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Communications Patents Science

Alexander Graham Bell - Patent Thief? 280

Posted by timothy
from the game-of-telephone-but-with-patents dept.
DynaSoar writes "MSNBC is carrying an AP article reviewing a book, due out January 7, that claims to show definitive evidence that Bell stole the essential idea for telephony from Elisha Gray. Author Seth Shulman shows that Bell's notebooks contain false starts, and then after a 12-day gap during which he visited the US Patent Office, suddenly show an entirely different design, very similar to Gray's design for multiplexing Morse code signals. Shulman claims that Bell copied the design from Gray's patent application and was improperly given credit for earlier submission, with the help of a corrupt patent examiner and aggressive lawyers. Shulman also claims that fear of being found out is the reason Bell distanced himself from the company that carried his name. And if Gray Telephone doesn't seem to roll off the tongue, Shulman also noted that both of them were two decades behind the German inventor Johann Philipp Reis, who produced the first working telephony system."
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Alexander Graham Bell - Patent Thief?

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:22AM (#21829182)
    What's truly amazing is that two men (perhaps more) were working, pretty much independently of each other, yet came up with the same basic idea in such a parallel fashion that they ended up arriving at the U.S. patent office withing HOURS of each other.

    In the history profession, we used to have an idea called "Great Men" [wikipedia.org] (the idea that great, unique individuals make history). But in recent decades, this idea has fallen out of favor in the history field, in favor of the idea that mass movements and attitude shifts within the larger society "make" the history (the so-called "Zeitgeist" [wikipedia.org] idea). Traditionally, inventions like the phone, radio, etc. have been attributed to a unique individual genius. Yet, the more we learn, we see that theses inventions seemed almost "in the air" of the times, with any number of people developing them independently of one another. It seems that if Edison hadn't "invented" the phonograph, someone else would have (and someone else probably did, or was at least working on it at the same time).

    I used to be a big proponent of "Great Men" history myself, but stuff like this gives me pause.

    • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:35AM (#21829284)
      I don't think you have to look much farther than calculus (Newton and Leibnoz) or evolution (Darwin and Wallace) or the incandescant light bulb (Edison and a cast of hundreds) to see that this is so.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        On the other hand, let's say there are 4.5 billion people in the world (I'm not sure how many there were back then). That's a lot of people; is it really so strange that two people with have the same idea, given that they have the same technology, the same lack in technology, etc...?
        • by morcego (260031) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @12:19PM (#21830216)

          is it really so strange that two people with have the same idea, given that they have the same technology, the same lack in technology, etc...?


          Actually, no. There is always a relationship somewhere. All technologies these days (and for the past decades, or maybe centuries) is based on something previously in existence, be it a technology, ideas, concepts etc.

          Also, you are correct the lack in technology is a great factor. Most creations are made to solve a given problem already in existence. You can see it on the F/OSS movement: scratching your own itch, I think they call it.

          The problem is there are always too many things to consider, so a correct historical analyzes is usually not possible. Historical researchers can only do so much.
        • by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday December 27, 2007 @01:47PM (#21831132) Journal

          That's a lot of people; is it really so strange that two people with have the same idea

          Does that mean if L. Ron hadn't invented Scientology somebody else would have? ;)

          Scary thought.....

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by sumdumass (711423)
            It already has been started many times over.

            Think about what we know of Scientology, outside the complete storyline, everything else exists or has existed in some form throughout human history. We have had con men preying on people suffering from depression and significant events in people's lives. Scientology does this. It created some story to draw people in a sort of make believe world, Look at WoW or Star Wars or a number of other stories. It uses force to keep people inside the organization in line and
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blueg3 (192743)
        In most of these cases, there's some communication between the individuals working on the same idea, but most of the work is done in private. Often the appearance of their work is different, though, even if it's fundamentally the same. (The calculus is a good example.)

        Even then, scientists and inventors were not that insular -- the foundations of all of these discoveries had been slowly generating through previous works. In more recent times, the communication within the scientific community makes this stan
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jgeeky (974074)
        perhaps this theory of determinism over individualism is more fitting when looking at niche inventions. when society needs a certain concept, or innovation, and there exists a finite number of solutions, and within those, a single - or even several a la Edison/Tesla - feasible solution, it is more like that the individual is less important.

        in terms of history at large, i don't know that it is so easy to say that the individual does not account for the majority of the history. looking at post ww1 germany,
    • by pieterh (196118) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:37AM (#21829306) Homepage
      Don't forget that the patent establishment has invested a huge amount of money and effort, over the last 150+ years, to promote a mythology to support its claims to perpetuate its system of exclusive privileges. The myths are deep and taken as real by many who should be more skeptical. I debunked the main myths on Free Software Magazine [freesoftwaremagazine.com].

      One of the big old myths is the "inventor" and "invention" myths. In fact, innovation is well understood (since the mid-1800's at least) to be a social effect, driven by market demand for new products and enabled by technological progress. Produce a new material in cheap enough quantities, and dozens of "inventors" will come up with similar new applications for it.

      Of course there cases of lone inventors who work outside the rest of society - these are so rare they prove the general case that invention is the result of a social network. And this social network, which may be less obvious in some industries, is absolutely central to the innovation process in software, which is why the concept of software patents is to utterly bogus and corrupt.

      Patents of all kinds are just a form of protectionist economics, along with trade barriers, subsidies, legislated monopolies, and so on. These work for those who can work the system, everyone else pays the cost.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Anyone who believes patents aren't a necessity in a free market system is a fool. If it weren't for patents we'd have one or two large corporations who manufatured and sold us everything. Anybody who came up with a new idea would have it copied by one of the large companies and brought to market faster and cheaper than the person who initially invented it.
        • by pebs (654334) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:56AM (#21829484) Homepage
          Anyone who believes patents aren't a necessity in a free market system is a fool. If it weren't for patents we'd have one or two large corporations who manufatured and sold us everything. Anybody who came up with a new idea would have it copied by one of the large companies and brought to market faster and cheaper than the person who initially invented it.

          The problem here is that you are putting too much value on ideas. Ideas aren't really worth that much. If anything, its the implementation of the ideas that is worth something. Ideas are a dime a dozen.
          • I wish I had mod points. True, very true. I've had any number of ideas over the years that - within a couple of years - became highly successful products. Of course, I lacked the financing and technical know-how to make them into those successful products, which is why I'm not a billionaire. Consider the MP3 player - anybody could have figured out it was going to be a big product. But you had to put in the time to make a compact device with good battery life and a decent UI, which was the hard part.
          • I think you've got it backwards, actually. Implementation is cheap, once the idea is understood. If the only barrier was implementation, then there would be nothing new, only things that we knew could be done, that we have finally become able to produce.

            The reason for the patent system is to keep people from hiding their ideas away. The alternative to the patent system isn't free information, but severely protected, jealously guarded information. Products would be more expensive, because you'd have to safeguard the ideas that went into them by building misdirection into the product. Ideas could actually be lost, in cases where the inventor dies with his secret, which, of course, he'd be unable to share with anyone without endangering his livelihood.

            I don't disagree that the patent system is completely screwed up right now, but the solution is not to throw it away. It has a purpose.
            • by pieterh (196118) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @12:14PM (#21830166) Homepage
              Trade secrets are very hard to keep in any case. There are a million ways that trade secrets leak out, most trivially by people taking a good look at the products in question. If a secret could be really kept, the person holding it would not seek a patent. There would be no point. Secrecy is a cheaper and more efficient protection for a market, if it's possible. The patent protects ideas that cannot be otherwise protected. So in fact you have it completely backwards: the patent system protects ideas that are otherwise unprotectable.

              And since disclosing ideas before they are patented is harmful to getting a patent, the patent system actually discourages disclosure and promotes secrecy.

              Society gets the worst possible deal - monopolies in exchange for ideas that would become public knowledge anyhow, and increased secrecy in areas where collaboration is needed for innovation.

              It's not a sane system. It exists because of the logic of power and money and history, not economic logic.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by servognome (738846)

                Trade secrets are very hard to keep in any case. There are a million ways that trade secrets leak out, most trivially by people taking a good look at the products in question.

                There are many types of trade secrets. Knowing how to make something in a unique way won't necessarily come out by just looking at a product. Patents aren't just about revealing an idea, but how to actually realize it
                Further not everything is easy to identify just by inspection. For example chemcial compounds are difficult to revers

        • by cHiphead (17854)
          Patents are not part of a "free market system", and like Copyright (big C not little c), they are a stain on a free and democratic society. Additionally, Democracy and Freedom are more important than capitalist 'free markets', so I guess the entire point is moot.

          Cheers.
      • "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

                Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675

        http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Isaac_Newton/ [quotationspage.com]
        • by Space cowboy (13680) * on Thursday December 27, 2007 @11:47AM (#21829876) Journal
          What is less known about that particular quote, is that it's actually a finely-crafted insult from Newton, aimed at Hooke.

          The two men had a very acrimonious relationship, and Hooke had accused Newton of "borrowing" ideas from him in the past. Hooke was a short man, and Newton's quote was basically saying "I have indeed made use of the discoveries of great men, but you are not one of those men". The implication is that Hooke was a midget in scientific terms, as well as in physical stature.

          Simon.
      • by epine (68316)
        The first time I heard the expression twenty years ago, "the exception that proves the rule", I thought it had the hallmarks of group think.

        Certainly you are right that the patent system has a lot invested in the "great man" mystique. I don't have a problem with this. What I have a problem with is that the patent system grants two orders of magnitude more patents than the number of great inventors justifies.

        In general, if society determines that a precious resource is scarce, the reward is vastly amplifie
        • "The first time I heard the expression twenty years ago, "the exception that proves the rule", I thought it had the hallmarks of group think."

          In one of his F&SF essays, Isaac Asimov, asserts that the expression assumes the third definition of "prove" [answers.com]: "To determine the quality of by testing; try out."

          That is really the only sense in which an exception could be said to prove a rule, at any rate. Now I seem to remember the essay applying that idea to the expression:

          "The barber cuts everyone in town's hair

        • by werfele (611119)

          The first time I heard the expression twenty years ago, "the exception that proves the rule", I thought it had the hallmarks of group think.

          I think you've misunderstood the expression [wikipedia.org]. The "proves [m-w.com]" in the expression is the (perhaps somewhat outdated) second meaning in Merriam-Websters, "to test the truth, validity, or genuineness of." The point is that the exception ought to make you rethink the general applicability of the rule.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Don't forget that the patent establishment has invested a huge amount of money and effort, over the last 150+ years, to promote a mythology to support its claims to perpetuate its system of exclusive privileges. The myths are deep and taken as real by many who should be more skeptical. I debunked the main myths on Free Software Magazine.

        One of the big old myths is the "inventor" and "invention" myths. In fact, innovation is well understood (since the mid-1800's at least) to be a social effect, driven by m

    • by dsginter (104154) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:55AM (#21829470)
      What's truly amazing is that two men (perhaps more) were working, pretty much independently of each other, yet came up with the same basic idea in such a parallel fashion that they ended up arriving at the U.S. patent office withing HOURS of each other.

      The system is essentially a "finders-keepers" deal, as it sits.

      If you want to fix the patent system, then you will reconstruct it roughly as follows:
      • Accept all submissions that pass a basic sanity check
      • Keep all submissions secret for X [days|weeks|months]
      • If two submissions are received for the same "invention" within this timeframe, then disallow it as obvious
      • To help facilitate a baseline for obvious, allow the general public to submit their obvious ideas at no charge (no need to check this overwhelming amount of info - but keep it handy for posterity).
      • Require patent applicants to outline the level of investment necessary to realize a given patent - the system was designed to protect the investments of entrepreneurs so, if little to no investment is required, then there is no need for a patent on a given idea. Also, patent suit awards could be derived from this information accordingly.
      Just some common sense, people.
      • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @11:07AM (#21829562) Journal
        A good, honest, rational solution rather than ranting and raging with little useful information and no add to the topic?

        You must be new here.

        I had a few of those thoughts myself, but not all of them. Nice (and short) read.

        I would add that people should be allowed to submit evidence of prior-art after patent acceptance without having to go through legal processes (violating the patent, going to court, and then *hoping* to win).
      • Or better yet, just fucking get rid of it altogether. If it isn't physical, it shouldn't be patented, for example, 1 click buying. Are you kidding me? Amazing this world we've created.
        • by dsginter (104154)
          Or better yet, just fucking get rid of it altogether.

          I'm trying to be pragmatic whilst addressing this urge - you simply cannot go up against the establishment with this sort of knee jerk. But this sentiment is what I am trying to address with my last point (e.g. - most software patents can be implemented in a few hours in mom's basement and, as such, are not patent-able under my suggested structure).

          I don't know if "they" are listening, but the last time that I opined constructively [slashdot.org] on the patent system,
        • by blincoln (592401)
          If it isn't physical, it shouldn't be patented

          Is (for example) a software algorithm for controlling packet routing really that different than a mechanical device which controls fuel flow in an internal combustion engine? They're both just making logical decisions, even though one is more analogue than the other.
          • Is (for example) a software algorithm for controlling packet routing really that different than a mechanical device which controls fuel flow in an internal combustion engine? They're both just making logical decisions, even though one is more analogue than the other.

            Well actually the router device that uses the algorithm to route the packets would be patentable, not the algorithm itself. Just like you would seek a patent on the mechanical device that controlled fuel flow, not its internal parts.

            Why the di

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by eln (21727)
        The funny thing about common sense is it's not so common. Also, big ideas tend to fall apart during the implementation stage.

        # Accept all submissions that pass a basic sanity check

        What exactly is a basic sanity check? Does the patent "make sense"? To who? As you can see from some of the patents out there, the patent office already accepts pretty much everything.

        # Keep all submissions secret for X [days|weeks|months]

        Okay, that's a nice idea, but it would be difficult to enforce. Even if you could enforce it, you would have all sorts of conspiracy claims about the patent office burying patent applications rela

      • by Znork (31774)
        "If you want to fix the patent system"

        As long as you retain the monopoly nature of the patent system it's unfixable. It's like arguing about how the Soviet state-run monopoly system could have been made to work if only comittee meetings were open and the public had an idea box.

        It's not the ease or difficulty with which you can obtain a patent that causes the problem; it's the fact that it gives you the power to prevent anyone else from doing the same thing.

        Fixing the patent system inevitably means you have
      • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @12:11PM (#21830148) Homepage
        Accept all submissions that pass a basic sanity check

        I'm not sure what this means.

        Keep all submissions secret for X [days|weeks|months]

        Oh, I disagree. I think that the PTO should publish all submissions immediately, regardless of whether or not they ultimately are patented. First, because government business should always be done in the open if at all possible. Second, because if an inventor tries to submit an invention and only later withdraws it (perhaps after he decides he'd rather not publish at all) then I don't see why we should honor his wishes to such an extent that he can avoid publication. Third, because rival inventors should be able to be informed about what the PTO is actually doing on a day-to-day basis.

        If two submissions are received for the same "invention" within this timeframe, then disallow it as obvious

        Well, that would be grossly different from what obviousness has meant in the past. Traditionally, an invention is obvious if any person having ordinary skill in the art (e.g. a generic electrical engineer) and a comprehensive knowledge of prior art and absolutely no imagination whatsoever, could reasonably have made the invention at that time.

        That two people have a brilliant idea at the same time isn't obviousness, it's just coincidence.

        To help facilitate a baseline for obvious, allow the general public to submit their obvious ideas at no charge (no need to check this overwhelming amount of info - but keep it handy for posterity).

        Why? And who cares? Ideas are not patentable; only inventions are. An invention might have originated from an idea, but it is far more mature. Basically, an idea is pie-in-the-sky wishing, while an invention can actually work. People dreamt of flying via machines since classical Greece, at least, but that doesn't mean that that should have meant anything when we finally figured it out.

        Require patent applicants to outline the level of investment necessary to realize a given patent - the system was designed to protect the investments of entrepreneurs so, if little to no investment is required, then there is no need for a patent on a given idea. Also, patent suit awards could be derived from this information accordingly.


        I disagree. The application process fulfills this role already. It's time-consuming to file for a patent, and often somewhat costly. This means that if an inventor doesn't himself think that the invention is economically worth the trouble, he won't bother, and the invention will just be in the public domain rapidly, if anything happens. Since you're only increasing the applicant's burden, this won't change anyway. If he feels that he can recoup the costs of getting the patent, plus make enough of a profit that it outweighs his best alternative, then he'll pursue one. You don't need to do anything here, and for God's sake, you don't want to weed out the starry-eyed inventors who have no grasp on finances. We want their inventions to be publicized, regardless of whether they're really viable.

        There's a number of things that can improve the system, but not these, IMO.
      • by roman_mir (125474)
        Keep all submissions secret for X [days|weeks|months] - Ouch. It is not a good idea to allow someone this kind of power. If you work for a patent office, then all you have to do to invalidate a patent is provide the patent details to a 3rd party, which will then submit the 'invention' once more as their own within your timeframe.

        Can't trust anyone.
      • by Dan East (318230)
        To help facilitate a baseline for obvious, allow the general public to submit their obvious ideas at no charge (no need to check this overwhelming amount of info - but keep it handy for posterity).

        I'd like to submit a device that utilizes the state of Elementary Particles, the Strong Force, the Weak Force, the Electromagnetic Force, and / or the Force of Gravity to perform tasks related to modifying the quality of life of, or providing entertainment to, human-kind.

        Dan East
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by arivanov (12034)
      Yep. And if stuff like that did not make you pause the fact that you gave an example which was simultaneously invented by at least two people should.

      Radio was invented nearly simultaneously by Marconi and Popov in 1895 and surprise surprise it was all based on a work by German (Hertz) from a few years before that. Similarly, while Marconi invented very little (most inventions were done by Hertz, Popov and Ducretes) he gets the credit because he successfully drove it through the patent system.

      Yet another his
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rs79 (71822)
        "

        The patent was later given to Tesla.

        I worked for the Gray Telephone and Telepgraph company in Los Angeles in the 80s. It had been renamed "Teleautograph" and made those funny "telewriter" things. They were getting out of that and selling fax machiens and over the power line email terminals when I left in 1989.
      • by anethema (99553)
        Actually, here is a nice little time line describing how Tesla was the first to demonstrate, patent, etc a radio.

        http://www.mercury.gr/tesla/marcen.html [mercury.gr]

        From other sources, it appears that Marconi directly used Tesla's inventions (patented) in his demonstration of cross Atlantic radio communication.

        Other than being a good business man and furthering the use of radio, he really had very little to do with its invention.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ShawnDoc (572959)
        Marconi is not famous because of the patent. He is famous as being the first one to propose using radio waves to send signals beyond LOS and that they could be used as a replacement for telegraph lines. At the time, his contemporaries believed Hertzian waves were only line of sight and so useless beyond a very short distance. It was his expiraments and work with the UK postal system that made people see the commercial application of Hertzian waves and drove much of the research that evolved into modern d
    • Even if many inventions were actually the result of several people rushing to create the same thing, doesn't the possibility of fame and fortune help to drive all of them? Patents help to create that possibility - that the inventor will get to make a fortune, rather than having his/her idea copied and dominated by people who simply have better manufacturing capacities.

      Only one runner wins a race, but all the runners compete with the prize in mind. I don't think you can assume that since there are many run

      • I should have said this in my parent post, but the X Prizes are a good example. Would teams compete so hard to design efficient cards if there were no prize money, and if big auto companies could simply take their designs without paying for them?

        We just had a story on the Automotive X Prize [xprize.org] recently. I'm excited to see what it will produce.

      • by Znork (31774)
        "Patents help to create that possibility - that the inventor will get to make a fortune"

        Eh, if you look at the patent system today you'd do financially better serving fries with that and playing the lottery.

        "I don't think you can assume that since there are many runners, the prize isn't important."

        As the prize is mainly the right to trip anyone running in the next race you're unlikely to end up with a net benefit. Instead you end up with a lot of runners injured on the track, some prize winners offering pro
        • Eh, if you look at the patent system today you'd do financially better serving fries with that and playing the lottery.

          That's not what I'm arguing. What I'm arguing is that the concept of a patent system is good.

          Look, if I were to invent a super-efficient solar cell, how would I get it manufactured? Unless I happen to be both an engineer AND a businessman, it's going to be tough to found my own company, build my own factories, etc. And even if I do, without patents, a large company could just buy my cel

    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @11:46AM (#21829864) Homepage Journal
      I just wish that we could put an end to the one answer myth.
      It is both.
      The phonograph is actually a prime example of the Great Man idea. No one was really working on the idea of recording sound until Edison invented the phonograph.
      The incandescent light bulb, the airplane, and radio where all inventions that where well on the way.
      The real answer is that sometimes it is a brilliant flash from the blue and other times it is a lot of great people working on a problem and one of them gets there first.

    • There are great businessmen - and the work by them are often shaded by dirt in some parts. Of course - it's a little late for the Bell/Gray patent to be resolved, but it also brings forward that the patent purpose of "first come - first served" may be flawed.

      In science where patents aren't part of the problem there is still the "first come - first served" problem, but in that case the secondary contributions doesn't have to be dismissed - they can actually improve parts of the first contribution with only

    • "I used to be a big proponent of "Great Men" history myself, but stuff like this gives me pause."

      I've always liked the term 'One in a Million'. Ok, so if your idea is one in a million. Think about how many others across the globe had that idea. Not to discredit great ideas or anything. But stories like this certainly give me pause as well. Give credit where credit is due certainly. But giving credit to the person who hit the patent office first and talked to the right people is a bit stupid.

      I should have be
  • how timely (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:23AM (#21829188) Homepage Journal
    Brought to you by the isn't-this-just-a-little-bit-too-late department.
  • by wcrowe (94389) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:24AM (#21829198)
    So he's sort of the Bill Gates of the 19th century.

    • by deadweight (681827) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @11:10AM (#21829578)
      Marconi *WAS* Bill Gates more so than anyone but Bill himself. He took existing technology and used clever legal maneuvering to build a monopoly. he used his wealth to buy out or destroy any competition. Radio was NOT invented by him. Tesla did it, but was more interested in transmitting power than information. A number of others had working radio inventions too, but no one saw the commercial prospects clearly. Marconi did see them and the legal/semi-legal shenanigans would have brought a smile to Bill G. He didn't SELL radios, he LEASED them to ship owners and provided the operators. These operators were told NOT to communicate with ship or shore stations run by any other company but Marconi! Doesn't that sound familiar! The scheme fell apart when the Titanic inspired the first SOLAS convention and rules for wireless. Read Thunderstruck for the amazing details of all this. Ham and CB operators will get a laugh at the fact that intentional QRM started basically with the invention of the second radio :(
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@@@devinmoore...com> on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:29AM (#21829236) Homepage Journal
    Bell Stamp: I invented the telephone.

    Gray: You stole it from me, Elisha Gray.

    Bell: Read the patent number, bitch!
  • by a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:30AM (#21829246) Homepage Journal
    Long before the mentioned men 'invented' the telephone in 1834 italian Antonio Meucci invented it - that was aknowledged by the US House of Representatives in 2002 - "if Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Meucci [wikipedia.org]

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:39AM (#21829322)
      Anytime an invention is mentioned, it seems to become an ethnic an nationalistic pissing contest. It starts with a reference to an American inventing something, then some European chimes in with "A European did it first." Then some black nationalist chimes in with "It was actually invented by a black man working for the so-called inventor." And on..and on. So, I'm not going to get into a pissing contest with you. But I will point out the illogic of the idea that someone invented this almost a full 50 years before anyone else, and quote the wikipedia entry on the gentleman at hand:

      However, many modern scholars outside of Italy do not recognize the claims that Meucci's device had any bearing on the development of the telephone. Tomas Farley also writes that, "Nearly every scholar agrees that Bell and Watson were the first to transmit intelligible speech by electrical means. Others transmitted a sound or a click or a buzz but our boys [Bell and Watson] were the first to transmit speech one could understand."
      • by techpawn (969834)
        In the end you can claim a lot of things, you can even get people to back you up on your claim. That doesn't make it true. The only people who really know the truth are the people directly involved, all others are just securing their own place in history as a bookmark for an event.
      • Thank you. I was going to comment along the same lines but I also wanted to point out that there is more to "inventing" than simply conceptualizing an idea, you have to make it practical and economical as well. John Logie Baird created the first working television system which he designed around electromechanical principles, but when the money men saw the superiority of an all-electronic system his invention died off. Like so many innovators before him, he wasn't able to make it practical.

        Similarly, Nikola
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        And it is here that I should point out that Bell was Scottish (born in my own fair City of Edinburgh) which makes him European (tho' arguably not at the time!). That's the trouble with everything that's got a modicum of thought/intelligence behind it - Americans' always think that they invented everything when it's clear to all those who looked, that the Scots invented the modern world [amazon.co.uk]. Telephone, Television, Penicillin and all the rest of it.

        Try peeing higher than that :p

        (Now I grant you you may have b

      • Um, No. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cliveholloway (132299) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @01:12PM (#21830788) Homepage Journal

        Meucci had a voice link from his workshop to his mother year's before Bell's "patent". He'd been suing Bell for years when he ran out of money/died. It's pretty well established that Bell stole his patents. I think If you read the page linked to in the relevant foot note [about.com], you will see it's not as cut and dried as you selectively quoted. And who is Tomas Farley anyway? I can't see anything in Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] quoting him as an expert on anything.

        What we do know is that Meucci's sample hardware submitted to the Patent Office was "mislaid", and that one of Bell's close business associates worked at the Patent Office. Coincidence maybe, but worth investigating deeper than pulling a random quote from Wikipedia by an unknown source.

      • You should read Shakespeare in the original Klingon
    • by geekoid (135745)
      Too bad the patent office is just an agency that says you registered the patent a x time, and not some magic house of pixie's. Cause if you can show you had it earlier, you get the credit.
  • by FredFredrickson (1177871) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:34AM (#21829274) Homepage Journal
    I'm another victim of this type of fraud. It seems that there needs to be a safeguard against this type of thing.

    I invented a little button that allows you to buy things by clicking a single button once [slashdot.org], but I keep getting threatened with law suits!! THIS NEEDS TO STOP! I WANT MY ROYALTIES! Damn you patent squatters!
  • Actually... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anita Coney (648748) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:36AM (#21829286) Homepage
    ...every major invention was stolen from me. Any day now I'm going to invent everything, including a time machine. I'll get stuck in the past when everyone will start stealing my ideas. I'll die penniless in 1926.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      John Titor? Are you back?
      • Nope, he's actually my father, sister, and 2nd cousin, twice removed. Don't ask me to explain. Thanks.
    • by andphi (899406)
      No, no, no. You have it all wrong.

      Everything of any significance was invented by Chairman Mao Ze Dong and also by President for Life Kim Il Sung and also by the great working people of [insert socialist dictatorship here]. In a few years, we might be able to add would-be President for Life Hugo "No, Really, I'm just like Simon Bolivar" Chavez to this list of pioneering inventor-liberators.
  • We're debating patents how many decades old when there are patents now that are obvious rip offs and trolling? Yes, this is an interesting historical debate about how broken the patent system IS and has been but don't we have more pressing current matters with the patent office?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Intron (870560)
      Those who don't study history are doomed to reinvent it. And then patent it. ?? And then profit!
  • Really. There is a missing time, and then government official help him, cause they are all corrupt, and then evil lawyers came in to shut everyone up.
    The more you look at it the more people that would have been involved.
    Please. How about some, oh I don't know, evidence.

  • Even the article concedes that Gray's invention wasn't for spoken words over the phone, it was for multiplexing morse code signals to make a more efficient telegraph. Sure, Gray may have been the better technologist, but Bell should get some larger props for seeing the point that you wouldn't need telegraphs any more at all. Saying that Gray invented the telephone because Bell borrowed some of his ideas is like saying that Reimann invented Relativity because Einstein used some of his math. In both cases, it was the application and vision of a technology that is more interesting than the mechanism itself. Neither Bell nor Gray's inventions are even relevant now, but the idea of spoken communications at a distance is.

    • Well, the joke's on him then. Because now we translate voice into a binary code not at all dissimilar to the way the original telegraph worked. And it's multiplexed!
  • I thought this was established historical fact. What with the patent clerk who let Bell have the patent owning up and all.

    I've known about this for years, since I was a teenager.
  • Rubbish (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gilesjuk (604902) <.giles.jones. .at. .zen.co.uk.> on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:40AM (#21829330)
    A patent can be on an idea not yet realised, so long as you detail the process involved.

    So Bell's patent could have been a process to transmit sound along wires. He didn't need to prove it was possible.

    There's been many patents lodged that haven't been made into a product, only for someone else to implement the same idea years later.
    • which seems quite broken, IMNSHO. Patents should protect people who plan to actually do something with their invention. At least have a prototype for crying out loud.
    • by Aladrin (926209)
      Excuse my ignorance.

      How do you detail a process unless you know it is possible?

      And if you know it is possible, why can't you prove it?

      And if you can prove it, why did you not make a prototype?
  • by tkrotchko (124118) * on Thursday December 27, 2007 @10:58AM (#21829494) Homepage
    Today I have more respect for Bell.

    Check out the Wright Brother's patent story for how the pursuit of patents and copyrights is the ruin of more than more inventor.

    http://www.amazon.com/Unlocking-Sky-Hammond-Curtiss-Airplane/dp/0060956151/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198767099&sr=8-2 [amazon.com]

    From the review at Amazon:
        "The first flyers were so secretive and desperate to cash in on their invention that their behavior actually "retarded" the development of aviation."

    The Wright Brothers felt they had "invented flight". They were trying to interpret their patents as broadly as possible. Eventually, WW I forced the US Government to force the Wrights to share the patents with other companies. The Wright brothers did not come to a happy end. That part of the story is never told in elementary school history.

    Patents and copyrights are broken. They've always been broken, and I suspect they will be broken to a certain extent. They just happen to be extraordinarily broken at the moment.
  • The poster discussed Mr. Reiss. While the very intelligent Mr Reis produced a machine that while it could transmit sounds, it was of such low quality that it took someone significant training to be able to understand what was being said. It was not a real telephone, as the phone in telephone refers to speaking. It was more a tele-audio, as it could transmit sounds, if not clearly enough to understand.

    This is not to insult him, Mr. Reis was a relatively undereducated man, and deserves more recognition fo

  • by haplo21112 (184264) <haplo@epithna. c o m> on Thursday December 27, 2007 @11:50AM (#21829918) Homepage
    The patent system is now and always has been corrupt. Bell deserves the credit in my mind because at least he built something and demonstrated making it work. This is the long existing problem with the patent system. Simply put make a real product, make it work, show it working and make it available OR : NO PATENT FOR YOU!

    The system needs to be reformed, any patent help by someone not actually using that patent to make available an actual product based on that patent needs to loose the patent. DONE. Going forward NO patents for anything that doesn't actually exist, and work. You have oh say 5 years from the filing of the patent to put the damn thing on the market, or it becomes invalid. If it goes off the market the patent also becomes invalid.

    No more of these patent IP holding companies that come out of no place when someone works up a brilliant concept to which they can then under some insanely broad banner claim rights to the idea.
  • Lotsa inaccuracies (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @11:52AM (#21829934)
    First of all, the Gray patent was for sending multiple telegraph signals over one wire, nowadays known as analog frequency-division multiplexing. Bell either had the same idea, or borrowed parts of Gray's ideas, and by accident, made a telephone. It seems a bit of a stretch to call Gray's idea a "telephone", as it was more like sending beep-boop-bork tones over one wire. Nothing to do with voice. ANd it's also a stretch to claim Bell "stole" the Telephone idea. Independent inventions happen all the time.
    • by westlake (615356)
      the Gray patent was for sending multiple telegraph signals over one wire, nowadays known as analog frequency-division multiplexing. Bell either had the same idea, or borrowed parts of Gray's ideas, and by accident, made a telephone

      In the 1870s everyone and his brother was working on the "harmonic telegraph." No invention was closer or more urgently needed.

      That was how he got funding for his research.

      But it is not accidental that a man who had spent his life working with the deaf had become expert in the

  • You mean... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tomcode (261182)
    He really didn't invent the chair with extra legs and the electric hammer?
  • How is this considered Science? Why is this in the science section?

    Answer: We don't know what science is anymore and think anything technological is scientific.

    Example: Look at the Sci/Tech section of google news. It does not contain any science, but is entirely geek garbage tech that is mostly M$ coverage. From Google this is not surprising, but could not be further from science. This confusion between science and technology is very common and in my opinion comes from a collective preference for ente
  • by westlake (615356) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @01:21PM (#21830870)
    Bell's patent was filed February 14, 1876. In March the first sentence is transmitted over Bell's telephone. In June of 1876 he is exhibiting the telephone at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition:

    The Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro was in attendance. Dom Pedro was an acquaintance of Bell, meeting him at the Boston School for the Deaf.

    Apparently the judges were going to ignore Bell and his telephone. But Dom Pedro attracted their attention by going to the exhibit and greeting Bell. Bell gave Dom Pedro the receiver. As Dom Pedro listened to Bell recite Hamlet, Dom Pedro heard every word and exclaimed "My God, it talks!" The papers covered this historic event and the telephone was launched.

    How disenchanting for Elisha Gray. He was at Dom Pedro's side at the Centennial Exposition.

    On this same day of Bell's demonstration to Dom Pedro, June 25, General George Custer met his unfortunate death in the hills of Little Big Horn, Montana. Alexander Graham Bell [telephonymuseum.com]

    So there you have it.

    Bell was reading Hamlet from the the main building one hundred yards away,

    If Elisha Gray has a telephone ready for public demonstration in the spring of 76 why is he standing on the sidelines when Bell strikes gold at America's first World's Fair?

    In June of 1877 the future AT&T is not only a viable commercial enterprise but a clear threat to Western Union. If Gray hasn't spent the year sleeping at the switch why doesn't he have a marketable product to compete with Bell?

    To the Wrights, the central problem of flight was control in three dimensions, an insight that evolved naturally from their work with bicycles, and eluded others like Langley with far greater resources. Elisha Gray was an electrical engineer. Bell an expert in speech and hearing. Bell needed a technician to construct his apparatus.

    But there is no question that he was headed in the right direction and moving very quickly near the end.

  • Elisha Gray was my great, great, great grandfather.

    That is all.

The flow chart is a most thoroughly oversold piece of program documentation. -- Frederick Brooks, "The Mythical Man Month"

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