Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876 stands as one of the great touchstones of American technological achievement. Bringing a new perspective to this history, Invented by Law examines the legal battles that raged over Bell’s telephone patent, likely the most consequential patent right ever granted. To a surprising extent, Christopher Beauchamp shows, the telephone was as much a creation of American law as of scientific innovation.
Beauchamp reconstructs the world of nineteenth-century patent law, replete with inventors, capitalists, and charlatans, where rival claimants and political maneuvering loomed large in the contests that erupted over new technologies. He challenges the popular myth of Bell as the telephone’s sole inventor, exposing that story’s origins in the arguments advanced by Bell’s lawyers. More than anyone else, it was the courts that anointed Bell father of the telephone, granting him a patent monopoly that decisively shaped the American telecommunications industry for a century to come. Beauchamp investigates the sources of Bell’s legal primacy in the United States, and looks across the Atlantic, to Britain, to consider how another legal system handled the same technology in very different ways.
Exploring complex questions of ownership and legal power raised by the invention of important new technologies, Invented by Law recovers a forgotten history with wide relevance for today’s patent crisis.