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October 22: Famed patent troll sues Henry Ford on this date in 1903


With tech companies flinging hundreds of millions of dollars in lawyering at each other in legal fights over patents, it's worth remembering that the idea of using patents as a cudgel to kill competition and innovation is itself an old, unoriginal idea. The car above was patented by George Selden in 1895 — whose background as a patent attorney was far more relevant than his lack of engineering skills that imagined a car with an engine in the front axle. Selden and his associates eventually came to claim that this patent meant every builder of a gasoline-powered vehicle in the United States owed them a vig, forming the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers. Most large automakers at the turn of the 20th Century went along, but when some underfunded crank in Detroit who failed at his own previous automaking business refused to pay, the ALAM filed suit on this day in 1903. The battle between the ALAM and Henry Ford would rage for eight years — with Ford finally prevailing, proving the patent was bunkum and that one should never feed the trolls.