Attitudes to patents

The attitudes of Lars Magnus Ericsson and Bell to patents were almost diametrically opposite. Lars Magnus himself commented on this in a letter to O. Norshuus, representative of the Bergen Telephone Company, when he drew attention to the fact that Elektrisk Bureau in Kristiania, in which Carl Söderberg was a partner, had begun to manufacture telephones using Ericsson’s products as models.

”When Elektrisk Bureau [in Kristiania] takes after our models, they are probably quite within their rights, with the exception of the microphone [which had been patented by Ericsson]; moreover we are now accustomed to this kind of thing as both in Copenhagen and Helsinki there are workshops that have copied us and in no way do we begrudge them a living. That is the way of the world: if the competition becomes too severe, one will eventually have to withdraw from the business.”

The manufacturer to which he referred in Copenhagen was Emil Møller from Horsens; from Helsinki, Daniel Johannes Wadén, a designer and entrepreneur not unlike Cedergren, won prizes for his telephones at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889. Shortly afterwards, however, he opted to become Ericsson’s agent in Finland and sold his business to Ericsson after the end of the First World War.

When Lars Magnus and Cedergren went on a study trip to the USA in the summer of 1885, patents became a serious issue. They visited Chicago, Buffalo and Boston, for instance, and sought out telephone exchanges, workshops producing electric-lighting equipment, and other places of interest. They were accompanied by Lars Meurling, director of telegraphy for Sweden’s National Railways, who, in this capacity, carried documents covered in seals and stamps which, to begin with, opened many doors for them.

In a letter home to his wife Hilda, Lars Magnus was only moderately impressed by the USA. “The telephone business is not what we would like to imagine at home; on the contrary, in most cases it has seemed to us rather second-rate, which is probably the result of the patent situation which has made all competition impossible.”

”Everything called a Bell Company is a branch of the same body and everything is sold with the shared interest and with the intention of dominating the telephone business all over the world. If something new turns up, they all agree to keep it secret from anyone who does not belong to the same body. As a precautionary measure, they have printed an article in the technical journal ‘Electrical Review’ saying that Bell’s Swedish competitors, Cedergren & Ericsson, are in the United States to ferret out our telephone innovations.”

Rumors about the two agents were circulated. One day when Meurling introduced his friends to the head of an interesting factory, he was asked: “What did you say the names of your friends were?” “Cedergren and Ericsson.” “I’m sorry but I cannot admit these two gentlemen. But you are welcome on your own.”

Lars Magnus pointed out that he and Cedergren would hardly have gained admission to many facilities if they had followed the official procedures. On a visit to the Western Electric Co. (in which Elisha Gray had once been a partner, but which was now owned by the Bell Company), they saw signs forbidding outsiders from entering the factory. They solved the problem, Cedergren recounts in his report on their travels, by simply marching in one Sunday to the company’s telephone exchange in Boston, where the multiple-position equipment aroused their particular interest.


Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

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