When the nature of a patent right is considered it is difficult to see why this should be so. The inventor creates a new thing--an invention of utility--and the people, represented by the Federal Government, say to him in effect: "Disclose your invention to us in a patent so that we may know how to practice it, and we will agree to give you a monopoly for seventeen years, after which we shall be free to use it. If the right thus granted is invaded, apply to a Federal Court and the infringer will be enjoined and required to settle in damages." Fair and false promise! Is it generally realized that no matter how flagrant the infringement nor how barefaced and impudent the infringer, no Federal Court will grant an injunction UNTIL THE PATENT SHALL HAVE BEEN FIRST LITIGATED TO FINAL HEARING AND SUSTAINED? A procedure, it may be stated, requiring years of time and thousands of dollars, during which other infringers have generally entered the field, and all have grown fat.
Thus Edison and his business associates have been forced into a veritable maelstrom of litigation during the major part of the last forty years, in the effort to procure for themselves a small measure of protec- tion for their interests under the numerous inventions of note that he has made at various times in that period. The earlier years of his inventive activity, while productive of many important contributions to electrical industries, such as stock tickers and printers, duplex, quadruplex, and automatic telegraphs, were not marked by the turmoil of interminable legal conflicts that arose after the beginning of the telephone and electric-light epochs. In fact, his inventions; up to and including his telephone improvements (which entered into already existing arts), had been mostly purchased by the Western Union and other companies, and while there was more or less contesting of his claims (especially in respect of the telephone), the extent of such litigation was not so conspicuously great as that which centred subsequently around his patents covering incandescent electric lighting and power systems.
Through these inventions there came into being an entirely new art, complete in its practicability evolved by Edison after protracted experiments founded upon most patient, thorough, and original methods of investigation extending over several years. Long before attaining the goal, he had realized with characteristic insight the underlying principles of the great and comprehensive problem he had started out to solve, and plodded steadily along the path that he had marked out, ignoring the almost universal scientific disbelief in his ultimate success. "Dreamer," "fool," "boaster" were among the appellations bestowed upon him by unbelieving critics. Ridicule was heaped upon him in the public prints, and mathematics were called into service by learned men to settle the point forever that he was attempting the utterly impossible.
But, presto! no sooner had he accomplished the task and shown concrete results to the world than he found himself in the anomalous position of being at once surrounded by the conditions which inevitably confront every inventor. The path through the trackless forest had been blazed, and now every one could find the way. At the end of the road was a rich prize belonging rightfully to the man who had opened a way to it, but the struggles of others to reach it by more or less honest methods now began and continued for many years. If, as a former commissioner once said, "Edison was the man who kept the path to the Patent Office hot with his footsteps," there were other great inventors abreast or immediately on his heels, some, to be sure, with legitimate, original methods and vital improvements representing independent work; while there were also those who did not trouble to invent, but simply helped themselves to whatever ideas were available, and coming from any source.
Possibly events might have happened differently had Edison been able to prevent the announcement of his electric-light inventions until he was entirely prepared to bring out the system as a whole, ready for commercial exploitation, but the news of his production of a practical and successful incandescent lamp became known and spread like wild-fire to all corners of the globe. It took more than a year after the evolution of the lamp for Edison to get into position to do actual business, and during that time his laboratory was the natural Mecca of every inquiring person. Small wonder, then, that when he was prepared to market his invention he should find others entering that market, at home and abroad, at the same time, and with substantially similar merchandise.
Edison narrates two incidents that may be taken as characteristic of a good deal that had to be contended with, coming in the shape of nefarious attack. "In the early days of my electric light," he says, "curiosity and interest brought a great many people to Menlo Park to see it. Some of them did not come with the best of intentions. I remember the visit of one expert, a well-known electrician, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, and who then represented a Baltimore gas company. We had the lamps exhibited in a large room, and so arranged on a table as to illustrate the regular layout of circuits for houses and streets. Sixty of the men employed at the laboratory were used as watchers, each to keep an eye on a certain section of the exhibit, and see there was no monkeying with it. This man had a length of insulated No. 10 wire passing through his sleeves and around his back, so that his hands would conceal the ends and no one would know he had it. His idea, of course, was to put this wire across the ends of the supplying circuits, and short-circuit the whole thing--put it all out of business without being detected. Then he could report how easily the electric light went out, and a false impression would be conveyed to the public. He did not know that we had already worked out the safety-fuse, and that every group of lights was thus protected independently. He put this jumper slyly in contact with the wires-- and just four lamps went out on the section he tampered with. The watchers saw him do it, however, and got hold of him and just led him out of the place with language that made the recording angels jump for their typewriters."
The other incident is as follows: "Soon after I had got out the incandescent light I had an interference in the Patent Office with a man from Wisconsin. He filed an application for a patent and entered into a conspiracy to `swear back' of the date of my invention, so as to deprive me of it. Detectives were put on the case, and we found he was a `faker,' and we took means to break the thing up. Eugene Lewis, of Eaton & Lewis, had this in hand for me. Several years later this same man attempted to defraud a leading firm of manufacturing chemists in New York, and was sent to State prison. A short time after that a syndicate took up a man named Goebel and tried to do the same thing, but again our detective-work was too much for them. This was along the same line as the attempt of Drawbaugh to deprive Bell of his telephone. Whenever an invention of large prospective value comes out, these cases always occur. The lamp patent was sustained in the New York Federal Court. I thought that was final and would end the matter, but another Federal judge out in St. Louis did not sustain it. The result is I have never enjoyed any benefits from my lamp patents, although I fought for many years." The Goebel case will be referred to later in this chapter.
The original owner of the patents and inventions covering his electric-lighting system, the Edison Electric Light Company (in which Edison was largely interested as a stockholder), thus found at the outset that its commercial position was imperilled by the activity of competitors who had sprung up like mushrooms. It became necessary to take proper preliminary legal steps to protect the interests which had been acquired at the cost of so much money and such incessant toil and experiment. During the first few years in which the business of the introduction of the light was carried on with such strenuous and concentrated effort, the attention of Edison and his original associates was constantly focused upon the commercial exploitation and the further development of the system at home and abroad. The difficult and perplexing situation at that time is thus described by Major S. B. Eaton:
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