Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Doran, TIME get the Wright/Curtiss story wrong

Peter Doran wrote in TIME:

Since the Wright brothers were the pioneers of a new technology, they claimed that U.S. patent law gave them a sweeping monopoly over every possible design for airplanes, even ones they had not invented. The brothers did not care that Curtiss had actually built a better aircraft, or that his innovation for controlled flight was superior to their outmoded technology; because they were first, Curtiss had to cough up royalties for the privilege of flying.

Curtiss was hell-bent on fighting that absurd claim. What was the use of improving technology if someone else—in this case, the Wright brothers—got to profit from his own hard-won inventions? Today this same fight is being waged across the computer and software industries. In 1910 the battleground of intellectual property law was the sky.


Thanks to his prize money, the pioneering aviator prevailed in his legal fight against the Wright brothers. The original inventors of powered flight wasted too much of their energy on litigation instead of further innovation. Hard-charging inventors like Curtiss were poised to leave them far behind. And for one spectacular moment, he owned the skies.

[Excerpt from Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Industry by Peter B. Doran, published on May 24, 2016 by Viking; if you are wondering, the Wrights appear in Chapter 18.]


As to Doran's text --The original inventors of powered flight --, the Wright's patent (and invention) was about three-dimensional control of flight, not about "powered flight." The embodiment of Curtiss (with ailerons) was deemed an equivalent of the Wright's invention of three-dimensional control, embodied with wing warping.

As to Doran's text -- the pioneering aviator prevailed in his legal fight against the Wright brothers -- , note the entry on Wikipedia -- In January 1914, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in favor of the Wrights against the Curtiss company, which continued to avoid penalties through legal tactics. --. The litigation died after Orville Wright sold his interests and the patent pool was created, but it cannot be said Curtiss prevailed.


Is anybody fact-checking at TIME?

For further detail, see

And, as to previous disinformation in TIME about the Wright Brothers:

As to "who" was more dedicated to aviation:

As to the matter of damages, in the face of World War I, Franklin Roosevelt (then in the Navy Department, which was a separate Cabinet branch at the time) arranged a "patent pool" so the "big guys" in the aviation business shared the spoils; the $10,000 buy-in blocked the "little guys." The on-going patent litigations were placed in abeyance, and were not re-initiated after World War I. Orville did not leave the aviation business. He did have interest in preserving the Wright legacy, which involved some fractious dealing with the Smithsonian, which had helped Curtiss in the patent dispute. Glenn Curtiss was selling real estate in Florida by 1920, and was not innovating in aviation.



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