This peculiar coincidence of simultaneous but separate work not only comes to light on the bringing out of great and important discoveries or inventions, but becomes more apparent if a new art is disclosed, for then the imagination of previous experimenters is stimulated through wide dissemination of the tidings, sometimes resulting in more or less effort to enter the newly opened field with devices or methods that resemble closely the original and fundamental ones in principle and application. In this and other ways there arises constantly in the United States Patent Office a large number of contested cases, called "Interferences," where applications for patents covering the invention of a similar device have been independently filed by two or even more persons. In such cases only one patent can be issued, and that to the inventor who on the taking of testimony shows priority in date of invention.
 A most remarkable instance of contemporaneous invention and without a parallel in the annals of the United States Patent Office, occurred when, on the same day, February 15, 1876, two separate descriptions were filed in that office, one a complete application and the other a caveat, but each covering an invention for "transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically." The application was made by Alexander Graham Bell, of Salem, Massachusetts, and the caveat by Elisha Gray, of Chicago, Illinois. On examination of the two papers it was found that both of them covered practically the same ground, hence, as only one patent could be granted, it became necessary to ascertain the precise hour at which the documents were respectively filed, and put the parties in interference. This was done, with the result that the patent was ultimately awarded to Bell.
In the opening up and development of any new art based upon a fundamental discovery or invention, there ensues naturally an era of supplemental or collateral inventive activity--the legitimate outcome of the basic original ideas. Part of this development may be due to the inventive skill and knowledge of the original inventor and his associates, who, by reason of prior investigation, would be in better position to follow up the art in its earliest details than others, who might be regarded as mere outsiders. Thus a new enterprise may be presented before the world by its promoters in the belief that they are strongly fortified by patent rights which will protect them in a degree commensurate with the risks they have assumed.
Supplemental inventions, however, in any art, new or old, are not limited to those which emanate from the original workers, for the ingenuity of man, influenced by the spirit of the times, seizes upon any novel line of action and seeks to improve or enlarge upon it, or, at any rate, to produce more or less variation of its phases. Consequently, there is a constant endeavor on the part of a countless host of men possessing some degree of technical skill and inventive ability, to win fame and money by entering into the already opened fields of endeavor with devices and methods of their own, for which subsidiary patents may be obtainable. Some of such patents may prove to be valuable, while it is quite certain that in the natural order of things others will be commercially worthless, but none may be entirely disregarded in the history and development of the art.
It will be quite obvious, therefore, that the advent of any useful invention or discovery, great or small, is followed by a clashing of many interests which become complex in their interpretation by reason of the many conflicting claims that cluster around the main principle. Nor is the confusion less confounded through efforts made on the part of dishonest persons, who, like vultures, follow closely on the trail of successful inventors and (sometimes through information derived by underhand methods) obtain patents on alleged inventions, closely approximating the real ones, solely for the purpose of harassing the original patentee until they are bought up, or else, with the intent of competing boldly in the new business, trust in the delays of legal proceedings to obtain a sure foothold in their questionable enterprise.
Then again there are still others who, having no patent rights, but waving aside all compunction and in downright fraud, simply enter the commercial field against the whole world, using ruthlessly whatever inventive skill and knowledge the original patentee may have disclosed, and trusting to the power of money, rapid movement, and mendacious advertising to build up a business which shall presently assume such formidable proportions as to force a compromise, or stave off an injunction until the patent has expired. In nine cases out of ten such a course can be followed with relative impunity; and guided by skilful experts who may suggest really trivial changes here and there over the patented structure, and with the aid of keen and able counsel, hardly a patent exists that could not be invaded by such infringers. Such is the condition of our laws and practice that the patentee in seeking to enforce his rights labors under a terrible handicap.
And, finally, in this recital of perplexing conditions confronting the inventor, there must not be forgotten the commercial "shark," whose predatory instincts are ever keenly alert for tender victims. In the wake of every newly developed art of world-wide importance there is sure to follow a number of unscrupulous adventurers, who hasten to take advantage of general public ignorance of the true inwardness of affairs. Basing their operations on this lack of knowledge, and upon the tendency of human nature to give credence to widely advertised and high-sounding descriptions and specious promises of vast profits, these men find little difficulty in conjuring money out of the pockets of the unsophisticated and gullible, who rush to become stockholders in concerns that have "airy nothings" for a foundation, and that collapse quickly when the bubble is pricked.
 A notable instance of the fleecing of unsuspecting and credulous persons occurred in the early eighties, during the furor occasioned by the introduction of Mr. Edison's electric-light system. A corporation claiming to have a self-generating dynamo (practically perpetual motion) advertised its preposterous claims extensively, and actually succeeded in selling a large amount of stock, which, of course, proved to be absolutely worthless.
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