How Thomas Edison, Patron Saint Of Patent Holders, Copied Others' Works To 'Invent' The Light Bulb

from the funny-how-that-works dept

We've written in the past how Thomas Edison -- who is often held up by patent hoarders as the perfect example of why patents are necessary -- didn't actually invent any of the stuff he's famous for "inventing." Instead, he's most famous for taking the work of others and innovating around it just slightly, to find a good market -- but then also patenting the work of others and blocking anyone else from entering the market. I admire his innovative side and his marketing prowess, but find his abuse of patents to be unfortunate. Reader Michael points to a recent story in Wired which highlights how this worked with the incandescent lightbulb.

The story highlights how the incandescent lightbulb was really a function of progressive innovation, with different people adding little bits here and there:
English chemist Humphry Davy connected two wires to a battery in 1809 and inserted a charcoal strip between the other ends of the wires. The strip glowed, making it the first electric lamp.

Inventor Warren De la Rue about 10 years later enclosed a platinum coil in an evacuated tube and passed electric current through it to make it glow.
From there, it details how Joseph Swan built the first real "electric lamp" building on those concepts. Swan did get a patent on his work, but it didn't actually work all that well. Edison's revelation was to make a minor tweak to Swan's work, making the incandescent bulb last much longer. It wasn't an "invention" at all. It was a minor tweak on top of it, and then a massive promotional campaign. Of course, Edison originally couldn't do as much with his better lightbulb, because Swan held that patent... so eventually Edison ended up merging with Swan's company... and took all the credit for the incandescent bulb. And from then on, he used patents to keep everyone else out for as long as possible.


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    slander (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 2:02am

    Tesla > Edison

    'Nuff said.

     

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    what a fucker edison was eh?, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 2:25am

    HE SHOULD BE EXUMED and tried for attempted copyright ....

    HE SHOULD BE EXUMED and tried for attempted copyright infringment ( last year a usa piece a legislation would have been life in prison ) and we can nail him for all the technology that every came after words ALLLLLLL OF IT
    thus ITS ALL HIS FAULT
    we should sue into oblivion every relative we can find and make sure they a re wiped and flogged and forced to walk around naked for ever with giant "THIEF" signs on there heads.

    Then we should take every light bulb from hollywood and in the USA and toss them all away until the people that had them pay up...I patented a method to arrive at how these people invent there fore YOU ALL OWE ME HAHA HEHE
    HO HO

     

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      Kevin, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 4:10am

      Re: HE SHOULD BE EXUMED and tried for attempted copyright ....

      HE SHOULD BE EXUMED and tried for attempted copyright infringment ( last year a usa piece a legislation would have been life in prison ) and we can nail him for all the technology that every came after words ALLLLLLL OF IT thus ITS ALL HIS FAULT

      Go back to school, learn the difference between copyright and a patent, then give us a call.

       

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    Doctor Strange, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 2:26am

    So there were lots of incremental innovations that led to the ultimately successful lightbulb, and some of them were patented, and some of them weren't. This all happened in a climate where at least some people had patents. The ones who got patents were rewarded for their contributions and the ones who didn't got squat.

    One guy with a patent, Swan, gave so much to Edison that you describe Edison's contribution as being solely a "minor tweak" accompanied by clever marketing. Without this patent, Edison would likely have been able to reap all the rewards of the lightbulb for this "minor tweak" and the all-important marketing, giving Swan nothing. Patent in hand, Swan was able to get Edison to buy him out.

    So what's the moral of the story? That Edison should have reaped all the rewards from the lightbulb and even Swan should have gotten squat? That Edison should have just been one more incremental step in the evolution of the incandescent light, and that he should have been eclipsed by the next guy? What prevented the next guy from doing to Edison what Edison did to Swan?

     

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      Pete, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 3:04am

      Re:

      absolutely nothing. but you seemed to miss the point. point is he got credit for "inventing" products that he didn't invent at all.
      say i lived then and wanted to build a better light. i would have been unable to without first buying out the hoarder (edison). this is just another in a long string of abuses on the patent system.
      While edison did in fact bring a functional product to market, that is sadly not true in most cases today. most patents filed today are done so only to have the sole "right" to bring that product to market. and if anybody else wanted to do so they would first have to buy the rights. effectively blocking any but the biggest businesses from doing so.

       

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        Doctor Strange, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 3:43am

        Re: Re:

        Edison got a patent on his bulb. Patents are on inventions. Edison's bulb was an invention.

        Edison built on the work of others. The one who got a patent got a small amount of social credit and cash. The rest got a small smount of social credit and no cash.

        Edison, faced with another patentholder, bought him out. You claim that, if you had wanted to make a further improvement, you would have needed to buy out Edison. But your improvement would have leveraged all his work, and he had to pay Swan, so why is that unfair? You could have also sold your innovation to Edison.

        If there were no patents at all, you can be assured that Swan would have gotten less credit and no cash. Edison might have gotten less also, but he was also an excellent marketer, so it seems likely you would have to have come to the table with much more than a simple improvement.

         

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          Michael, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 4:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm not sure if you read the original article, but you missed a couple of things.

          First, Swan didn't invent the light bulb. He simply improved on another design - one that was not patented. Had there been a patent, he may have been barred from doing anything to improve it. Edison also improved on the design after seeing what Swan had done and was finally able to make and then market something that people wanted.

          Who along this path did the least important thing? Arguably Swan - the guy that Edison had to buy out. He invented nothing and was unable to sell anything. All he did was patent something.

           

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          Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 7:42am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "You claim that, if you had wanted to make a further improvement, you would have needed to buy out Edison. But your improvement would have leveraged all his work, and he had to pay Swan, so why is that unfair?"

          It's not that it's fair or unfair, it's too SLOW. There's no need to buy anyone out, you just keep innovating and leapfrogging the other players, and the products keep getting better and better, and the money shifts from person to person or company to company. All of this same stuff could have ocurred w/o the patents and the buying out. In fact, the only likely outcome of removing patents entirely from this story is that the other players who didn't get paid by Edison would have been able to remain in the game w/o needing to pay stifling costs because of the patents....

           

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            Ronald J Riley (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 11:22am

            TechDIRT Dim-wads

            "There's no need to buy anyone out, you just keep innovating and leapfrogging the other players, and the products keep getting better and better," displays a profound ignorance of what really happened without patents.

            Inventors and the guilds they were part of kept inventions secret as long as possible. As a result progress was very slow.

            Inventors will invest much more time and effort into protecting their invention if there is no patent system in place. When I was a young man the patent system did not serve inventors' well in that big companies owned the courts and were able to steal with impunity.

            I did not file patents then. I built my circuits and potted them, including a means to ensure that they could not be reverse engineered. It worked well and I would have continued to do this if not for patents becoming enforceable.

            Every professional tends to view their contribution as the most important. Big companies strength is capital and marketing, so they argue that they are the most important link. It is a fact that they would not have a better widget to market without the people who invented it.

            We will not produce inventions if we cannot make a living doing so.

            Edison was the first to make a viable bulb. That is why he dominated the market. The example cited shows how the system worked as intended. What Mike hates is his inability to produce a meaningful invention. It must be rather hard on the ego to always be in a lowly support role and having to kiss so much tail to eek out a living.

            Ronald J. Riley,


            I am speaking only on my own behalf.
            Affiliations:
            President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
            Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
            Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
            President - Alliance for American Innovation
            Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
            Washington, DC
            Direct (810) 597-0194 / (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

             

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              Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 12:03pm

              Re: TechDIRT Dim-wads

              "TechDIRT Dim-wads"

              Dim-wads, that's nice. I've been called that particular name, I'll have to add such a mature moniker to my list....

              "Inventors and the guilds they were part of kept inventions secret as long as possible. As a result progress was very slow."

              And that's all well and good, except that as the need for speed to market increases, such secrecy makes less sense in many/most cases. Collaboration is the word of the day, and you build more good-will, market presence, and ultimately profit by collaborating to bring a great product to market far more efficiently than hoarding knowledge and information for yourself.

              "When I was a young man the patent system did not serve inventors' well in that big companies owned the courts and were able to steal with impunity."

              I don't get this at all, though I'm admittedly not a product inventor, but a different type of content creator. In any case, why wouldn't you simply team up with a VC firm, or team up with a manufacturer for your invention and build a contract around your partnership. Why is the patent necessary? You can reveal a concept w/o giving some big evil corporation the ability to reverse engineer, so why not do it that way?

              "We will not produce inventions if we cannot make a living doing so."

              In most cases this is absolutely correct, and I don't remember anyone saying otherwise. There are lots of ways to make money from inventions. Patents are one of them. Some of us just don't think they're the most efficient, nor the most profitable, at least not in many/most cases.

              "Edison was the first to make a viable bulb."

              Sigh, no he wasn't. He was the first to bring it to the exploding market of the United States, and he HELPED to improve upon it at Ediswan. Edison yoinked the patent information of Swan, worked from it, then patented a nearly identical copy in the States. Patents aided in the "theft" of Swan's invention, which is the point I'm surprised Mike didn't touch upon.

              "That is why he dominated the market."

              Wrong again. He dominated the AMERICAN market because he was the first to market here coupled with his cozy relationship with JP Morgan who financed the hell out of his operation. Morgan, BTW, is one of those evil folks you decry and whom I say that you should be partnering with.


              "What Mike hates is his inability to produce a meaningful invention. It must be rather hard on the ego to always be in a lowly support role and having to kiss so much tail to eek out a living."

              I'm trying to keep a level head here, but when I hear such elitist bullshit come out of the same proverbial mouth that said, "Every professional tends to view their contribution as the most important", it makes me want to pull my eyes out of their sockets so that I don't have to read such inane hypocrisy ever again.

              Dim-wad....you can do better than that....

               

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                Ronald J Riley (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 3:40pm

                Re: Re: TechDIRT Dim-wads

                "When I was a young man the patent system did not serve inventors' well in that big companies owned the courts and were able to steal with impunity."

                >

                You have identified your problem. You do not produce inventions and therefore do not understand what those of us who do are dealing with.

                Products can be designed in ways that reverse engineering is very difficult. This is the tactic I used for many years before I switched to using the patent system.

                Teaming up with investors is fraught with peril which is why I have always grown my business with retained earnings.

                "We will not produce inventions if we cannot make a living doing so."

                >

                I am not interested in using other ways of profiting since all of them allow a significant part of profit which should go to the inventors to be pirated. This problem became even more pronounced with the advent of very large transnational corporations.

                The problem with your opinions is that they are based on a simplistic view of the nature of the inventing business which is why I characterized you and many other TechDIRT users as Dim-wads. The level of ignorance on this forum is staggering.

                Ronald J. Riley,


                I am speaking only on my own behalf.
                Affiliations:
                President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
                Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
                Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
                President - Alliance for American Innovation
                Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
                Washington, DC
                Direct (810) 597-0194 / (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

                 

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                  Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 6:57pm

                  Re: Re: Re: TechDIRT Dim-wads

                  Ignorance that such ignorant views as your own foster? Instead of enlightened discourse to present your views, you us arrogance and such sophomoric tactics as name-calling, and we're the ignorant ones?

                  Allow me to return like for like. TechDirt dim-wads? Takes one to know one.

                   

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                  Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 30th, 2009 @ 9:18am

                  Re: Re: Re: TechDIRT Dim-wads

                  "You have identified your problem. You do not produce inventions and therefore do not understand what those of us who do are dealing with."

                  This assertion that unless you partake in the patent system you cannot understand said system enough to be involved in its discussion or evolution is sophistry at its worst. How can we ever have a discussion if the only one's allowed into it are those that USE a debatable system? Silly.

                  "Teaming up with investors is fraught with peril which is why I have always grown my business with retained earnings."

                  Fine, that is your right. LIFE is fraught with peril, why should business be any different. I get it: it's HARD to research and do backgrounds on potential partners, and it's HARD to bring a product to market....like anything else, that which is difficult is usually the right thing to do.

                  "I am not interested in using other ways of profiting since all of them allow a significant part of profit which should go to the inventors to be pirated."

                  I'd love an example or ten of exactly what methods you're referring to here and any statistical evidence to back that up. I might be wrong; it wouldn't be the first time. But I fail to see how teaming up with properly qualified investors and/or manufacturers opens you up to any more piracy than flat out laying out your invention on paper, describing how you make it, and then praying that the government will back you up when someone copies it. Multinational corporations make patenting WORSE, because they have access to the US Patent office too and can look at your patent w/o being in the jurisdiction of the States.

                  "The problem with your opinions is that they are based on a simplistic view of the nature of the inventing business which is why I characterized you and many other TechDIRT users as Dim-wads. The level of ignorance on this forum is staggering."

                  How is my way of thinking any more simplistic than yours? Show me why I'm wrong, don't just say it's so and then fold your arms and nod. I'm malleable. I don't want to do away with patents or copyright completely. I'm relatively moderate on this site.

                  But decrying other's level of intelligence doesn't win any arguments. It just makes those you might otherwise convince bristle.

                  Though I doubt you actually care....

                   

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              Derek Kerton (profile), Dec 31st, 2009 @ 3:44pm

              Re: TechDIRT Dim-wads

              "Mike hates is his inability to produce a meaningful invention. It must be rather hard on the ego to always be in a lowly support role and having to kiss so much tail to eek out a living."

              You always insinuate that Mike is on the take from big corporations, yet there is never any evidence of that. And by evidence, I don't mean proof (which would be hard to find), I just mean the least indication.

              In fact, I'd bet that if you named a single big corporation that you think Mike is secretly "on the payroll", that I could find you more than a couple of articles Mike wrote that said that company was making a dumb move. That includes fully disclosed Insight clients like Sun and Intel.

              You see, Techdirt is what it looks like when someone calls it as they see it, with honesty and integrity. It's maybe not always right, but it's honest.

              For your edification, what "ego" and "kiss so much tail to eek out a living" would look like is a biased, lobbying, extreme-viewed accreditation-dropper such as one Ron J Riley.

               

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      Derek, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 12:10pm

      Morals.

      Additionally, I think you missed the author's point. He is saying that patents are a good thing and finds Edison's abuse of them shameful. He is not suggesting that patents are a bad idea as you seem to think.

       

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 2:56am

    He Was A Pirate When It Suited Him

    The story is told, in the last part of From The Earth To The Moon, of how Edison ripped off Georges Méliès’ La Voyage Dans La Lune, showing it all round the US for a handsome profit without Méliès ever seeing a penny.

    A client of mine has been naming its main server machines after famous engineers. We already have a Tesla, and they were planning to make the next one Edison, but I’ve suggested to them that Brunel is a much more deserving figure.

     

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    Richard (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 4:04am

    Edison patent strategy

    Look at some of the obscure patents that Edison held and you will realise that his strategy was to search the dictionary for nouns - prefix them with the adjective "electric" and patent the resulting combination!

    Electric pencil anyone?

     

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    Colg, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 4:42am

    If there were no patents at all, you can be assured that Swan would have gotten less credit and no cash.

    That seems to be a broad assumption. Were there no patents at all, Swan would have been free to take Edisons version of the bulb and produce it, acquiring cash and fame as well.
    Were there no patents at all perhaps the competition of the two resulting companies would have driven innovation and the evolution of the light bulb and there wouldn't be so many dim bulbs today...

     

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      The Anti-Mike, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 7:57am

      Re:

      Congrat to Colg for getting it right. Without patents, Swan would have gotten nothing more than a warm feeling for his considerable efforts.

      The merging of companies was the licensing agreement of the day, and how progress was made and the responsible parties along the way rewarded. Remember, you needed both the idea of vacuum sealed bulbs and a longer life, higher resistance filament to make the product. Under modern terms, Edison likely would be able to get a patent on the design of his filament, which would have created a patent deadlock, usually resolved by cross licensing. In this case, it was resolved by making both men rich.

      The remarkable thing? Patents didn't stop innovation, they didn't stop the advancement of the concept, all they did was make sure that the first man to show it as a practical idea got rewarded as part of the process.

      So remind me again how patents slow progress... I missed that part.

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 8:12am

        Re: Re:

        Sigh, you know, I read what you write fairly regularly because 90% of it at the very least makes me think and reexamine my conclusions and assumptions, but you HAVE to get beyond this thing where you slip in some blatant falsehood because it throws everything else into question when you do.

        "Without patents, Swan would have gotten nothing more than a warm feeling for his considerable efforts."

        Well, yeah, that and the entire UK market, which is the only thing he was really interested in anyway. By all accounts, Swan didn't really care all that much about the American market, and he essentially gave away his rights to sell here to Edison. Still, to claim that all of his effort would be for naught is simply silly.

        "So remind me again how patents slow progress... I missed that part."

        Er, the whole deal with Edison filing a patent that was essentially identical to the one Swan held in Europe, then they had to work out the whole rights thing. That takes time. Time that didn't ultimately need to be spent, because Swan wasn't all that interested in the American market, or making money from his invention for that matter. Time spent = slower than time not spent.

        Now, the matter of whether the patentability of the inventions and innovations offered enough incentive to create to make up for the slowdown is certainly debatable, but to say that patents didn't slow down the progress of the product and it's emergence in the market? Kind of goofy....

         

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          The Anti-Mike, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 3:11pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well, yeah, that and the entire UK market, which is the only thing he was really interested in anyway. By all accounts, Swan didn't really care all that much about the American market, and he essentially gave away his rights to sell here to Edison. Still, to claim that all of his effort would be for naught is simply silly.

          Actually, Swan's invention wasn't going to get to market, as nobody would be willing to spend signficant amounts of money for a 13 hour lightbulb. Edison didn't do what I call "paint color innovation", he entirely redesigned the thing from start to finish, coming up with a product that was both economically viable (hours of light versus cost) and was packages in a manner that was actually usable outside of the lab.

          Edison could have sat still for about another 5 or 6 years, Swan's patent would have expired, and Swan would have had very little except for a warm feeling. Edison's new product was unique enough that it too merited patent protection, and Swan would have been locked out for X number years instead.

          You can look at it another way as well: Without the patent process which exposed Swan's idea, would Edison have gone down this road at all? Without a patent system, might Swan have kept his idea secret, and worked on attempting to create a completely viable commercial product before it saw the light of day (or night)? I think it is a pretty good assumption that without patent protection, most inventions would be jealously hidden, and would not encourage others to find alternate solutions or to license technology to move forward.

          Colg, if you don't want to be misquoted, I would say you need to learn how to quote people. You can use those " things if you like, or add in italic tags to make a difference. Your post appears from here to be all your comments.

           

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        The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 9:30am

        Re: Re:

        TAM: Congrat to Colg for getting it right.

        Colg: Were there no patents at all perhaps the competition of the two resulting companies would have driven innovation and the evolution of the light bulb and there wouldn't be so many dim bulbs today...

        Perhaps it's error on my end, but it seems to me that Colg says things would have worked out better without patents, and you're saying they only worked out so well *because* of them. Those two ideas don't mesh.

        Oh, I get it. Mike reads what he responds to, and you just skim. You sly dog you. Very clever.

         

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          Colg, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 1:32pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          The first sentence of my post was a quote from strange that I was replying to...
          I should have put it in quotes.
          obviously my post failed the "moron in a hurry" test.

           

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    Chuck, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 6:40am

    Too bad

    I don't think denigrating Edison's work really makes your argument. I guess because I'm familiar with the prior art (and a lot of other history about Edison that you left out). Those other works were not commercially viable.

    Look at the phonograph, the telegraph, and the telephone and tell me he is not a great inventor. Look at his (often mercenary) relationship with industrialist like J.P. Morgan and Jay Gould and tell me his was not fighting on the same side you are fighting on. The underdog.

    No he was not a great academic scientist/engineer. It is a familiar meme that academics rarely produce great marketable innovations.

    BTW, there are far more DC circuits in the world than there are AC. Edison's arguments against the later for transmission was simply a matter of self interest. As an at-risk entrepreneur, self interest must be respected.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 7:52am

      Re: Too bad

      "Look at his (often mercenary) relationship with industrialist like J.P. Morgan and Jay Gould and tell me his was not fighting on the same side you are fighting on. The underdog."

      I'd be interested in getting more details on this from you, since every indication I've read has suggested that Morgan and Edison were a couple of Freemasons that worked closely with one another. In fact, Morgan bankrolled both Edison's early days as well as financed the start of the Edison Electric company.

      So what did you mean by mercenary relationship?

       

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        Chuck, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 5:25pm

        Re: Re: Too bad

        Morgan did NOT finance the production and marketing of the Edison DC lighting system (which included the light bulb). It was too risky. He only bankrolled the R&D (so that he would own a share if anyone was successful at making a market). Morgan already owned the entrenched and profitable gaslight industry; He didn't need the light bulb.

        As for the Masonic connection... I are not one and don't speak with authority, but membership was exceedingly common in those days. I would not make too much of it. Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford and Larry Bird were all Jaycees. Morgan was born very rich, Edison very poor. That probably defines them as much as any one thing.

        As for the mercenary nature of Edison's relationship with other wealthy backers/employers... he worked for both Gould (A&P Telegraph) and Western Union, creating competing patents on duplex and quadraplex telegraph technologies. He worked for Morgan to create the lighting system, but financed production himself (in competition with Morgan's gaslight business).

        Great guy Edison.

         

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          Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 30th, 2009 @ 9:32am

          Re: Re: Re: Too bad

          "Morgan did NOT finance the production and marketing of the Edison DC lighting system (which included the light bulb). It was too risky."

          Perhaps you have better information than, I, but from this web page detailing JP Morgan's bio: http://www.netstate.com/states/peop/people/ct_jpm.htm

          "As J.P. Morgan's fortune grew, he continued to make investments and acquisitions. He funded Thomas Edison throughout the 1870's and 1880's, and laid the financial foundation for Edison Electric Company."

          That certainly sounds like he bankrolled the Edison Electric Company to me....

          "membership was exceedingly common in those days."

          That is incorrect. There were less than 3 million total Freemasons in the entire country in the time around 1900.

          http://www.bessel.org/masstats.htm

          Less than 3 million out of a total of some 78 million people in the US population at the time is hardly exceedingly common.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 6:43am

    Doctor Strange

    so if you have a penny and you double it you have two
    if you double it a few more times eventually you get a million dollars
    thats the prob here
    eventually things are as they do today too expensive to invent upon
    look at hte companies that hold the patents
    ask them how much it will cost

    then there is the issue that they can say SCREW YOU
    which is tantamount to a witness saying sorry im not speaking today

    and a law should say that if you ask for use of a patent and they deny you they lose the patent
    and there should be a limit to the cost

    remember also that all useful inventions will get made soner or later i have said the effect of copyrights and patents is that you got there first and are being compensated for a LIMITED time for being 1st to the post as they say.
    95 years plus life of author is not LIMITED
    same wiht canada
    ill say you ask yourslef this as society is the grantor of the copyrights and patent terms

    HOW DOES THIS PATENT OR COPYRIGHT BENEFIT ME.
    perhaps we should be adding a society tax on ALL copyrights and patents to get a cut off the term lengths
    if they want a forever term fine i want a cut

     

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    identicon
    yozoo, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 7:14am

    most important thing

    This tells the story of what is MOST important in the modern marketplace, its not invention or innovation, its marketing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 8:24am

    Edison's revelation was to make a minor tweak to Swan's work, making the incandescent bulb last much longer.

    1. Read the link in the article that directs one's attention to an article pertaining to work done by Edison regarding incandescent bulbs.

    2. Read U.S. Patent No.223,898. It can be found at http://www.invention-protection.com/pdf_patents/pat223898.pdf

    3. Having done so, and perhaps having reviewed other articles pertaining to the work performed in Menlo Park. NJ by Edison and his staff, you may wish to rethink your quote I have noted above. The work done in Edison's lab encompassed research on interrelated aspects of producing an incandescent bulb suitable for market introduction. It was discovered that platinum could be used to properly seal a bulb to retain a vacuum needed to prevent premature failure of previous carbon filaments. This means for maintaining a vacuum arose from various lessons learned during attempts to use platinum as a filament. With the ability to establish an much improved means of creating a vacuum, the use of carbonized filaments became a feasible line of further experimentation. While various sources are widely divergent on how much experimentation was needed to create a filament with the desired qualities, the lower end of the spectrum suggests that Edison and his staff conducted in the order of at least 1,000 experiments using various combinations of materials, and in the process learned about 1,000 ways that did not work (negative information is every bit as valuable as positive information).

    At the end of all this activity Edison and his staff were able to produce an incandescent bulb that retained on oxygen-free environment within the bulb, enabled the use of carbonized filaments having a preferred structure to achieve sufficient electrical resistance to create suitable incandescent light, and the resulting structure having sufficient structual integrity to reduce the breakage of its internal structure.

    "Minor tweaks"? Hardly.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 9:43am

      Re: Too many words to explain something simple...

      In the end, after all their experimenting to lengthen the service life of their bulb, it was still too short to be genuinely successful in the marketplace - hence all the emphasis on marketing to convince inexperienced customers that the new bulb was "good enough". Years later, they finally arrived at the modern tungsten filament that allowed the bulb to last many months - even years. But that wasn't in the original patent application.

       

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    staff2, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 10:55am

    smear tactics

    "Edison's revelation was to make a minor tweak to Swan's work, making the incandescent bulb last much longer. It wasn't an "invention" at all."

    Yes, there were various inventions before Edison, but they all had problems. He figured out a solution where many others had failed. That is by definition an "invention" which if you understood patents you would know. Stop writing about things you are ignorant of. Try boot licking. You are truly expert at that.

    Stop smearing inventors trying to vindicate your invention theiving pals.

     

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    vic kley, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 11:15am

    Edison and the Incandescent Light

    Much as the Noise makers who support TechDirt like Gates and Jobs Edison learned that PR is at least as important as invention. Unlike Jobs and Gates Edison actually did invent things.

    Edison did not invent the electric light and neither did Swan that was Davy's work in 1800.

    That said do you Mike have any actual facts that Edison reviewed Swan's work and then improved it? That is did he reference Swan in his application? Or did he learn about Swan later?

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 11:48am

      Re: Edison and the Incandescent Light

      From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Swan

      "In America, Edison had been working on copies of the original Swan patent, trying to make them more efficient. Though Swan had beaten him to this goal, Edison obtained patents in America for a fairly direct copy of the Swan light, and started an advertising campaign which claimed that he was the real inventor."

       

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    Dale B. Halling, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    Edison - Understanding Patents & Inventions

    This is an example of how people do not understand patents. Edison clearly invented the “high resistance filament” incandescent light bulb. Historians give Edison credit for inventing the light bulb, because it was his contribution of a high resistance filament and better vacuum that made the incandescent light bulb a commercial reality instead of a laboratory curiosity. For more information see http://hallingblog.com/2009/07/20/did-edison-invent-the-light-bulb/.

    Dale B. Halling, Author of the “Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations are Killing Innovation.” http://www.amazon.com/Decline-Fall-American-Entrepreneur-Regulations/dp/1439261369/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF 8&s=books&qid=1262124667&sr=8-1

     

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    identicon
    Angry Doodie, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 5:21pm

    Punks

    Punks!

    Techdirt lemming punks

    punky punk punks

     

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    Ronald J Riley (profile), Dec 29th, 2009 @ 6:45pm

    Edison Hated By Patent Pirates

    History does repeat. Edison was defamed in his time just like contemporary inventors are today. As long as pirates could get away with theft they were content to do so quietly. Today they face more sophisticated inventors and are being held accountable at least some of the time.

    That is why they are conducting a massive smear campaign against the inventor community and that is why they encourage academics, bloggers, and media. They are stealing billions every year so the few hundred million they are spending to by people to speak on their behalf is really chump change.

    I wound how many of the people posting on TechDIRT are paid stooges?

    Ronald J. Riley,


    I am speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
    President - Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (810) 597-0194 / (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Dec 29th, 2009 @ 8:50pm

      Re: Edison Hated By Patent Pirates

      Searching Google patents for anything invented by Ronald J. Riley only shows a few published patents for conveyor controls. How does one find all of the rest of your large collection of patents - if any - were you using a different name when filing your applications? And were any of your patents NOT assigned to a customer - which patents did you LICENSE to others? In your postings, you sound very experienced in filing patent applications - but how do I find some of these so that I can further understand your viewpoint on why you have had so many difficulties in dealing with patent thieves and predatory business organizations.

       

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    identicon
    :), Dec 30th, 2009 @ 1:44am

    Rome!

    I'm expecting someone to explain how the Roman Empire could be so technologically advanced and have no patents.

    And someone with some compelling evidence that explain why countries that have very weak IP enforcement capabilities flourish while others who enforce them do not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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