Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Professor Mossoff's Historical Paper About Patent Thicket, Patent Troll and Patent Pool: Relevant Today

Can we learn from history? Or are we doomed to make the same mistakes over and over? Professor Adam Mossoff of George Mason University School of Law wrote an excellent paper about the Sewing Machine War of the 1850's which illustrates that the challenges we are facing in this day and age with patent thickets, patent trolls and patent pools are not new. Professor Mossoff draws the conclusion that "[t]he denouement of the sewing machine patent thicket in the Sewing Machine Combination of 1856, the first privately formed patent pool, further challenges the widely held belief that patent thickets are best solved through new statutes, regulations or court decisions that limit property rights in patents."

The paper illustrates in great style the titanic battle between Elias Howe (who did not do anything other with the patent then using it for injunctions to compel licenses from manufacturers) and Isaac Merritt Singer (who was an incremental inventor). In this battle Singer was looking for prior art to invalidate Howe's patent:

"Singer first attempted to uncover prior art in the patent offices in England, France, and, of course, the United States, and he even went so far as to argue that the sewing machine had long been invented in China, but this was all to no avail."

Download and read professor Mossoff's great SSRN-paper 'A Stitch in Time: The Rise and Fall of the Sewing Machine Patent Thicket', here (52 pages PDF).

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