The American Heritage article included the text:
March 7, moreover, was especially dear in the hearts of lawyers, a whole generation of whom received a career’s worth of employment in court testing the strength of the Bell telephone patent.
One person he privately tutored (and later married) was the daughter of Gardiner G. Hubbard, a lawyer and former congressman. Hubbard didn’t have a great deal of money, but he did have connections and an understanding of government, two assets crucial to any inventor who has decided to revolutionize the world.
Bell delayed his application. He said this was because he planned to apply simultaneously in Great Britain and the United States, but after eight months neither had happened. On February 14, 1876, Hubbard, the lawyer, went ahead and filed the patent application for him. The patent was issued on March 7; three days after that, Bell introduced a liquid element, containing an acid-water compound, at the transmitting end of the phone. That allowed for some resistance in the initial vibration and so a truer replication of voice tone. When he spilled some of the acid compound on himself, he cried out the immortal sentence “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you.”
[IPBiz note: as can be seen from the copy of the issued patent, Bell signed his application on January 20, 1876. The idea that Bell may not have had the invention at the time of patent issuance came up in a later case involving Edison and the light bulb. Look here as mentioned on IPFrontline. [“There are many adjudicated cases in which it appears that the inventor builded better than he knew; where a patent has been sustained for an invention the full significance of which was not appreciated by the inventor when it was made. In the case of the Bell telephone patent there was great room for doubt whether the speaking telephone had been thought of by Mr. Bell when he filed his application for a patent, but the court said: ‘It describes apparatus which was an articulating telephone, whether Bell knew it or not.’”]]
The opponent who scared Bell Telephone most, however, may well have been a sickly old man by the name of Antonio Meucci. Born in Florence, Italy, Meucci had been trained as an engineer. He invented a telephone in about 1850. Fleeing to North America for political reasons, he eventually settled on New York City’s Staten Island. He submitted his designs for the telephone to a man named Grant, the vice president of the New York District Telegraph Company.
IPBiz: Wikipedia has a discussion of Antonio Meucci. Of discussions of patent trolls, note the following.]
For his part, Bell offered to sell the patent outright to Western Union for $100,000. The president of the company balked, countering that the telephone was nothing but a toy.
Since last year's IPBiz post, a law review article has appeared which begins with the Bell/Gray/Meucci story:
Doug Harvey, COMMENT: REINVENTING THE U.S. PATENT SYSTEM: A DISCUSSION OF PATENT REFORM THROUGH AN ANALYSIS OF THE PROPOSED PATENT REFORM ACT OF 2005, 38 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 1133(2006)