Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
Invented by Law

Invented by Law

Alexander Graham Bell and the Patent That Changed America

Christopher Beauchamp

ISBN 9780674368064

Publication date: 01/05/2015

Request exam copy

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.


  • Enlarges our understanding of the Bell legacy by inviting us to step back from the myths and the moralizing, the hero worship and the scandal mongering. Though inventors became celebrities in industrializing America, it was not individual ingenuity but the legal wizardry of patents—and the shrewd, increasingly influential lawyers who secured them—that most powerfully shaped technology, the economy, and society. Beauchamp uses the story of the lawyers who made Bell the inventor of the telephone to show how the patent became a key weapon of market power and the cornerstone of a new legal–industrial complex.

    —Graeme Gooday, Boston Review


  • Christopher Beauchamp is Associate Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School.

Book Details

  • 288 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press