Friday, August 17, 2012

Forbes on Gevo/Butamax patent fight; confusion over the Wright Brothers

Within a post Biofuels Startup Gevo Must Win Patent War With BP, DuPont First, Forbes reviews past patent fights. For example

There’s a long history of big companies using patent litigation to try and bottle up competitors. Billionaire Charles Koch’s father was literally driven out of business in the U.S. after Standard Oil and other companies sued him over technology that extended the life of aging refineries. Koch moved to the Soviet Union and built refineries for Stalin in the 1930s – developing deep-seated hatred for both Communists and lawyers.

The discussion of the Wright Brothers and Curtiss given by Forbes was misleading. Forbes wrote:

The war between Gevo and its larger competitors has counterparts going back at least to the early 1900s. The Wright Brothers fought Curtiss over early patents on the airplane, Mattioli noted, until the emerging aviation companies formed a “patent pool” on the eve of World War I to share patented technology and cut down on litigation expenses. By the 1970s courts had begun to determine such pools to be evidence of antitrust, Mattioli said, although they continue to spring up in various forms. They often form a sort of defensive bulwark designed to keep new competitors out of an industry because the sheer number of patents provide the tools for litigation over some aspect of any new invention.

Wilbur Wright died in 1912, long before World War I. Orville Wright bought up the interests of Wright & Company, and sold to a syndicate that included Glenn Martin. This entity did not prosper and merged with other companies to become Wright-Martin in 1916.
World War I began 28 July 1914, but the United States did not enter the war until April 6, 1917. Around January 1917, the federal government, which considered buying the patents (or otherwise obtaining them), proposed cross-licensing. The aviation companies formed a pool ONLY in response to a threat from the government. No U.S. built fighter aircraft ever flew in World War I, so the patent pool achieved no tactical military objective. See the IPBiz post titled
Patent thickets and the Wright Brothers .

Of some relevance, from
"It is always easier to deal with things than with men"

There is an important quote of Wilbur Wright on page 361: "We had hoped in 1906 to sell our invention to governments for enough money to satisfy our needs and then devote our time to science, but the jealously of certain persons blocked this plan, and compelled us to rely on our patents and commercial exploitation... When we think what we might have accomplished if we had been able to devote this time to experiments, we feel very sad, but it is always easier to deal with things than with men, and no one can direct his life entirely as he would chose." [This was written in January 1912. Four month later, Wilbur became ill in Boston. He died on May 30, 1912.]

Also of note in the Tobin book is the discussion of Amos Ives Root. On page 220, Tobin notes that an account written by Root for his readers of Gleanings in Bee Culture was rejected for publication in Scientific American.

AND, from on the intransigence of Scientific American:

Further, as late as January 1905 -- more than a year after the Wright Brothers' historic first flight -- Scientific American magazine expressed skepticism about whether they had flown. An article titled "The Wright Aeroplane and its Fabled Performance" states: "If such sensational and tremendously important experiments are being conducted in a not very remote part of the country, on a subject in which almost everybody feels the most profound interest, is it possible to believe that the enterprising American reporter, who, it is well known, comes down the chimney when the door is locked in his face--even if he has to scale a fifteen-story sky-scraper to do so-- would not have ascertained all about them and published them broadcast long ago?"

See also
The 100th anniversary of issuance of Wright Brothers patent


Post a Comment

<< Home