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The Telephone Cases

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Telephone Cases
Argued January 24–28, 31, February 1–4, 7–8, 1887
Decided March 19, 1888
Full case nameDolbear v. American Bell Telephone Company; Molecular Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; American Bell Telephone Company v. Molecular Telephone Company; Clay Commercial Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; People's Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; Overland Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company
Citations126 U.S. 1 (more)
8 S. Ct. 778; 31 L. Ed. 863
The Bell Company patent was valid and that the Molecular case was reversed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Morrison Waite
Associate Justices
Samuel F. Miller · Stephen J. Field
Joseph P. Bradley · John M. Harlan
Stanley Matthews · Horace Gray
Samuel Blatchford · Lucius Q. C. Lamar II
Case opinions
MajorityWaite, joined by Miller, Matthews, Blatchford
DissentBradley, joined by Field, Harlan
Gray and Lamar took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

The Telephone Cases, 126 U.S. 1 (1888), were a series of U.S. court cases in the 1870s and the 1880s related to the invention of the telephone, which culminated in an 1888 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the priority of the patents belonging to Alexander Graham Bell. Those patents were used by the American Bell Telephone Company and the Bell System, although they had also acquired critical microphone patents from Emile Berliner.

The objector (or plaintiff) in the Supreme Court case was initially the Western Union telegraph company, which was then a far-larger and better financed competitor than American Bell Telephone. Western Union advocated several more recent patent claims of Daniel Drawbaugh, Elisha Gray, Antonio Meucci, and Philip Reis in a bid to invalidate Alexander Graham Bell's master and subsidiary telephone patents dating from March 1876. A decision for Western Union would have immediately destroyed the Bell Telephone Company, and might have allowed the former company, instead of the latter, to become the world's largest telecommunications monopoly.

The Supreme Court came within one vote of overturning the Bell patent because of the eloquence of lawyer Lysander Hill for the Peoples Telephone Company.[1] In a lower court, the Peoples Telephone Company stock rose briefly during the early proceedings but dropped after its claimant, Daniel Drawbaugh, took the stand and testified: "I don't remember how I came to it. I had been experimenting in that direction. I don't remember of getting at it by accident either. I don't remember of anyone talking to me of it."[1]

In the case, the Supreme Court affirmed:

  • Dolbear v. American Bell Tel. Co., 15 F. 448, 17 F. 604,
  • Molecular Tel. Co. v. American Bell Tel. Co., 32 F. 214, and
  • People's Tel. Co. v. American Bell Tel. Co., 22 F. 309 and 25 F. 725.

The Supreme Court reversed American Bell Tel Co. v. Molecular Tel. Co., 32 F. 214.

Bell's second fundamental patent expired on January 30, 1894, when the gates were then opened to independent telephone companies to compete with the Bell System. In all, the American Bell Telephone Company and its successor, AT&T, litigated 587 court challenges to its patents, including five that went to the US Supreme Court and, aside from two minor contract lawsuits, never lost a single case that was concluded with a final stage judgment.[1][2]

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The Court's decision in the Telephone Cases is notable for the size of the opinions delivered; together, they occupy the entire 126th volume of the United States Reports.

Notable cases

Among the notable court cases involving the Bell Telephone Company, later renamed to the American Bell Telephone Company, were those related to challenges by Elisha Gray, a principal in Western Electric, as depicted in the Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell telephone controversy.

Additionally the Bell Company became embroiled in a number of challenges from those companies associated with Antonio Meucci, as shown in the Canadian Parliamentary Motion on Alexander Graham Bell, itself a response to the United States HRes. 269 on Antonio Meucci.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Billings, A. Bell and the Early Independents, Telephone Engineer and Management, March 15, 1985, pp87-89,
  2. ^ Australasian Telephone Collecting Society. Who Really Invented The Telephone? Archived September 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, ATCS, Moorebank, NSW, Australia. Retrieved from website on April 22, 2011.
  • Brooks, John. Telephone: The First Hundred Years, Harper & Row, 1976, ISBN 0-06-010540-2, ISBN 978-0-06-010540-2.
  • Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8014-9691-8.

Further reading

External links

The Edison National Historical Park (ENHP) archives has seven bound volumes and one pamphlet of Patent Office proceedings relating to conflicting claims over who invented the telephone. Four of these volumes contain the record of a group of interferences entitled Cases A through L and Case No. 1. The disputant parties were Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Elisha Gray, A. E. Dolbear, J. W. McDonough, George B. Richmond, William L. Voelker, J. H. Irwin, and Francis Blake, Jr. Although Edison's preliminary statements were filed in September 1878, testimony was not taken until 1880. This record was printed in 1881. The second volume contains Edison's exhibits, including photo-lithographs of laboratory drawings, patents and patent applications, and newspaper and journal articles. The drawings have exhibit numbers corresponding to a page/volume numbering scheme used by Edison and his patent attorney Lemuel W. Serrell in 1880 when Edison's technical notes and drawings were numbered and examined for possible inclusion as exhibits in these interferences. Many of the documents in this numbered series were not selected as exhibits; they remain in the archives at the Edison National Historical Park....

This page was last edited on 2 May 2023, at 11:53
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