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b) The telephone patent controversy



The telephone, a momentous invention, is credited to several individuals. Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant in New York, developed a voice communication apparatus in 1857, to connect his basement lab with his invalid wife up in the bedroom. In 1870, Meucci reportedly transmitted voice one mile away. He called his device "telettrofono", but was either unable or unwilling to pay for a patent application. He instead filed a caveat (intention to file) entitled "Sound Telegraph", which expired in 1874. Also in the 1860s, the German Johann P. Reis had developed a similar "telephon". Then, on Feb. 14th 1876, two men, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, incredibly submitted telephone designs in New York in a span of only two hours! According to most versions, Bell's application arrived earlier. In other versions, Gray's caveat arrived first but remained in the in-basket until that afternoon. Bell's application was filed later by his lawyer, who requested that it be taken to an examiner at once. Gray's caveat, on the other hand, was not examined until the following day. In any event, Gray was convinced to abandon his caveat, which enabled Bell being granted US Patent 174,465 on March 7th. A day earlier, Bell, in one room, had called his assistant in another room:

"Mr. Watson, come here; I want to see you."

What followed is the history of the founding of the Bell Telephone Company (later AT&T), which grew to be the largest telephone company in the world. Elisha Gray later challenged Bell's patent but, after years of litigation, he was defeated. Meucci also took Bell to court claiming priority and was near victory when he died in 1889, at which point the case was dropped. 113 years later, in 2002, the US House of Representatives passed a bill recognizing Meucci's accomplishment and stating that:

"If Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain his caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell."




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