Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I believe that the best way to define and protect intellectual property is to follow the academic model. Invention and discovery are highly valued. Plagiarism is severely punished. However, the longer the bibliography, the better: you must acknowledge the shoulders on which you stand.  You get full credit for your original work, even if it is only a book review.  It remains that the academic researcher holds a very narrow claim.  Many people can "market" their own presentations of the same idea; but the work of others must also be acknowledged.  The person who published first gets the most credit.

Intellectual property is different from land.  Land is rival and exclusionary: if I have it, you cannot; and my having it prevents you from it.  Most economists define "public goods" as non-rival and non-exclusionary. A sunset is an example.  That also applies to an idea.  The difference is that sunsets exist in nature and ideas are man-made.

Back in the 1970s Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw (writing as Skye d'Aureous and Natalee Hall in their Libertarian Connection) insisted against even Ludwig von Mises that beauty must be created, and truth must be discovered; so, those, too are economic goods.  When they are created by human action, beauty and truth deserve protection under law.  
1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen

That being true, it is also true that beauty, truth, and intellectual property in general are not land.  You can buy an artist's painting and never share it; but once you do, you cannot take back the experience. Anyone who saw Henry Ford driving his automobile could make one of their own.  More to the point, the idea of a "horseless carriage" was practicable since the development of steam engines in the eighteenth century.  Several experimental devices were constructed and tested, including those of Karl Benz, Wilhelm Maybach, and Gottlieb Daimler all of which used internal combustion engines. The automobile was not unique in having a long pedigree.

Originally published online July 23, 1993


Samuel F.B. Morse was a painter.  Returning from Europe in 1832, he was told over dinner that electricity could be sent along a wire of any length.  From 1837 to 1844 he worked at perfecting his telegraph.  A stipend from Congress in 1843 for $30,000 funded the construction of a line from Washington to Baltimore along which "What hath God wrought" flashed in May 24, 1844.
Illustration shows electrical apparatus including coils,magnets, and relays.
The Cooke-Wheatstione patent. June 10, 1837.

Samuel Morse met some resistance when he applied for a patent on the telegraph.  Others had already announced similar devices.  In fact, Galvani himself (1737-1798) theorized that electricity could be used to send messages. On February 1, 1753, Charles Morison, living in the town of Renfrew, wrote to the Scots Magazine describing his telegraph.  Small, light balls were suspended and dropped, one for each letter of the alphabet.  Morison's article describes the system in full detail and then goes on to suggest two alternatives.  One is a simple system of bells.  The other method, from our vantage point in time, can only be called a teletypewriter.  Morison's correspondence from 1753 was reprinted in The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review (London) for November 5, 1886. 


On May 15, 1876, The Telegraphic Journal reprinted an article from Scientific American Supplement of February 5, 1876.  That piece describes a telephone built by a "Professor Reuss of Friedrichsdorf, near Homburg, Germany."  Also referenced in the same article is a telephone built by the Polytechnic Club of the American Institute and demonstrated at Cooper Union school in New York in 1868.

Telephone 1893 from Imagining the Internet
from Elon University.  It could not send a selfie.
"It is recorded that Minerva sprang full armed from the brain of Jupiter... The speaking telephone is the Minerva of to-day and Prof. Bell is the Jupiter."  So quipped Prof. A. E. Dolbear writing in The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review (London) for October 8, 1886.

According to Dolbear, Bell himself, addressing the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on May 10, 1876, referenced no fewer than 60 papers on the subject.  Dolbear's article highlights eight of these.  European journals from the 1850s and 1860s provide texts and graphics to show how sound can be sent electrically. Dolbear concludes: "However much the present telephones may perform better than the early ones, it is only a matter of degree.  It will also be apparent that one who was acquainted with the literature on the telehone previous to 1876, was fairly well equipped for making telephones, and lastly he will be persuaded that the telephone of 1876 had a pedigree and was not a new creation."

An anonymous article in the same journal for November 26, 1886, tells of an American patent (number 77,882) granted to Royal E. House in 1868 for "an electro-phonetic receiver."


In 1914, Gosset & Dunlap published Victor Appleton's Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone.  We are still waiting for the commercial visiphone, though several RJ-11 compatibles are available.  The fact is that the device built by the fictional Tom Swift came from the pages of the technical journals of the day. 

The Telegraphic Journal for February 15, 1879, reported the construction of a "telectroscope" by "M. Senlecq of Ardres, France."  This was hardly front-page news.  "The device consists in an autographic telegraph similar to D'Arlincourt's but the sending pencil is of selenium, which, as is well known, varies in electrical resistance with the degree of intensity of the light falling on it."  Again on March 1, 1881, the same journal reported on a "tele-photography" device based on a selenium cell. 
George R. Carey's selenium-based system
for recording and  transmitting images
(June 5, 1890)

Later, in March of 1899, the Journal of the Franklin Institute carried an article entitled "Seeing at a Distance by Electricity."  This telectroscope also depended on the photovoltaic properties of selenium.  "So rapid are the oscillations of the mirrors that the tenth part of a second is sufficient to analyze the image of an object in the transmitter, and to render it visible at the receiving station.  It is therefore possible to transmit a continuous action, such as a theatre performance over the the wires of the telectroscope, since the pictures received follow one another so rapidly as to produce the impression of a moving image, just as the numerous separate pictures of a chomo photographic apparatus reproduce past actions."

By September 19, 1908, Scientific American could report that a "New Telephotographic Device" was an improvement on four previous methods.  None of these was the one used by Paul Gottlieb Nipkow in 1884, though Nipkow is commonly cited as an important contributor to the idea of "television."

Part 4. FAX

In 1972, I worked for the Varsity Cab Company of East Lansing, Michigan.  The office was a Western Union station and they had a fax machine.  It was crude, even by the standards of the day and no one seemed very excited by it.  In truth, fax was widely used along railroad lines for sending orders.
Associated Press wirephoto (fax) of President Kennedy
receiving President Woodrow Wilson's
Hammond  Typewriter from the
OzTypewriter website of Canberra.

Electrical Communication, the ITT technical journal, carried articles in 1940 and 1943 describing how convenient it is to be able to send hand-written orders via telegraph.  The ITT devices allowed the sender to specify the number of copies so that each member of the train crew could have their own.

Actually, fax was old technology by then.  Scientific American for December 21, 1907, and for June 12 and August 21 of 1909 reported on two different devices for sending black and white raster graphics via telegraph.  By this time, the idea was 20 years old.

The Journal of the Franklin Institute for December, 1885, tells of "fac-simile."  A paper by Edward J. Houston reported on the "Delaney apparatus."  "Writing, sketches, maps, etc., produced at one end of a telegraphic apparatus are automatically reproduced at the other."

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the telephone, that article in the supplement describes the Reuss (or Reiss) "make-or-break" apparatus. Its plates resonated with tones to *interrupt* current. It reproduced "musical tones" only. This was referred to as a "telephone" but no speech was reproduced. The apparatus was built during the telephone patent trials years later to demonstrate this as well.