Wright Brothers’ Patent Lawyer

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Patent Wars

The Wright Brothers failed in their first attempt to secure a patent for their airplane. They decided they had better find a lawyer who was an expert in obtaining patents.

They had heard of such a person that lived in Springfield, Ohio. His name was Harry A. Toulmin and he was referred by two Dayton friends; Wil Ohmer and John Kirby. A century ago the Wrights’ rode the Interurban railway from Dayton to Springfield to engage Mr. Toulmin.

The visit turned out to be one of the better decisions the Wrights’ had ever made. Toulmin tied up the patent so tightly that nobody was able to break it during the life of the patent despite 30 lawsuits of others claiming to be the inventor of the airplane.

It was Toulmin who suggested that the patent should cover the three-axis system of controls used on the 1902 glider, rather than the plane itself. It was a brilliant decision because even today every airplane that is flown uses the Wright’s control system.

The patent (No. 821,393) was granted May 22, 1906, with Toumlin’s signature on the application. It is doubtful that the Wright brothers would have been credited with the invention without the patent.

Toulmin secured four more patents and then took steps to put the original patent into effect in Europe. Toulmin represented the Wrights’ for a total of nine years.

Today, there is a statue of Henry Toulmin across the street from the building where Toulmin had his office.

Reference: Springfield News, October 10, 2008

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