Abstract: Technology's Trials: Patent Litigation in the United States Courts, 1865-1910

Christopher Beauchamp


In the last third of the nineteenth century, patents and patented inventions emerged as a key component of America's industrial development. In recent years, academic interest in this period of patent growth has flourished, thanks in part to the massive expansion of the modern United States patent system. Little is known, however, about another nineteenth-century parallel with modern times: the profusion of patent litigation in the federal courts. This paper presents new evidence on the volume, location, and content of late nineteenth-century patent litigation. Its contribution is methodological as well as substantive. Previous historical treatments of nineteenth-century patent suits rely on reported cases. This paper, by contrast, uses court archives to analyze the actual population of lawsuits. As well as avoiding the sample-bias problems associated with case reporting, this approach yields rich information on the parties, legal practitioners, and patents involved in litigation.