Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tesla and the Connecticut Yankee

The bog 717madisonplace in discussing the Denver office of the USPTO has text


At the opening ceremonies for the Denver patent office, Denver’s mayor told the story of his first day on the job and receiving a call from a local patent attorney. The patent attorney was calling to recruit the mayor’s help in encouraging the USPTO to select Denver as one of the regional locations for the Patent Office. I forget if the mayor mentioned this or not; but, that has an uncanny parallel to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:

That reminds me to remark, in passing, that the very first official thing I did in my administration — and it was on the very first day of it, too — was to start a patent office; for I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn’t travel any way but sideways or backways.

One recalls that Twain and Tesla were good friends and that Tesla may have inspired the Yankee character.

But was Tesla well-served by the patent system?

From the text of Justice Frankfurter in the 1943 case:


The inescapable fact is that Marconi in his basic patent hit upon something that had eluded the best brains of the time working on the problem of wireless communication--Clerk Maxwell and Sir Oliver Lodge and Nikola Tesla. Genius is a word that ought to be reserved for the rarest of gifts. I am not qualified to say whether Marconi was a genius. Certainly the great eminence of Clerk Maxwell and Sir Oliver Lodge and Nikola Tesla [320 U.S. 1, 63] in the field in which Marconi was working is not questioned. They were, I suppose, men of genius. The fact is that they did not have the 'flash' (a current term in patent opinions happily not used in this decision) that begot the idea in Marconi which he gave to the world through the invention embodying the idea. ... And yet, because a judge of unusual capacity for understanding scientific matters is able to demonstrate by a process of intricate ratiocination that anyone could have drawn precisely the inferences that Marconi drew and that Stone hinted at on paper, the Court finds that Marconi's patent was invalid although nobody except Marconi did in fact draw the right inferences that were embodied into a workable boon for mankind. For me, it speaks volumes that it should have taken forty years to reveal the fatal bearing of Stone's relation to Marconi's achievement by a retrospective reading of his application to mean this, rather than that.



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