How the Wright Brothers Patent Fight affected the Aviation Industry in the United States

Wilbur and Orville Wright have gone down in history books as the great inventors of the first true aircraft. Their December 17, 1903 breakthrough in the aerodynamic and aviation industry was quite tremendous and worth such huge credit to the brothers. Ideally, it was a huge contribution marking the beginning of a new era with respect to air transport. However, many people are quite unaware of the immediate occurrences that followed in the first few years after the successful flight and crack of aerodynamics by the Wright Brothers.

Immediately after their success in 1903, the Wright brothers personally wrote a patent application that was rejected. As a result, they decided to seek professional expertise and hired a patent attorney who helped them secure Patent No.821393 in May 1906 for a “Flying Machine”. With the new patent, the former bicycle builders set forth and started an airplane assembly company, the Wright Company. However, Wilbur and Orville’s invention had created a great business opportunity. As a result, as soon as they started building airplanes for sale, other industrialists jumped on the opportunity in the pursuit of making the best of it. One of the most aggressive aviators who competed with the Wright brothers was Glenn H. Curtis. Curtis was also a former bicycle builder who had also been working part-time in the race to develop the first airplane losing the challenge to Wilbur and Orville. However, after the success of Wilbur and Orville, he went ahead and applied their inventive concepts to build flying machines with great utility and maneuverability.

In light of the above, the Wright brothers went ahead and sued Curtis for patent infringement. From their point of view, Curtis was their direct competitor who built flying machines that applied the patented concepts of the Wright Company without paying any royalties. The above case developed into a highly personal battle making the Wright brothers and Curtis very bitter rivals. Right from the first instance of the patent-related lawsuit between the Wright brothers and Curtis, the aviation industry started experiencing the effects. As a means of avoiding the payment of royalties to the Wright Company, Curtis decided to reconstruct and fly a former flying machine developed and built by Samuel P. Langley a couple of months before the breakthrough by the Wright brothers. Curtis’ action was retrogressive. The decision of taking a step backward due to personal differences with the Wright Brothers was a major setback in the aviation industry. The right decision at that time would have been paying royalties to the Wright Company thus applying their patented concepts in developing better designs. The extent of the setback is clearly illustrated by the fact that Curtis ended up crashing the first time he decided to fly the Langley creation. As a result, he had to waste a lot of time and resources reconstructing the Langley design that could have been utilized better if patent infringement were not an issue.

The Wright Company patent war was not limited to Curtis or American aviators only. Orville and Wilbur filed lawsuits against foreign investors who exhibited their flying machines in the United States exhibitions such as the renowned Frenchman Louis Paulhan. The brothers also sued various European companies that held patents similar to the one owned by them. The brothers won partially in most of the patent legal suits in the United States and Europe. As a result of the intense patent war between the Wright brothers and most upcoming aviators, aircraft production in the United States went slowly. The Wright Company engaged a lot of time in pursuing the patent cases at the expense of designing more aircraft designs. With respect to the above, United States had a very small number of fighter planes at the end of 1914 in comparison to powerful European countries such as Germany, France and England.

The rationale for the above finds its basis in the fact that the Wilbur and Orville took a lot of their time in protecting their patent than in progressing the production and design of more aircrafts. Ideally, the intended to protect their patent across the world but most of the efforts were in the United States since it was easy to monitor every action in their home country. The more they sought to protect their patent, the less time they had to take the aviation industry forward. Being the key aviators who had paved way for successful innovation in the flying business, prioritizing their personal needs in was a huge blow to the entire country in general. To start with, they failed to provide more insight and enthusiasm expected from inventors. More so, the legal pursuit of protecting the patent barred other upcoming aviators from making the necessary progress required to make the creations of Wilbur Company more efficient in terms of design, flexibility, as well as functionality (Roach).

With respect to the above, the patent war was very detrimental to the development of the United States aviation industry. The Wright Company plane design was elegant and monumental. However, it required structural modifications and improvements to enhance its control. The presence of the Wright Company patent war had made it very hard to make substantial developments thus significantly slowing down the development of the aviation industry in the United States during the first years of the 20th Century.

Work Cited

Roach, Edward J. The Wright Company. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2014. Print.

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