. for a limited duration and done right) can be very much warranted and beneficial.
    • Re:and like Calculus (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eric76 (679787) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @04:35AM (#14897116)
      I wonder what it would be like if everyone who invented the same device could receive their own patents as long as their applications were filed before any were published.

      One obvious effect would be that you could license it from whichever inventor with whome you could come to the best agreement.

      I certainly can't see any logical reason why anyone who invented something independently of another should be deprived of the fruits of their own effort.
      • Still badly broken. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by expro (597113)

        I wonder what it would be like if everyone who invented the same device could receive their own patents as long as their applications were filed before any were published.

        But this still cuts out all those who legitimately develop something obvious after it has been patented. What is obvious to one person may not be obvious to a patent examiner. Just because it was not obvious to a patent examiner does not mean it would not have been obvious to any number of others who are at the top of their fields and

      • by 2008 (900939)
        Because then you couldn't e.g. demo your new technology to investors whilst it's "patent pending". They could just patent it themselves and take half your royalties.
        Even if you keep your invention perfectly secret before the patent is granted and published, corrupt patent examiners would be a problem.
      • by MCRocker (461060) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @09:40PM (#14900529) Homepage
        if everyone who invented the same device could receive their own patents


        Actually, I think that in cases like this, that NOBODY should be awarded a patent.

        Although the current practice is to award a patent to whoever applies first, I think that the fact that subsequent, substantially similar, patents are applied for before the first one is made public or awarded should be considered a prima facie evidence that the invention is 'obvious'.

        Seriously. I understand that obviousness is a slippery thing. Often, the best ideas are the simplest and may seem obvious in retrospect, so the patent office and courts are fairly careful about determining obviousness. However, if two or more inventers independently come up with the same idea at about the same time, then that should be considered proof that the idea was obvious. Since the patent office keeps filings secret until after a patent is awarded, the time between the original filing and the awarding of a patent for the idea is a time when no other inventor could know that a similar idea has been filed. So, another, similar, filing during this period aught to be considered proof that the idea is obvious and non patentable.

        A large number of patents would get thrown out if this standard was adopted, but, since it's clear that there is a serious problem with the patent system, I don't think that this would be a bad thing and would actually provide us with a much better system.
  • by thx1138_az (163286) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:32AM (#14896879)
    I seem to remember that Thomas Jefferson was against patents because he thought that invention was a natural course of evolution and that invention was inevitable product of the society and not the product of the individual. At least that's how I remember it.
  • Doesn't follow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:34AM (#14896882) Homepage Journal

    Maybe it really is true: the economic benefit of encouraging patents is like that of encouraging window breaking.

    That doesn't follow from the fact that inventions are often independently reinvented. Inventions are so often independently reinvented because new inventions depend at least as much on having all of the supporting technologies and ideas in place as they do on the cleverness of the inventor. Once the prerequisites are in place, it's not surprising that several bright people will simultaneously hit on the way to put them together. However, it's still possible that without the knowledge that patents will allow them to protect the results of their success, inventors might not be *motivated* to create their inventions.

    It's equally possible that the existence of patents doesn't provide any incentive to potential inventors. I think the truth is somewhere in between, but the main point is that the frequency of multiple independent invention doesn't really say anything one way or the other about the efficacy of patents as motivators for creating and publishing new ideas.

    • by jfengel (409917) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:38AM (#14896892) Homepage Journal
      In other words, independent creation of invention occurs in part because the economic incentive of patents encourages many people to work on the problem simultaneously. Without that encouragement, perhaps none of them would have worked on the telephone and it might not have happened until much later.
      • In other words, independent creation of invention occurs in part because the economic incentive of patents encourages many people to work on the problem simultaneously.

        Care to provide any kind of proof that patents have anything to do with this whatsoever?

        Without that encouragement, perhaps none of them would have worked on the telephone and it might not have happened until much later.

        Perhaps, most likely, there would be a zillion other incentives to still invent those things.

        People have been inventing stu
        • I'm not a historian, especially not a historian of patent law. I can't give you data. Sorry. Call yourself the winner of the argument if you like.

          But I do know that the rate of inventions increased dramatically in the past couple of hundred years. The United States was a dramatic mover in technology from its inception as a country. Perhaps it's a coincidence that the US also had a strong notion of patents (inherited from England, another patent-awarding country and producer of many of the Industrial Revolu
          • I'm not a historian, especially not a historian of patent law. I can't give you data. Sorry. Call yourself the winner of the argument if you like.

            I won't and that wasn't the point of my post really.

            But I do know that the rate of inventions increased dramatically in the past couple of hundred years. The United States was a dramatic mover in technology from its inception as a country. Perhaps it's a coincidence that the US also had a strong notion of patents (inherited from England, another patent-awarding co
          • by dwandy (907337)

            But I do know that the rate of inventions increased dramatically in the past couple of hundred years.

            Innovation is based on all invention that came before. Therefore I would expect innovation to grow at an increasing non-linear (exponential or logarithmic?) rate.
            Innovation 'expenditures' (time&money) are pulled from leisure time. In other words: We won't spend our time inventing before we hunt and gather food. So while the previous million years people spent the bulk of their day just trying to survi

          • You really should look more closely at your history.

            For example, those countries with the 'weakest' patent systems have often shown more innovation than those with 'strong'. This is particularly true of Switzerland and drug patents [blogspot.com], and even of Germany (compared to the US and Britain prior to the 1970s).

        • Care to provide any kind of proof that patents have anything to do with this whatsoever?

          Do you think that a pharmaceutical company would drop a billion dollars pushing a drug from discovery, to lab testing, to FDA approval if they were not guaranteed at least a few years to sell the drug without someone copying them for pocket change and under cutting them before they can turn a profit?
          • Being first to market, others needing time to figure out what you did and how it works give you a time advantage already.. Don't see any problem there.

            Regardless, there may be some very very specific areas where patents make sense, but that doesn't mean that every field of technology or every inmvention has to be bothered by it really.
            • If you are a small inventor, and have nothing but your product, you still need to line up funding, manufacturing and distribution, and marketng and promotion. Meanwhile, the big boys have all of those in place already, and can use their marketing to spread FUD about your product, and tell people to wait for thier vaporware.
              • And patents prevent that?

                I'm sure mr. Farnsworth agrees with you....

                You see, as long as you do this development in secret, you can come to market with your product before your competition has the slightest clue about your invention.

                Obtaining a patent however means publishing your invention, and enables those with much bigger pockets to ignore or fight your patent untill it becomes irrelevant.
          • First of all, please stop using italics print for your entire post. It is highly annoying.

            "Do you think that a pharmaceutical company would drop a billion dollars pushing a drug from discovery, to lab testing, to FDA approval if they were not guaranteed at least a few years to sell the drug without someone copying them for pocket change and under cutting them before they can turn a profit?"

            A very qualified no. Since without patents there may not be quite so many billions to be made in producing a drug; phar
    • Re:Doesn't follow (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brandybuck (704397)
      Read the article that quote points to. A bad patent is like throwing a rock through a window, an patent lawyers are like glaziers arguing that broken windows are good for (their) economy.
    • It's equally possible that the existence of patents doesn't provide any incentive to potential inventors. I think the truth is somewhere in between, but the main point is that the frequency of multiple independent invention doesn't really say anything one way or the other about the efficacy of patents as motivators for creating and publishing new ideas.

      What it does say is that most inventions do not take unique capabilities or unique ideas, and that the temporary economic monopoly in quite a few cases gets
    • Of course the truth is somewhere in the middle - duh! The outcry against patents is that in this day and age that it's being pushed to one extreme. It's not about the lone inventor in his basement or even the researcher in his lab - it's about corporations and their lawyers.

      Instead of asking if patents are single incentive for inventors and thus is crucial - perhaps this article should have us asking - do patents hurt inventors and despite them, we, as a society, get things done? After all, there was Ale
      • "I like that in order to get patents, companies have trade the knowledge in exchange for protection"

        There are some advantages to the function of patents, and this is the one that stands out as the greatest advantage.

        But the dilemma is a false one, we're not faced with a choice between monopoly or secrecey. There are many other ways we could accomplish the same thing; for example, we could scrap the monopoly part of patents and instead let the patent office hand out the money directly. That way the conflict
    • Re:Doesn't follow (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheLink (130905)
      Look up Douglas Englebart. The poor guy was so ahead of his time that any awarded patents would be useless.

      I don't see the benefit of awarding patents to everything. Perhaps there should be just a limited number of patents awarded a year. Pick the top 1000 or something.

      Or the top 1000 get 20 year protection, the next 10,000 get only 10 years. and the rest get 3 years ;).
      • I totally agree. In fact, I independently came up with the same idea, like what happens with many patents! I wrote my post above [slashdot.org] on the same thing (having a patent quota) before reading yours.
  • Elisha Gray (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dimwit (36756) * on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:42AM (#14896905)
    I don't normally post to Slashdot anymore, but I just want to point out that Elisha Gray is my great, great, great grandfather. Not that I saw any of the money. Ah well. It's something to tell the kids.
  • by PapayaSF (721268) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:46AM (#14896910) Journal
    Yes, patents can be abused, as with submarine patents [wikipedia.org]. And patents can slow technological progress, as with the wing warping [curtisswright.com] patent battles [centennialofflight.gov]. But I don't think it logically follows that patents are always bad, and that technological progress would be faster without them. After all, the patent system was created to reduce trade secrecy and and encourage invention, and it certainly does that, however imperfectly.
    • All to often, people have a tendancy to look at the goals and desires behind a system and not the nature of a system. The nature of the patent system is very simple --- "if you benefit from something that seems like seems like a copy of something we invented, then we reserve the right to beat you down" --- that's all there is to it. Everything else is just fluff added on to make it sound nice.

      Maybe they're beating them down to promote invention, maybe they're beating them down to destroy invention, maybe
    • The patent system is not an on/off switch, it can be improved.

      Personally my main problem with patents is that they all last 17 years. The patent reviewer should instead estimate the time until he would expect an independent rediscovery if the invention was hypothetically kept secret. Just a rough estimate is ok: "would this be reinvented in 1 month, 1 year, 10 years, or only in 50 years?". This would be a fair duration for protection.

      Another new rule is that inventions that can be kept as trade secrets can'
      • "The patent reviewer should instead estimate the time until he would expect an independent rediscovery if the invention was hypothetically kept secret."

        And of course, the "tricorder", "communicator", and "non-invasive medical scanner bed" are all obviously things we weren't likely to spontaniously invent until the 23rd century without some incredible act of genius, so the basic cell phone patents, PET scan patents and such should 'fairly' be protected for at least another 200 years. There were plenty of wel
        • I'm the GP's attorney. The GP has patented the ideas expressed in his original post. We demand that you immediately cease and desist expression of ideas that expand upon or enchance the original patented ideas of the GP or we will see you in court.

          Our patents expire in 20 years. At which point you may feel free to expand the patented ideas any way you like and advance the state of patent reform. Thank god for patents speeding this process along!
    • Patents good? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by typical (886006) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @03:48AM (#14897047) Journal
      But I don't think it logically follows that patents are always bad

      But it need not, for patents to be a net disadvantage.

      After all, the patent system was created to reduce trade secrecy and and encourage invention, and it certainly does that, however imperfectly.

      I'm not sure about that.

      At the research facility where I worked before the current one that I'm working at, important inventions that really provided an edge over the competition was always kept a trade secret? Why? Because everyone in the industry cross-licensed with each other, because otherwise nobody could actually build anything. Patenting something was just giving it to the competition. Patents were reserved for less useful things.

      The net effect was to keep anyone new from entering the market. Patents don't have to all be perfect -- if there are two hundred patents held by incumbents waiting to attack anyone wanting to enter the market, most of the patents can be thrown out and the newcomer is still going to have a hard time entering the market.
    • After all, the patent system was created to reduce trade secrecy and and encourage invention, and it certainly does that, however imperfectly.

      While I wasn't there when patents were first debated and granted, I'm not sure that that was the real reason. oh, I'm not saying that wasn't in the glossy, but I just don't think that it was the real reason.
      The real reason, as it always is, is money. If I could get a law passed that guaranteed my income (by way of eliminating competition) without further effort I'd

    • After all, the patent system was created to reduce trade secrecy and and encourage invention, and it certainly does that, however imperfectly.

      Not at all.

      The patent system in its original incarnation predates the USA by many centuries and was created to give the king control over inventions and their use.

      The idea was reused for other purposes (promoting invention), but that is from a much more recent time, and one can seriously debate how well this works (I'm not suggesting it never works, but I am saying th
  • In 100 years (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:49AM (#14896914) Homepage
    In 100 years time, Bill Gates will be credited with inventing the computer, and Al Gore the first public computer network. Sad, but you know it's true. Who invented the light bulb?
    • Who invented the light bulb?

      Duh! Everyone knows Steve Jobs invented the light bulb
    • Silly fool, in the future, Big Brother will have invented the light bulb, just like he invented the toilet, television, and rat face-cages.
    • Re:In 100 years (Score:5, Informative)

      by Captain DaFt (755254) <captain_daft@gmail . c om> on Saturday March 11, 2006 @06:19AM (#14897347) Journal
      Well, if by "light bulb" you mean electric light, the phenomenom was well known in scientific circles back in 1820, as the folowing quote from "Oersted and the Discovery of Electromagnetism" at http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/fgregory/oersted.htm [ufl.edu]
      shows:

      "Since I expected the greatest effect from a discharge associated with incandescence, I inserted in the circuit a very fine platinum wire above the place where the needle was located."

      In other words, a current through a thin wire made electric light.
      Not very practical though, only known power source was galvanic batteries (Which quickly ran down), and needed expensive platinum wire to keep the filament from melting or burning up right away.

      The obvious solution was to encase a cheaper filament in a vaccum (ie: bulb), but good vaccums were difficult to achieve, and good filaments were also a problem at the time. They needed to be cheap, very thin, mechanically strong, electrically conductive, (but not too much) and with stand high temprature, not an easy combo to come by.

      After some twenty years of research, English physicist and electrician, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan successfully demonstrated a true incandescent bulb in 1878 (a year earlier than Edison) http://www.maxmon.com/1878ad.htm [maxmon.com]

      Not that they were the only two working on it, just the first two to produce a practical version that got public attention. (As I recall, a German and a Canadian also demonstrated similar lights at about the same time, but I can't remember their names.) }:-P
      • Alexandr Lodygin held a patent for a filament lamp in Russia in 1874 (having applied for it in 1872), and established a company manufacturing those. It was not a commercial success though, but it certainly did draw some attention, enough for him to be awarded for the invention. He is also generally assumed to be the one who first came up with the idea of using tungsten filaments.
    • Who invented the light bulb?

      Thw problem isn't simply that of the light bulb.

      The problem is to engineer all the component parts of a commercially viable system: Power plants, distribution networks. If power is to be sold, its usage has to be metered. To reduce the risk of fire and electrocution, you need standards for household wiring, switches, fuses, etc.

      It takes a certain genius, organization, talent, money and discipline to fit all the pieces together. That is why men like Bell and Edison are remebere

  • by creimer (824291) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @02:50AM (#14896915) Homepage
    The one thing you will never see in this lifetime is Bill Gates standing in line at the Patent Office while Steve Ballmer barricades the front door.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 11, 2006 @03:02AM (#14896941)
    Even back in 1876, the USPTO ignored prior art.
    Philipp Reis' version of the telephone is from 1860.
    Antonio Meucci's version of the telephone is from 1854.
    Meucci's version is not really the invention of
    the phone either, the principle probably was discovered
    by Page in 1837, but Meucci *did* file for a US
    patent, which he did not get simply because he
    ran out of funds.

    So in 1876 there was a rush to get a patent
    on the phone, where four guys competed, none
    of whom was anywhere close to being the
    original inventor of the phone.

    Thomas
  • "Did you know the Indians invented the wire recorder?"

    --
    BMO

    P.S. - it's disturbing how "Everything You Know Is Wrong" is so similar to late-night talk radio these days.
  • by thorpie (656838) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @03:13AM (#14896970)

    Bridges come in all shapes and sizes, from the 4,200 ft span of the Golden Gate to the pipes under the road at the top end of Sandy Creek. If anything software is even more diverse, from programs with tens of millions of lines of code down to simple routines of a line or two to automate some mundane task.

    Constructing a bridge costs, as does developing software. The vast majority of bridges are public property. They have been funded and built by such a large pool of people - government's of one form or another - for the common good, for use by anyone at anytime. However there is a substantial pool of private bridges. Most of these are bridges built for specific non standard vehicles such as trains. Others are built for the conveyance of standard vehicles but tolls are charged for a variety of reasons.

    Starting from the precept "We are human, we can do anything and get to anywhere we want", a toll bridge must provide a cheaper and/or quicker alternative to other ways of getting from A to B. To invest in the toll bridge its constructor determines that he can charge a particular toll, at that toll he will get a particular amount of traffic and that this income will repay the cost of building the bridge. The constructor needs to satisfy themselves about the surety of the factors that affect the bridge usage. They minimize their risk by identifying as many factors that will adversely affect bridge traffic as possible and blocking these adverse factors where possible.

    Where huge bridges are required, the Golden Gate, Sydney Harbour and the like, tolls can be seen to be fair without imposing monopoly conditions on the general populace. No conditions need imposing on ferry services, no conditions need imposing blocking alternate routes, the bridge operates in a standard competitive environment because it is so obviously a beneficial object.

    On less obviously beneficial bridges the actions of people are substantial factors that affect the financial viability of the bridge. Controlling these actions is a form of monopoly rights granted by the relevant government(s). These rights include: restricting other river crossings; guarantees of road construction to ensure their bridge is the prime route over the river; concessions that the investors have the sole rights to offer peripheral services, service centres offering fuel and food etc. These rights are generally granted for a limited time and the bridge often reverts to public ownership at the expiration of this time.

    This model is open to abuse. The rights granted may be disproportionate to the benefits. A bridge may be built over a small creek for little cost and the constructor granted a perpetual ban on any other bridges being built 20 miles in either direction. Or the government may agree that other routes will be closed or allowed to degrade, or they may put restrictions on other services, or they may allow the operator to insist that users of the bridge utilize other services before they can use the bridge etc. etc.

    Transferring this view of bridges to intellectual property one would have to conclude that there are no Golden Gates or Sydney Harbour's. Every method developed has alternatives that can be simply developed and deployed. Intellectual property monopoly rights can only be related to the pipes under the headwaters of Sandy Creek with a guaranteed monopolies 20 miles in either direction. They are completely out of proportion with the benefits these pipes offer.

    In fact the situation is worse than this. A better metaphor is monopoly rights to a pipe under a train line. The pipe owners charge not only a toll for using the bridge but force you to load your car onto their railway carriage and force you to utilize their passenger service for the 200 yard journey over the Sandy Creek floodplain. The alternative is to drive an extra 50 miles through the mountains because they have monopoly veto rights over any road bridges over Sandy Creek.

    Another alternative, that can be likened to op

  • by mozumder (178398) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @03:24AM (#14897000)
    Patents are the exact opposite of a true free-market capitalistic system. In this case, the "goods" are ideas, and there is only one seller that controls the market for it. That seller determines the price and who can/cannot buy this idea. This is clearly a monopoly. Capitalism can only work when there's millions of sellers and millions of buyers. When such conditions do not exist, socialism needs to be instituted.

    Patents prevent a true free market for ideas, and yet, in our current system, the value of the ideas are controlled by the patent holder. The system of patents need to change, to include things like price controls of the ideas, or to allow multiple patent holders if developed independently.
  • Patent = monopoly (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pesc (147035) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @03:41AM (#14897028)
    The problem with patents is that most people think that patent owners are heroes and if your country awards more patents it is an indicator on how inventive your country is. People also believe that patents encourage a competitive industry.

    Newsflash: Patents = monopolies

    A patent is a monopoly on a technology. The patent office is a government institution that hands out several thousand monopolies each year. Most of these monopolies are awarded to foreign corporations.

    Why would someone who believes in market economy and free competition support the government handing out monopolies?

    How can handing out monopolies to corporations increase competition in the market place?

    Why is Microsoft, a convicted monopolist, applying for, and getting a large number of legal monopolies? Why does the government sue MS for abusing their monopoly, and then give them thousands of legally enforcable monopolies?
    • Patents, unlike their Mickey Mouse extended brethren, are still limited in term.

      Why would someone who believes in market economy and free competition support the government handing out monopolies?

      No matter how big or skillful a company is, someone else will one up you.

      Say I design the holy grail of automotive technology. I spend years researching optimal mix ratios, air flow diagrams, doing computer modelling to increase burn efficiency. End result, it doubles the mileage of your average gas guzzler.

      Now, wi
      • Now, with a patent, I stand to recover my money invested at very least, if only by selling it to Conoco-Phillips for them to bury.
        Without a patent? I'll get mabye two months making it on my own to recover costs before everyone knocks it off and I'm irrelevant. I probably won't make back anything near research cost before you can buy a Hong Kong knockoff version made by Chinese slave labor for less than my cost to have it machined.

        There's some false logic in there.
        First of all, even with a patent there

  • by doudou42 (691076) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @03:43AM (#14897035)
    The real inventor of telephone is Antonio Meucci, Bell stole the idea from him.
    What is amazing is the fact the two names quoted in the original post are Bell and Gray : The person who tried to patent the idea.

    • Bell stole the idea from him.

      Bell's research like the Wrights" is well-documented.

      He came to the problem because of an initial interest in the multiplex telegraph and with the imagination to make the connection between his work with the deaf and the possibility of the telephone.

      Congress is always willing to throw a bone to the ethnic vote. These resolutions are passed and forgotten without a second thought.

  • I wouldn't say that (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dtfinch (661405) * on Saturday March 11, 2006 @04:02AM (#14897080) Journal
    Several people invented the telephone, independently, partly because they all wanted patent-enforced monopolies that could make them rich.

    Maybe I'm chasing an impossible dream, but I have to wonder if there's a better way to provide a strong incentive to create ideas and other information other than by placing artificial restrictions on the availability and use of that information. I've got no ideas here.
    • You've hit upon the fundamental tension between (1) incentives for developing new ideas (2) efficiently using all currently known information

      Information, especially in today's Internet age, has a distribution cost of close to 0. The cost of giving information to 1 additional person (marginal cost) is close to 0 and therefore the economically efficient price is close to 0. To efficiently distribute CURRENTLY KNOWN information, the price should be close to 0.

      BUT, if the price for all information were 0,

  • by RotateLeftByte (797477) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @04:32AM (#14897113)
    I know there are many claims to who is the inventor of the Telephone. There are similar claims about the TV.
    The link to the "inventor" of the tv fails to completely mention John Logie Baird.
    This very eccentric scotsman was a pioneer in TV development. There is still to this day a great debate amongst historians about who was first.

    http://www.infed.org/walking/wa-baird.htm [infed.org]

    The first TV pictures he sent were down a phone line!
    At least the place where the worlds first TV station broadcast from is still standing and is a great monument to those involved.
    • The link to the "inventor" of the tv fails to completely mention John Logie Baird.

      Baird stuck with mechanical scanning and display well into the thirties, long after the superiority of a pure electronic system had been demonstrated.

  • Would we have a better system if we let all 4 inventors share ideas and work on a mutually compatible telephone system? I doubt they would have agreed to it to be honest. Inventors are stubborn, "I'm right you're not" kind of people :)

    We all complain about the battle for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, all those memory card standards, all number of things. Patents ARE like breaking windows; in such a free market it encourages thousands of "patent-avoiding" inventions. Companies (and inventors) would rather have their o
  • And unfortunately it appears to be the prevailing Slashdot logic.... The fallacious argument reduces to this:
    (1) SOME patents are bad patents (they patent obvious and/or previously innovated ideas)
    (2) Therefore ALL patents are bad and our society shouldn't have patents

    (1) is true. (2) is false. (2) does not follow from (1). The hostility to IP on slashdot really amazes me, especially considering all the stuff we would not have if it were not for patents:

    AIDs drugs would never have been developed if

    • But the very requirement that it be high-priced and obscenely profitable warps the development to an extreme degree at various levels, both in the value of the drug to the masses who cannot afford it, after such huge moneys were spent on it that might have been spent on a more-rational approach if one of the requirements had not been developing something so different from traditional approaches that no one else would be allowed to copy it when it was completed.

      People might make the same argument about an o

  • Basically... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Majin Bubu (455010)
    ...The article says: Bell was not the first to invent the telephone (that's why in Italy we honor Meucci for that, even though the idea was probably even earlier) but he was the first to patent it, because he was richer and had better lawyer. It seems that nothing has changed in the past 150 years after all.
  • Broken window qft (Score:3, Informative)

    by ichigo 2.0 (900288) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @06:22AM (#14897354)
    A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker's shop. The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone. A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies. After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection. And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side. It will make business for some glazier. As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it. How much does a new plate glass window cost? Two hundred and fifty dollars? That will be quite a sum. After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum. The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles. The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

    Now let us take another look. The crowd is at least right in its first conclusion. This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier. The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaker to learn of a death. But the shopkeeper will be out $250 that he was planning to spend for a new suit. Because he has had to replace a window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury). Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window. Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit. If we think of him as a part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

    The glazier's gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor's loss of business. No new "employment" has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.


    source [jim.com]
  • No TV dispute (Score:3, Informative)

    by Veteran (203989) on Saturday March 11, 2006 @08:41AM (#14897642)
    There was no TV patent dispute: Farnsworth invented it, RCA attempted to steal it and failed. The history of RCA under Sarnof is truly disgusting. The company fortune was built on patents stolen from Major Armstrong who invented the super regenerative, super heterodyne, and FM radios as well as the phase lock loop. Armstrong committed suicide after he lost - in one of the worst court decisions in recorded history.- the FM case to RCA

    Most of the abuses of the patent system would simply disappear if only individuals could own patents - instead of companies.
  • In retrospect, there always seems to come a time when certain ideas are "ripe" to start showing up independently, almost at once, in similar incarnations all over the place - not unlike flowers in spring.

    This may of course suggest that many "inventions" are nowhere near as unrelated as their "inventors" might (quite honestly) wish to believe - which calls for restraint in strengthening the patent system without clear evidence of its benefits.

    Sir William G. Armstrong, president of the British Association [the-ba.net]

  • for example, where great mathematical proofs come from.

    However, where most inventions come from doesn't seem at all mysterious to me. The only really surprising thing in the whole lineage of the telephone is the inventions of the idea of an electrical circuit. That was a stroke of genius.

    After the ciruit was invented, it seems to me it was only a matter of time before somebody invented the doorbell, which in turn begat the telegraph which in turn begat the telephone which in turn begat radio.

    Along the wa
  • Edison DID improve Bell's telephone with the carbon
    grain transmitter. Perhaps this is the reference to Edison
    inventing the telephone. Edision also missed something else,
    though it might have been obvious in hindsight, it would have
    been hard to see at the time.

    The telephone in Edison's time was limited in range. At the
    time he improved the telephone transmitter there was still the
    problem of long distance phone circuits, too much power
    lost in the wires. A way to recover the lost signal was needed.
    Induction

The first Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist "Jack." -- H.L. Mencken

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