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'Great Men,' Law, and the Social Construction of Technology

26 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2017  

Kara W. Swanson

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: 2017

Abstract

Alexander Graham Bell is famous as the inventor of the telephone. Is his fame owing to law and lawyers? Two recent histories argue that some popular tales of invention originated with lawyers and judges as part of patent litigation battles. (Stathis Arapostathis and Graeme Gooday, Patently Contestable: Electrical Technologies and Inventor Identities on Trial in Britain (2013); Christopher Beauchamp, Invented by Law: Alexander Graham Bell and the Patent that Changed America (2015)). Bringing law into the historical project of understanding the social construction of technology, the authors unsettle great man narratives of invention. A tale of a recent patent war, however, is a case study in the persistence of such narratives, highlighting the uses of legal storytelling. (Ronald K. Fierstein, A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War (2015)). Together, these works invite consideration of the cultural power possessed by invention origin stories, the role of narratives in law and history, and the judicial performance of truth-finding in Anglo-American law.

Keywords: patents, lawyers, invention

Suggested Citation

Swanson, Kara W., 'Great Men,' Law, and the Social Construction of Technology (2017). Law and Social Inquiry, Forthcoming; Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 295-2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3009408

Kara Swanson (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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