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Wright Brothers vs. Glenn Curtiss 304

Posted by Hemos
from the battle-of-the-patents dept.
jvmatthe writes "Today's All Things Considered on NPR had a story about intellectual property and patents from America's history that could have been ripped from today's Slashdot headlines, yet it happened almost a century ago. It discussed how the Wright Brothers, considered the fathers of modern heaver-than-air-flight, had tried to lock up the skies after their patenting of the ideas used to build their airplanes. They had a long, bitter legal battle with Glenn H. Curtiss who also made airplanes; Curtiss is credited with being "the first to make a public flight in the United States, the first to sell a commercial airplane, the first to fly from one American city to another, and the first to receive a U.S. pilot license", among other things. Here's where it really gets interesting: the patent battles dragged on and apparently could have actually hindered the growth of the American airplane industry. It wasn't until World War I that people put aside their differences for the common good and the industry worked together in a spirit of free exchange of ideas! So, does is this a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in now? Some catastrophic event brings everyone together and the locking up of ideas with overly broad patents finally ends? For more reading, the NPR story focussed on Unlocking the Sky by Seth Shulman."
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Wright Brothers vs. Glenn Curtiss

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  • Comforting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by paulywog (114255) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:16AM (#4335161)
    It's always nice to listen to NPR. Usually they make intelligent arguments that very precisely make your point. That show did just that...

    The summary was "not only do you have to be creative and intelligent to make something successful, but you also have to share it."
  • by dennison_uy (313760) <dennison_uy@y a h o o . c om> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:17AM (#4335165) Homepage
    "... It wasn't until World War I that people put aside their differences for the common good and the industry worked together in a spirit of free exchange of ideas! So, does is this a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in..."

    This assumption is a bit scary. What about AFTER such catastrophies?

    Following this line of thinking, then everything should just go back the way it were. After 2 world wars and 9/11 where are we now? There's still RIAA, there's still Microsoft and their DRM.

    Some things just never change, it's sad that you need a catastrophe just to realize that.
  • not likely (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MarsDude (74832) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:26AM (#4335221) Homepage
    "a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in now"
    Not likely... That was a time when corporations weren't as powerful as countries.
  • by Yokaze (70883) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:40AM (#4335308)
    Aeroplane, Car, Computer, Telephone... Name an invention as famous as these, where there is a single inventor (or group of inventors). The difference between innovation and evolution is often in the eye of the beholder. Especially when you have a closer look.

    Otto Lilienthal could also be considered as the father of aeroplanes. He has done various research and the Wright Brothers work is based is on his. Of course your free, not to consider a sailplane as an aeroplane.

    The idea was also articulated by da Vinci 400years before (with an inpractical flapping mechanism).
  • Harold Pitcairn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by richieb (3277) <richieb@gmail . c om> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:55AM (#4335417) Homepage Journal
    You should read about Harold Pitcairn [nationalaviation.org]. He had a number of patents on autogyro and helicopter technology. When WW II started the Pitcairn allow the US goverment the use of his patents. The goverment let a guy name Sikorsky build helicopters as Pitcairn was busy with other war material production.

    After the war, the patents were not returned and Pitcairn sued the goverment. The case lasted for over 20 years and eventually (after Harold Pitcairn's death) the Pitcairns won.

    Meanwhile, think of the largest companies that build helicopters today.

    The Wright brothers actually figured out how airplanes turn and developed a system to control the flight of an airplane. Curtiss just used their results and ideas, improved the implementation but did not do his own research.

  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @09:07AM (#4335516) Homepage
    is before wwi wars were just starting to be mechanized, with still a lot of rifles and calvary - now we (and 'them') have the bomb! About the worst thing that could happen then (very bad no doubt) was trenchfoot and mustard gas, and produced some hero's like Baron Von Richthofen [richthofen.com] and Eddie Rickenbacker [richthofen.com]. Now we put up for risk vast civilian areas of Bhagdad and Chicago, live in fear of genetically engineered killer virusus, and, gasp, script kiddiez [globalideasbank.org]!

  • by oldstrat (87076) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @09:36AM (#4335710) Journal
    I also used to live just down the road from Hammondsport in Tyrone.
    Got to go a round in the night trainer when I was a kid(they won't even let you touch it now).
    One thing to note is that Glenn was very much in touch with other inventors of his time.
    It was very very common to share information and techniques, and 'steal' them.
    But there are a few things overlooked about that time, and most any other, and it applies directly to computer code.
    There are only a limited number of ways to build a practical device with available technology be it an aileron, or a shopping cart.
    Worse yet who is to define the difference between the function of flexable portion of a wing and an aileron?
    Written craftily enough, there could appear to be no difference, especially if the reviewer knew nothing of a budding technology like aviation.

    Another point, a lot of what happened to Curtiss, Tesla and others is what happened to Visicalc creator Dan Bricklin and others in the software world of the not so distant past.
    Sometimes it's not who is better, first, or best, but simply who is the best connected politically, or has the deepest financial pockets.
  • by #!/bin/allen (136622) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @09:44AM (#4335762) Homepage
    There are several books in the response to that statement.

    The problem with recent wars is that nobody got scared enough to put aside their economic differences.

    In the first half of the last century, the government didn't have the power or will to control individual's lives the way it wants to now. It also had several sever upheavals to remind it what was important. We haven't had that, really, since the Korean war.

    I'm not in favor of going to war to help straiten out intellectual property. The war that did that would probably be personally devastating for a large percentage of the population.

    I'm in favor of Common Sense. Look at the reason these laws were originally created. Look at what they do today. Decide if the original purpose is still valid. Change the law based on that decision.

    Review Intelectual Property Law

  • Re:Put aside? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @09:52AM (#4335832) Journal
    Not just told them, AFAIK it wasn't really a request that they could refuse.
    Also, as long as we're holding up the early 20th Century as an era of enlightened patent resolution, note that this faded immediately after WWI, as the Allies plundered German intellectual property patents as part of the Versailles settlement.

    Asprin, for example, was a protected formula of the Bayer company. After WWI this protection was nullified so Allied countries' companies could make it without having to pay a royalty.

    So the lesson would be, we need to ask someone to conquer us, dissolve all our current patents and IP systems, so we can rewrite them from scratch.

    Oh, and kill all the lawyers while they're here. That wouldn't hurt either.
  • by ProfessorPuke (318074) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @10:38AM (#4336201)
    You are simply wrong. I'm a professionally programmer, and all around me I see my colleagues wasting their time re-implementing things that have been done before many times. Sometimes redoing techniques from books, from competing software, from non-competing software (completely different fields). Sometimes even reimplementing their own prior work, because they're not licensed to paste it in again.

    If I had to guess, I'd optimistically say that only 10% of programming work is really original. Even if you don't agree with my percentage, you've got to admit that the more time someone spends retracing old ground, the less energy they have to blaze new trails. I feel really guilty that we as an industry use copyright laws to extort money from our customers, by getting paid for the same works over and over again.

    This is why a drastic reduction in the efficacy of software IP would do so much to help the industry, and society at large. Even if the looser-reuse laws slashed the income to the software engineering profession by 66%, we'd still come out ahead. The dead weight would be laid off (the guys who jusy re-code the same old stuff), and a greater total amount of investment would go towards new research.

    Sure, the Prime Directive sounds like a cool principle, but you shouldn't have to force everyone to reimplement the warp-drive, on the chance that someone will do it in a new & unique way. If someone is really enough of a genius to improve on an established technology, he'll probably be able to make his invention without you forcing him (and everyone) to research it without studying the existing methods.

    (Sure, the attempt to derive an idea from first principles can be good practice- I often try to "write my own" before going to get sample code- but in a corporate setting, that kind of random education is a waste of salary)

  • by Chris Johnson (580) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @02:03PM (#4337995) Homepage Journal
    If you cannot understand the language of scientific inquiry and discovery, or if your world consists entirely of exchange value and nothing else, naturally you wouldn't see any point to the sharing of ideas.

    I could go, "But doing it would avoid stultifying science, and everybody progresses more rapidly", but if your ONLY yardstick is how much you're stomping your immediate competitor, why would you care?

    Welcome to the new Dark Ages. Thanks a lot for your contribution.

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