Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Work criticizing classic paper by Merges/Nelson in Columbia Law Rev. 90, 839 (1990)

About one year ago, on March 10, 2006, IPBiz discussed deficiencies with the treatment by Merges and Nelson of Edison's work on the electric light bulb. IPBiz recently learned that there is a draft paper by Howells criticizing more of the work by Merges and Nelson. [Are Patents Used To Suppress Useful Technology? A Critical Review Of Allegations Of Technology Suppression Involving Patent Monopoly And Broad Scope In Management, Law And Economics. Working Papers from Aarhus School of Business, No. 2005-10, (2005).]

IPBiz notes that Edison's work on the electric light bulb should be viewed in the larger context of the need for an infrastructure to supply electricity. Edison in this context was functioning as much more than a mere inventor; he was looking at a much larger picture than the light bulb. In this, one should note that Edison did not invent the light bulb; he improved upon pre-existing inventions. Further, in picking an infrastructure based on DC, rather than AC, he guessed wrong about the infrastructure the market would adopt.

A few posts from the internet are of relevance-->

from wapa.gov

For bringing day to night in America’s cities, most
history books give Thomas Edison the credit. But
Edison only perfected, and more importantly, better
marketed a public lighting system previously
established by a handful of others.
The honor should
belong to an all-but forgotten inventor from
Cleveland, Charles Brush. In 1876, Brush developed a
generator or “dynamo” to convert the mechanical energy
of a rotating shaft to electric energy. Two years
later, he perfected an arc lighting system for outdoor
use. After approval from an intrigued Cleveland city
council, Brush scheduled a demonstration of his dynamo
and arc lighting equipment for April 29, 1879. That
night, at 8:05 p.m., thousands witnessed for the first
time an American city square illuminated with electric
light. The favorable reaction encouraged Brush and
other inventors and marketers to establish central
power stations in Boston, New York and Philadelphia
over the next three years

from pearlstreetinc

The Pearl Street power station went into operation in
1882 in New York City and is considered the world's
first central electricity generating station. [IPBiz: ?] It was
built and operated by the Edison Electric Light Co.,
founded by Thomas Edison. After Pearl Street was
opened, Edison waged a full-scale intellectual and
market-based war with Nicola Tesla and Westinghouse
over the benefits of delivering power via DC (direct
current), which Edison promoted, or AC (alternating
current), which Tesla invented and which was promoted
by Westinghouse. Eventually AC won out over DC
because it is a more efficient way of transmitting
power over long distances.

Edison was not the first to have thought of using
electricity for lighting, and, in fact, electric
arc-lighting had been used in large public spaces and
factories for years. And, contrary to popular belief,
Edison did not make the first light bulb or the even
the first generator. Furthermore, as we have seen
above, electricity today is transmitted via the AC
system which was invented by Tesla, not Edison. What
Thomas Edison did do, however, was see the big
picture. Edison was the first person to make both the
bulb and the generator commercially viable, combine
them, and demonstrate the enormous benefits of
large-scale electrification.

His was the genius that was able to put the puzzle
pieces together to make the whole system work. And
today he is celebrated and remembered as the man who
made the ubiquitous use of electricity possible.

from wikipedia

On October 8, 1883, the U.S. patent office ruled that
Edison's patent was based on the work of William
Sawyer and was therefore invalid. Litigation continued
for nearly six years, until October 6, 1889, when a
judge ruled that Edison's electric light improvement
claim for "a filament of carbon of high resistance"
was valid. To avoid a possible court battle with
Joseph Swan, whose English patent had been awarded a
year before Edison's, he and Swan formed a joint
company called Ediswan to market the invention in

Edison patented an electric distribution system in
1880, which was critical to capitalize on the
invention of the electric lamp.
The first
investor-owned electric utility was the 1882 Pearl
Street Station, New York City. It was on September 4,
1882, that Edison switched on his Pearl Street
generating station's electrical power distribution
system, which provided 110 volts direct current (DC)
to 59 customers in lower Manhattan. Earlier in the
year, in January 1882 he had switched on the first
steam generating power station at Holborn Viaduct in
London in the UK. The DC supply system provided
electricity supplies to street lamps and a number of
private dwellings within a short distance of the

Wikipedia included discussion of Edison's ill-fated war against AC:

Edison to become involved in the
development and promotion of the electric chair as a
demonstration of AC's greater lethal potential versus
the "safer" DC. Edison went on to carry out a brief
but intense campaign to ban the use of AC or to limit
the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of
this campaign, Edison's employees publicly
electrocuted dogs, cats, and in one case, an
elephant to demonstrate the dangers of AC.
replaced DC in most instances of generation and power
distribution, enormously extending the range and
improving the efficiency of power distribution

***See also

Edison as a Patent Troll, or Where is California Going in Stem Cell Research?


Post a Comment

<< Home