Friday, January 11, 2019

The Wright Brothers #6

Competitors of the Wright brothers experimented with alternatives to circumvent the Wright brothers' patent. Foremost was Glenn Curtiss, who invented ailerons ("little wings") instead of wing warping for flight control. (Curtiss also pioneered in attaining more speed.) The Wright brothers sued for patent infringement, starting a years-long legal conflict. Curtiss's company obtained patents, too. Until he died from typhoid in 1912, Wilbur took the lead in the patent struggles.

David McCullough's book devotes little space to the patent wars. McCullough says nothing about how the patent war ended. Wikipedia has an article devoted to them, which says the following. It was ended by the U.S. government. By 1917 the two major patent holders, the Wright Company and the Curtiss Company, had effectively blocked the building of new airplanes, which were desperately needed as the United States was entering World War I. The U.S. government pressured the industry to form a cross-licensing organization (a patent pool), the Manufacturer's Aircraft Association.

All aircraft manufacturers were required to join the association, and each member was required to pay a comparatively small blanket fee (for the use of aviation patents) for each airplane manufactured; of that the major part would go to the Wright-Martin and Curtiss companies, until their respective patents expired. This arrangement was designed to last only for the duration of the war, but the patent war did not resume later. Orville had sold his interest in the Wright Company to a group of New York financiers in 1915 and retired from the business. The "patent war" came to an end. The companies merged in 1929 to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which still exists.

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