In the selection of the head of this department a man of methodical and analytical habit of mind was necessary, capable of clear reasoning, and at the same time one who had gained a thoroughly practical experience in electric light and power fields, and the choice fell upon Mr. W. J. Jenks, the manager of the Edison central station at Brockton, Massachusetts. He had resigned that position in 1885, and had spent the intervening period in exploiting the Edison municipal system of lighting, as well as taking an active part in various other branches of the Edison enterprises.
Thus, throughout the life of Edison's patents on electric light, power, and distribution, the interminable legal strife has continued from day to day, from year to year. Other inventors, some of them great and notable, have been coming into the field since the foundation of the art, patents have multiplied exceedingly, improvement has succeeded improvement, great companies have grown greater, new concerns have come into existence, coalitions and mergers have taken place, all tending to produce changes in methods, but not much in diminution of patent litigation. While Edison has not for a long time past interested himself particularly in electric light and power inventions, the bureau which was initiated under the old regime in 1889 still continues, enlarged in scope, directed by its original chief, but now conducted under the auspices of several allied companies whose great volumes of combined patents (including those of Edison) cover a very wide range of the electrical field.
As the general conception and theory of a lawsuit is the recovery of some material benefit, the lay mind is apt to conceive of great sums of money being awarded to a complainant by way of damages upon a favorable decision in an important patent case. It might, therefore, be natural to ask how far Edison or his companies have benefited pecuniarily by reason of the many belated victories they have scored in the courts. To this question a strict regard for truth compels the answer that they have not been benefited at all, not to the extent of a single dollar, so far as cash damages are concerned.
It is not to be denied, however, that substantial advantages have accrued to them more or less directly through the numerous favorable decisions obtained by them as a result of the enormous amount of litigation, in the prosecution of which so great a sum of money has been spent and so concentrated an amount of effort and time lavished. Indeed, it would be strange and unaccountable were the results otherwise. While the benefits derived were not directly pecuniary in their nature, they were such as tended to strengthen commercially the position of the rightful owners of the patents. Many irresponsible and purely piratical concerns were closed altogether; others were compelled to take out royalty licenses; consolidations of large interests were brought about; the public was gradually educated to a more correct view of the true merits of conflicting claims, and, generally speaking, the business has been greatly unified and brought within well-defined and controllable lines.
Not only in relation to his electric light and power inventions has the progress of Edison and his associates been attended by legal controversy all through the years of their exploitation, but also in respect to other inventions, notably those relating to the phonograph and to motion pictures.
The increasing endeavors of infringers to divert into their own pockets some of the proceeds arising from the marketing of the devices covered by Edison's inventions on these latter lines, necessitated the institution by him, some years ago, of a legal department which, as in the case of the light inventions, was designed to consolidate all law and expert work and place it under the management of a general counsel. The department is of considerable extent, including a number of resident and other associate counsel, and a general office staff, all of whom are constantly engaged from day to day in patent litigation and other legal work necessary to protect the Edison interests. Through their labors the old story is reiterated in the contesting of approximate but conflicting claims, the never- ending effort to suppress infringement, and the destruction as far as possible of the commercial pirates who set sail upon the seas of all successful enterprises. The details, circumstances, and technical questions are, of course, different from those relating to other classes of inventions, and although there has been no cause celebre concerning the phonograph and motion-picture patents, the contention is as sharp and strenuous as it was in the cases relating to electric lighting and heavy current technics.
Mr. Edison's storage battery and the poured cement house have not yet reached the stage of great commercial enterprises, and therefore have not yet risen to the dignity of patent litigation. If, however, the experience of past years is any criterion, there will probably come a time in the future when, despite present widely expressed incredulity and contemptuous sniffs of unbelief in the practicability of his ideas in these directions, ultimate success will give rise to a series of hotly contested legal conflicts such as have signalized the practical outcome of his past efforts in other lines.
When it is considered what Edison has done, what the sum and substance of his contributions to human comfort and happiness have been, the results, as measured by legal success, have been pitiable. With the exception of the favorable decision on the incandescent lamp filament patent, coming so late, however, that but little practical good was accomplished, the reader may search the law-books in vain for a single decision squarely and fairly sustaining a single patent of first order. There never was a monopoly in incandescent electric lighting, and even from the earliest days competitors and infringers were in the field reaping the benefits, and though defeated in the end, paying not a cent of tribute. The market was practically as free and open as if no patent existed. There never was a monopoly in the phonograph; practically all of the vital inventions were deliberately appropriated by others, and the inventor was laughed at for his pains. Even so beautiful a process as that for the duplication of phonograph records was solemnly held by a Federal judge as lacking invention --as being obvious to any one. The mere fact that Edison spent years of his life in developing that process counted for nothing.