Monday, May 22, 2006

The 100th anniversary of issuance of Wright Brothers patent

AP reports: The Wright brothers made history on a smaller scale 100 years ago Monday.

The Dayton natives were granted U.S. Patent No. 821,393 for their flying machine, a moment not as significant as the first flight but important for Orville and Wilbur nonetheless, historians say.

"The patent's very important in their story," said Ann Honious, chief of education and resource management for the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. "I think it was a step that was needed for the Wright brothers to market the airplane."

Henry Toulmin, an attorney in nearby Springfield, crafted a loophole-free description of the Wrights' method for controlling a flying machine.

Toulmin based the patent on the brothers' 1902 Glider rather than the powered - and now famous - 1903 Wright Flyer.

"What the Wright brothers wanted to do was patent their airplane. What Toulmin did was patent the control system," said Tom Crouch, a Wright brothers' biographer and senior curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.

Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the Dayton-based Aviation Heritage Foundation, said his group plans to observe the patent centennial later this year.

There are a few difficulties with the AP coverage.

#1. The application leading to U.S. Patent No. 821,393 was filed BEFORE the powered flight of December 1903 and BEFORE the Wright Brothers had met Toulmin.

#2. Toulmin came on board in January 1904, in large part because of the possibility of a patent interference.

#3. The claims of the patent are to three-dimensional control of an aircraft, unrelated to the craft's being powered (or not). Toulmin tried to include claims to a powered craft and got a new matter rejection.

#4. The Wrights were happy with Toulmin's work, and he remained their patent attorney for a long time.

#5. Although the Wright Brothers won their patent litigations, all aviation patents were pooled around World War I, and the Wrights did not obtain anywhere near the amount of money they had been seeking in royalties.

#6. Glenn Curtiss, supported by Benton Crisp (the attorney who had worked for Henry Ford)was planning a large attack on the Wright patent, which became irrelevant after the patent pooling.


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