Concepts, Actors and Practices from the Past to the Present
Queen Mary Studies in Intellectual Property series
Edited by Stathis Arapostathis and Graham Dutfield
Chapter 1: ‘Claim the earth’: Protecting Edison’s inventions at home and abroad
Thomas Edison famously received 1,093 U.S. patents, a record that stood until the beginning of the twenty-first century. In addition, by 1910 he had received over 1,200 foreign patents from 34 different countries. Why did Edison have so many patents? Longevity might help to explain this as Edison continued to patent from 1868, when he applied for his first, until his death in 1931. However, Edison had received over 700 U.S. patents within the first 30 years of his career, more than his second place rival, Elihu Thomson, would acquire during his entire career. Edison applied for most of his other patents by 1912. A closer examination of Edison’s patents shows that all but a small number are associated with six industries – telecommunications (telegraph and telephone), electric lighting, sound recording, batteries, ore milling, and Portland cement – and most of his other patents emerged out of work in these industries. Before 1887 almost all of his patents were related either to telecommunications or electric lighting with a burst of phonograph and ore milling in the late 1880s and 1890s (Figure 1.1). During the remainder of his career, particularly during the first decade of the twentieth century, his patents focused on phonographs, storage batteries, and Portland cement (Figure 1.2). In order to understand Edison’s patent practices and strategies we need to investigate how they were shaped by these different industries. While patents were important in all of them, the roles they played differed significantly depending on a variety of factors that affected the ways in which Edison and his companies managed their patent holdings.
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