EDIT: In fact, the light bulbs became so reliable that light bulb manifacturers decided to design worse light bulbs for the sake of profit, creating the first known example of a cartel specifically formed with planned obsolescence in mind. But that's another story.
LEGO should really acknowledge that what they did was wrong.
The patent disclosed the theory of using ailerons for control. Claim 1 refers to “lateral marginal portions” of the wing “capable of movement to different positions above and below the normal plane of the airplane.” That’s an aileron.
The embodiment in the patent happened to use a warping wing, but as a matter of physics and the patent drafting, the invention was using such lateral movable surfaces for control, not a particular way of building such a surface.
Additionally, the article fails to note the importance of patents to the other side. The Arial Experimental Association was bankrolled by Alexander Graham Bell. Bell had relied heavily on patents to secure investor capital that he used to build his business and eventually his research lab. See: http://digitalcommons.law.utulsa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?art.... (The same is true, incidentally, for Edison.)
One of the fictions we indulge is that invention is all about inventors. In fact, it’s at least as much about investors. The aviation patent wars is much easier to understand if you look at the business and investment structures that created American airplane companies in the first place: https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=4210000891220850...
If you go to a bank asking to borrow money they might ask "what collateral do you have to secure a loan?". If you own a house, they would ask you to bring in the property title document to prove to them that you own it (or some title company would do that work for them).
Patents can serve a similar purpose: you want to borrow money from an investor to develop a product idea into a commercial product: they might say "what patents do you have?". To them, the patent document serves a similar purpose to the property title in the bank loan case: a piece of paper that makes them think there's something of value that they can ultimately take from you or sell if the company doesn't succeed, or at least something that gives them a warmer and fuzzier feeling that if you were just saying "Trust me I know what I'm doing".
I'd argue it's not. (But I still believe the patents other claims, and as a whole was obviously violated.)
You can't go of of the language of today to judge the claim. After all, the Wright brothers use "flying machine" to describe what we call an "airplane", and the term "aeroplane" to describe what we call a "wing".
Remember, the method and implementation is what's patentable, not the concept.
It doesn't really matter if we'd call a warped wing an aileron or not, or that it accomplishes the same objective.
It only matters how the implementation of the invention is described, and what elements are claimed (and in what combinations).
The aileron is a clear derivative of wing-warping. It's just using a hinge instead of bending the structure. While the Wrights did abuse their position to wage an ugly patent war, they were not patent trolls.
Both inventions can be patentable, and I wouldn't consider either a patent troll.
One of the elemental claims (#3) of the wright brothers patent was simply changing the shape of the wings relative to one another to produce roll. This claim is clearly violated by a hinged alerion, if it's described as a single hinged-wing.
Without seeing the hinged-design patent, I can only speculate. But if it's described as a method of changing wing shape, it clearly violates #3. If however, they were to describe it as two connected and adjacent wings, they might not violate claim #3. But they'd still be violating other claims, including that of using a wing generating lift.
But... And this is key...
You can legally patent an improvement (hinged movement) to an invention (wing-shape based roll control) covered by someone else's patent. A derivative work is fine as long as it meets all other requirements of a patent, including being non-obvious and novel.
However, a patent doesn't give you license to produce that invention that you patented; it only allows you to prevent others from producing items incorporating the elements claimed within your patent.
So the hinged alerion inventor would still need a license to build an aircraft with wing-shape-changing based roll control, and the wright brothers would need a license to incorporate hinges into their design.
Everyone's invention is protected.
"The modern aileron was invented and patented by the British scientist Matthew Piers Watt Boulton in 1868, based on his 1864 paper On Aërial Locomotion."
The weight-hanging thing is clearly unworkable, as it would be gyrating and swinging about in the breeze.
Wing-warping and ailerons are far more workable, as the control force is in proportion to the amount of their deflection. This makes control natural. The vanes, being hinged on their centerline, have no such feedback.
As far as I know, no airplane has ever used such a device. I wouldn't call them "modern" ailerons at all. None of the Wright's contemporaries used it, including Charles Manly, the pilot of Langley's Aerodrome which had no longitudinal control at all, yet later argued that Boulton invented it.
I think there's a LOT to be said for inventing and building a system that actually works and flies, rather than a sketch on a piece of paper.
All modern aircraft can trace their designs right back to the Wright Flyer.
That said, another one if the Wright Brothers claims was adjusting angle of incendence of a lift generating surface to steer (calling the tail-horizontal-vertical-stabilisers "rudders").
Adding the aileron, in addition to the wing and tail, would probably qualify as a patentable claim. But I suspect the method itself would still fall within the Wright brothers claims for either the wings or the tail. But maybe not, as long as the aileron doesn't generate lift, which is a completely different argument if semantics.
> They also proved themselves pioneers of what’s sometimes known as patent trolling: the controversial modern practice of suing competitors for infringements that fall beyond the scope of one’s patent.
Let's say that the main issue with patent trolling is that it is basically rent-seeking with patents.
If we agree on that, then choking out competition and stifling innovation through patents should count as a "flavour" of patent trolling, regardless of who invented the patent.
Since that seems to go both against the concept of a free market as well as against copyleft ideologies, I would expect that to be the one thing most can more or less agree on as an issue with patents, and that it is an essential element of patent trolling.
Mind you, I'm not naively saying patents are inherently bad, because without them big companies can just copy small innovators and push them out of business through economies of scale. I honestly don't know what the right solution is here.
They pretty much do anyway.
The patent system doesn't work and should be simply abolished.
Namely that it's relatively easy to get a patent, and that the validity of it is then tested in court. However, often the threat of going to court is what is abused by patent trolls.
In most other countries getting a patent is the hard part.
What the Wright brothers did was like planting a tree and then claiming that the fully grown tree came from what they did. Patent trolling is like adding a leaf to an existing tree and then claiming the entire branch it's sitting on.
Not sure the Wright brothers can be accused of those particular issues
The first question we have to ask is: How do we not like patents to be used?
> its impact on the state of American aviation was indisputably negative.
We don't want patents to be used in a way that deters further research and advancements in that field.
Can we determine if a way of use will do that in the future?
Unfortunately, as we can't see into the future, we don't know.
So we use the next best thing: We try to find patterns that strongly suggest that someone is abusing a patent.
And the pattern that we found is: People who just buy patents (sometimes for just $1) and don't produce their own are more likely to abuse patents.
And that's how we came to today's definition.
But for the past, we can answer the second question. And we should use this as definition if possible.
It’s common for them to change hands for “$1 plus other valuable consideration” to mask the true price. Sometimes that “OVC” might be 999,999 other dollars for example.
I agree in principle, but back then, the granting of a patent was a sort of de-facto legal recognition of the novelty. (Whereas today, it's just recognition that you can fill out the forms correctly.)
There wasn't really the need to litigate that aspect of a case. If the patent was issued, it was legally presumed to be novel.
Which is a main part of the reason why patent trolling has gotten worse: lack of legal certainty that any particular patent is valid.
There is still a de jure presumption of validity for an issued patent, but it only means that when a patentee sues an alleged infringer, the patentee doesn’t have to first prove the patent is valid. An accused infringer will usually challenge the validity of the patent, it just won’t happen at the earliest stage of the trial.
There are no degrees of novelty. An invention is ether novel (new, never been done before) or it’s not.
A patent must also be non-obvious, which is where many of the other inventive characteristics fall.
Patent trolling is using IP with the intention of expoiting outdated laws and an ignorant court system to extort people for money.
I do, however, reserve the term "patent troll" to places who practice acquiring patents and suing others based on those patents, as a way to make money, but don't actually build anything with those patents. I do not understand why it is even legal to do that, that is most certainly easy to fix (edit: I reached a point where I think greedy people = psychopaths, destroyers of the world).
So the Wright Brothers, the Edison, the Christiansen, and many others, actually did build from their invention. They did use their patent to prevent others from using it, which is basically what a patent grants its owner. Patents don't give you the right to proceed with your invention, they give you the right from excluding others from doing your invention.
Whose to say this wasn't at least partially the reason the Wright brothers are cemented in history? I'd argue that their names being attached to so much litigation strengthened the "Wright Brothers invented flight" association in the minds of historians (which may have even been their actual end-goal with all this).
Inventing a successful aircraft at the time required getting many things right at once, which they tackled one at a time over several years. They invented the modern wind tunnel. They were the first to systematically test and accurately measure lift-to-drag ratios for a variety of airfoil shapes. They built an aluminum engine from scratch (the first use of aluminum in aircraft), to deal with the lack of engines with sufficient power-to-weight ratios. They don't get much credit for this, but they invented modern propeller theory!!! They were the first to realize the importance of control, when most others prioritized power. They invented the first viable aerodynamic control scheme. There might be even more I am omitting, but know that they did this all on their own. In fact, they were offered financial support from Octave Chanute, but refused, as they did not want to be tempted to quit their successful bicycle business. Even Samuel Langley, a highly reputed, generously-funded, government-backed contemporary, failed. Flight was a really hard problem that required getting many things right at once.
What's more, they shared their early successes and discoveries with an un-powered glider with others at an aeronautical conference that Octave Chanute invited them to speak at. It seems no one actively attempting to build flying machines took advantage of their discoveries, because they did not realize what was at the heart of the problem (controls), which is just one of the reasons (but a big one) of why the Wright brothers succeeded first.
A lot of people do not realize that although their first flight was in 1903, most did not know flight had been achieved until several years later. Of course, the Wright brothers' claims and some pictures were made public, but people did not believe, and even accused them of being frauds. Especially in France, where nationalistic pride in being leaders in aeronautics was high. By 1908, some French aviators (e.g. Santos Dumont, Henry Farman) had achieved simple flights maybe similar or even slightly better than what the Wright brothers had achieved in 1903. But by then, the Wright brothers had far advanced from their 1903 machine. In 1908, in Le Mans, France, Wilbur Wright made the first public demonstration of their flying machine, staying in the air far longer than anyone else, and performing acrobatics never before seen. It was stunning and utterly sensational in global press, and all accusing the Wrights of being frauds (essentially all prominent French aviators) immediately retracted their accusations, and admitted that the Wrights were in fact the first to fly in 1903.
The point of the previous paragraph is to say that before the Wrights' public demonstrations, flying machines were not practical. After the Wrights' public demonstrations, although they made and continued to hold world records for some time, machines made by others improved rapidly. The Wrights were at the very least hugely influential to all aviators. I recommend the highly entertaining and informative biography on the Wright brothers written by David McCullough. I really think it could make for an excellent modern biopic!
Edit: more to the point, as rayiner points out in his comment, ailerons were actually covered in the Wrights' original patent.
Who writes this stuff?