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The Wright patent dispute

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Wright or Not…

Imagine a visionary invention that would change the entire global economy by making the world smaller and more efficient. Imagine, then, they get embroiled in a contentious legal battle to defend the groundbreaking technology they claim to have pioneered. They face opponents who challenge their assertions, sparking a dispute that captures the attention of the entire industry and shakes it to its core!

You might think I’m setting the stage to discuss the modern-day saga of COPA v Wright in “The Satoshi Trial.” But no, this tale takes us back over a century to two other pioneers, equally steadfast in their convictions—Orville and Wilbur Wright: no known relation… This is the story of the Wright Brothers, whose struggles over patents and recognition in the early days of aviation mirror, in a surprisingly uncanny way, the legal battles echoing through the corridors of the blockchain industry today.

Shout out to John Pitts for introducing me to this story.

Aviation litigation

Orville and Wilbur Wright’s journey into the annals of aviation history began with their first successful flight in 1903. However, this groundbreaking achievement soon led to one of the most contentious legal battles in the field of aviation. In 1906, the Wright Brothers filed a patent for their flying machine, focusing primarily on their innovative method of aerodynamic control. This patent became the center of a series of legal disputes, particularly with rivals such as the Herring-Curtiss Company and Glenn H. Curtiss, who were developing their own flying machines.

The nature of the Wrights’ patent and the controversy

The Wrights’ patent was unique as it claimed the method of flight control, which involved a system of pulleys and cables to warp the wings of the aircraft. This wing-warping mechanism was crucial for the controlled flight of an airplane. The Wright Brothers insisted that this method was fundamental to flight, leading them to sue any company that attempted to build an aircraft using a similar system.

The most notable of these legal battles was with Glenn H. Curtiss, a prominent aviation pioneer in his own right. Curtiss developed ailerons, a different mechanism for flight control, which he argued was distinct from the Wrights’ wing-warping system. The Wrights, however, viewed this as an infringement of their patent, leading to a protracted legal struggle that culminated in a landmark decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1914, which upheld the Wrights’ claims against Curtiss after eight long years of litigation.

Impact on the aviation industry

The Wrights’ rigorous defense of their patent had far-reaching consequences. Their preoccupation with legal issues hindered their development of new aircraft designs, leading to a stagnation in the advancement of their aircraft compared to European models. By the time the United States entered World War I, there were no acceptable American-designed aircraft, compelling U.S. forces to use French airplanes. This situation highlighted the detrimental effect prolonged patent disputes could have on technological advancement.

I have been lamenting this in regard to blockchain patent disputes in the modern day, but I digress.

The resolution and aftermath

The patent war in aviation led to a deadlock in the industry, with the Wright Company and the Curtiss Company effectively blocking the construction of new airplanes. This situation necessitated government intervention, leading to the formation of the Manufacturer’s Aircraft Association in 1917, a patent pool (not unlike COPA) that aimed to resolve these disputes by collectivizing patents under a cabal of industry insiders. This arrangement required aircraft manufacturers to pay a small blanket fee for the use of aviation patents, drastically reducing the royalties for patent holders like the Wright Brothers from their initial 20% to just 1%: a truly pyrrhic victory that might play out similarly in the blockchain space after The Satoshi Trial.

Legacy of the Wright brothers’ patent dispute

The Wright Brothers’ patent dispute serves as a significant lesson in the history of innovation. It underscores the importance of protecting intellectual property while also highlighting the potential for such protection to impede broader technological progress. The dispute also exemplifies how legal battles can distract inventors from further innovation, as seen in the Wright Brothers’ subsequent lag in aircraft development. I see that as the worst victim of the struggle. In business, nothing is worse than losing progress.

Edison, Tesla, and other inventors

Parallel to the Wright Brothers’ struggles, the electric industry witnessed similar battles between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla and other inventors like George Westinghouse and Alexander Graham Bell. These disputes also revolved around patent rights, commercial interests, and the rapid pace of technological innovation. Ultimately, progress was made, and we’re all blessed to be able to work from home at night instead of sleeping when the sun goes down, but decisions made generations ago create ripples that still impact us through time. Should we have had wifi in the 1960s? Could we be living in a world without power lines or with levitating dirigibles for travel? We will never know, but I hope we do not look back regrettably on our time in Bitcoin’s most litigious era.

Modern implications: COPA v Wright

Today, the blockchain industry faces its version of these historical patent disputes. The legal battle between COPA and Craig Wright over the invention of Bitcoin and related copyrights echoes these past conflicts. Wright’s claim to be Satoshi Nakamoto and his assertions over the Bitcoin white paper has sparked a significant legal challenge, reminiscent of the Wright Brothers’ battles for recognition and rights about flexible airplane wings. Will Bitcoin, fortunately, forge into the future for the betterment of all of us? Will Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg become gate-keepers to the Bitcoin patent fortress? Will Satoshi reclaim his crown but within a kingdom that none of us recognize? Time will tell.

Concluding thoughts

Honestly, I’m exhausted. I just want to build disruptive businesses with Bitcoin, and instead of that, we have been on nearly a decade of side-quests and rabbit holes. Obviously, many of them are titillating, and I have also been blessed to build some really cool businesses with my friends in the space. But no matter the outcomes of the Satoshi trial, I am excited to live in an era where the speculation is behind us!

The Wright Brothers’ patent dispute, along with the historical feuds in the electric industry and the ongoing COPA v Wright case, collectively illustrate the enduring challenges faced by inventors and entrepreneurs. Countless others had their work successfully stolen and brought to market by criminals. These narratives highlight the complexities of innovation, the importance of protecting one’s work, and the potential consequences such protection can have on industry and progress.

Please, friends, let’s focus on progress because we should all be getting tired of asking, “What if?”

New to blockchain? Check out CoinGeek’s Blockchain for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about blockchain technology.