Patent disputes and Innovation
If disputes are a measure of dynamism and action, this may say a lot about inventions and innovations in Europe, America, and the Philippines as early as in the 1800s to the present.
Disputes on intellectual property rights, particularly on patents, were naturally part of the lifestyle of inventors long ago.
As related by the “World Famous Scientists and Inventions” (WFSI), American inventor Lee de Forest, recognized as the “Father of Radio” and “Grandfather of Television,” wrangled with scientists and patent lawyers as to the originality of his inventions. Attributed to him are more than 180 patents.
When he was 13, he invented gadgets such as a miniature blast furnace and locomotive and a silver plating device. As a doctoral student, he worked on a thesis, “Reflection of Hertzian Waves from the Ends of Parallel Wires.” This had to do with what is now commonly known as the radio.
Through a company, De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company, that he and his financiers founded, he showed businessmen and the public how the electrolytic detector of Hertzian waves that he developed could be used as a communication tool. He later developed a more powerful receiver of wireless signals called the “audion” which enabled him to broadcast sounds.
De Forest was known to have developed this audion vacuum tube, a two-element device used as electronic amplifier that is an important part of communication systems such as radio, telephone, radar, television, and computer systems. It became the predecessor of the more advanced triode vacuum tube as a device with three active electrodes used for signal amplification.
The Wikipedia noted that the United States Patent 879,572 for the three-electrode device was granted to De Forest in February 1908.
But De Forest was a man that could hardly succeed in business.
“A poor businessman and a poorer judge of men, De Forest was defrauded twice by his partners,” said the WFSI. “Throughout De Forest’s lifetime, the originality of his more important inventions was hotly contested by both scientists and patent attorneys.”
This may have happened as De Forest apparently hadn’t fully recognized the great potential of his invention nor had he known exactly how it worked, the audion in particular.
“(I) didn’t know how it worked, it just did,” was his famous words.
An explanation of how the audion work was later laid out in 1914 by Edwin Armstrong.
“When the two later faced each other in a dispute over the regeneration patent, Armstrong was able to demonstrate conclusively that De Forest still had no idea how it worked,” according to the Wikipedia.
Perhaps tired of disputes, De Forest then later “reluctantly” sold his patents to communication companies for further development some of which, and the more important ones, were sold cheaply to American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Nevertheless, the three-electrode device, known since 1919 as the triode which can amplify electric signals for radio reception, has also been known for the name De Forest Valve.
Another American inventor, Elias Howe, who developed the first sewing machine in place of hand-sewing, was also involved in suits in an attempt to protect his asset.
Howe grew up working in his father’s farm, gristmill (flour grinding mill), and sawmill in Spencer, Massachusetts. In 1835, he worked at Lowell, Massachusetts for a textile machine manufacturer.
But it was in 1837, in his work in Boston with a watchmaker, that he got the idea of mechanizing sewing. This led him to invent the lock stitch that used two threads in sewing and had the same concept as the looms he worked on at Lowell. Howe went to England to work on the commercialization of his machines.
But back home, American manufacturers began replicating his machine in violation of his patent rights.
He then ran after his offenders in a suit that lasted for five years until he was able to collect royalties from the machines.
The cotton gin was a pioneering work in mass production– the assembly lines.
Its inventor, Eli Whitney, developed it as he saw cotton plantation workers go through the drudgery of separating cotton seeds from fibers. In 1794, he patented the first cotton gin.
But his cotton gin was copied by other manufacturers.
At the time, Whitney may have wanted to sue his copycats, but the WFSI said he never had the money for such disputes. He nevertheless got his rewards from his works in mass production as he received contracts in 1812 to make 15,000 muskets, a smooth bore long gun that was the predecessor of the rifle, through his mass-producing gun assemblage and factory.
In the Philippines, there are rarely celebrated or popular disputes on patents or other intellectual property assets. However, the Bureau of Legal Affairs of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) record showed six patent-related cases. These only involved companies, rather than individual inventors.
These are the suits of Philippine Pharma Wealth Inc. (PPWI) against Glaxo Group Ltd. of England on pharmaceutical compositions; PPWI against Pfizer on method of increasing effectiveness of a B-Lactam antibiotic using penicillanic acid 1, 1-dioxide or an ester; Natrapharm against Smithkline Beecham PLC on method for treatment; Philippine-Cuvest Inc. against Bayer Healthcare AG on infusion solutions of 1-cyclopropyl-6 fluoro-1, 4-dihydro4-oxo-7-(1-piperazinyl)-quinoline-3-carboxylic acid; and the Philippine International Trading Corp. against Pfizer Ltd on improvements in pharmaceutically acceptable salts of amlodipine.
If there were ever suits initiated by an individual inventor-entrepreneur in the Philippines, this may just be on a low-technology item such as one related to “gulaman” (seaweed-based food item) which may not mean a lot at all, according to an IPO Director General Adrian S. Cristobal.
With hardly an important patent dispute, questions arise as to how that may indicate a lackluster environment for technological advancements in the Philippines.