The Coordination of Independently-Owned Vacuum Tube Patents in the Early Radio Alleged Patent 'Thicket'
Ron D. Katznelson
June 13, 2014
A popular theory is that it may be sufficiently difficult to reach agreement on patent license terms that holdup in development may occur. Early U.S. radio development is widely believed to provide an empirical example of such holdup during 1905-1920, with numerous allegations of an impasse in bargaining the necessary patent rights until these were ultimately incorporated in the RCA patent pool. This paper seeks to determine with new precision how entrepreneurs and managers actually managed patent rights in this scenario. Accordingly, we re-examine the legal trajectories and entrepreneurial exploitation of patents on early vacuum tube technology where Fleming’s diode patent was alleged to have “overlapped” with De Forest’s triode patents. We show, by means of the relevant historical record, patent claims, litigation records and other relevant law, how patent rights were resolved by the courts and by the immunity of suppliers to the government from patent infringement liability. We trace the cross-licensing agreements between the different radio interests and find that licensing was always chosen over holdup and so enabled robust, state-of-the-art radio development.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 33
Keywords: Patent thicket, Overlapping patents, Anticommons, Holdup, Deadlock, Impasse, Radio, Vacuum tube, Diode, Triode, Marconi, De Forest, Fleming, RCA
Date posted: June 13, 2014 ; Last revised: November 20, 2015
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