Tuesday, November 5, 2013

This Day in History: Nov 5, 1895: George B. Selden is granted the first U.S. patent for an automobile.

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On November 5, 1895, Rochester attorney George Selden wins U.S. Patent No. 549,160 for an "improved road engine" powered by a "liquid-hydrocarbon engine of the compression type." With that, as far as the government was concerned, George Selden had invented the car--though he had never built a single one.

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Selden's design was fairly vague, and was actually based on a two-cylinder internal-combustion engine that someone else had invented: Selden had simply copied the one he'd seen on display at the 1872 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

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 In 1899, Selden sold his patent to a group of investors who called themselves the Electric Vehicle Company.
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In turn, they immediately sued the Winton Motor Carriage Company, the largest car manufacturer in the United States, for infringing on the Selden patent just by building gas-powered cars. Winton settled, and the court upheld Selden's patent in 1903.

 
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Soon, some automakers realized that the Selden patent didn't have to be a threat to their business. On the contrary, it could be quite profitable and limit competition in a highly competitive industry. About 30 car companies, including Winton, got together with Selden and the EVC to form the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM).

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The ALAM sued anyone who built a gas-powered car without Selden's permission--in other words, anyone who had not paid to join the Selden cartel. It also drummed up business for its own members by threatening to sue anyone who bought a car from an unlicensed company. (Its ads warned: "Don't buy a lawsuit with your new automobile!")

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But Selden's group, composed mostly of Eastern carmakers that built ritzy cars for rich buyers, made a mistake: It excluded the Midwestern manufacturers who built lower-priced cars for ordinary people. In particular, it excluded Henry Ford.

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On October 22, 1903, the ALAM sued Ford for patent infringement, but the case took until 1909, seven months after the Model T was introduced, to go to trial. Most Americans, delighted to have the opportunity to buy an affordable car, were on Ford's side, but the judge was not: The court ruled that any gas-powered vehicle unlicensed by the ALAM violated the Selden patent and was illegal.

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But on January 11, 1911, the appeals court ruled in Ford's favor: the Selden patent, it said, only applied to replicas of the exact engine that Selden had seen in 1872.

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 http://www.autoconcept-reviews.com/cars_reviews/ford/ford-model-t-1908-1925/wallpaper/1911%20FordModelT1911Line-Upad_HR%20copy.jpg

 File:Selden 1911-0128.jpg

Taken from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/george-selden-patents-gas-powered-car [05.11.2013]

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