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"He called both Bardeen and I in separately, shortly after the demonstration, and told us that sometimes the people who do the work don't get the credit for it. He thought then that he could write a patent, starting with the field effect, on the whole damn thing, to include this." - Walter Brattain, May 1974. 

"I got into a discussion with Shockley because when he asked me how many patents I had, I said I had three of them, and I did mention that I had co-inventors with me. He said, 'Co-inventors? On a patent?' He said, 'The patents only have one person. There's only one person who thinks of the idea. It's like ah-ha! This is the idea. The others, whoever else is around just does the bidding of the one who makes the invention.'"-Harry Sello.

"In the United States, the first to file isn't necessarily the inventor at law, and if you can prove that you made the invention ahead of someone who filed earlier, you can still get a patent that will dominate the earlier field application, and this in a sense was what he was trying to do. . . It can be said that if he had succeeded that would have been a legitimate claim to be the first inventor of the transistor." -- Arthur Torsiglieri,

Patent Battles


The Line is Drawn: January 1948

The Patent

William Shockley had some strong ideas about inventions. He felt that the person who had the original idea was the sole inventor and should be the only name on the patent. When Walter Brattain and John Bardeen developed the first transistor, Shockley believed that the original ideas had been his own. Never mind that their transistor didn't work anything like the one Shockley had envisioned. 

In January, Shockley called Bardeen and Brattain into his office separately, to announce he fully intended to be the only person on the transistor's patent. Each man responded in a fairly characteristic way. The quiet Bardeen said little and stormed out. The boisterous Brattain snapped: "Oh hell, Shockley, there's enough glory in this for everybody!" 

The Patent Lawyers Have Their Say: Spring 1948 

Determined to be the only person on the transistor patent, Shockley turned to the Bell Labs lawyers. Bell administration  usually supported Shockley's endeavors since he was the leader of the group -- and a productive one. But as the lawyers began to formulate their patent application, they found something disturbing. In the 1930s, a man named Julius Lilienfeld  had filed a patent for a device almost identical to Shockley's original idea. Since the transistor built by Bardeen and  Brattain was undeniably different, Bell decided to file solely on their work -- dismissing Shockley's ideas completely. 

Shockley had wanted to be listed as the sole inventor of the transistor; he was now not to be on the patent at all. Bardeen and Brattain were vindicated; Shockley extremely distressed. A wedge had been firmly driven between the three men, and it was only to get worse. 

Four Patents Filed, Two Accepted: Summer 1948 

In the end, Bell's attorneys filed four patents on the initial solid state amplifier. Two were on the initial work Bardeen, Brattain and Gibney had done exploring Shockley's field effect transistor, one was for the Bardeen/Brattain device, and one for Shockley's improved version which he called a junction transistor. These were all filed by the summer of 1948, just before Bell announced the invention to the press. 

The first two were rejected quickly in November of the same year. The US Patent Office said they were too similar to the Lilienfeld work done almost 20 years before. But the second two -- for the point contact transistor and the junction transistor -- were deemed acceptable. Final score: Bardeen and Brattain got a patent for their work, while Shockley got a patent for a different invention with only his own name at the top -- fcas he'd desired. 


It's Not Over 'Til It's Over: 1970

 Arthur Torsiglieri, one of Bell's patent lawyers, tells a story showing that the patent battle smouldered within William Shockley for years. In the 1970s, Shockley called up Torsiglieri trying to override the Bardeen/Brattain patent. Shockley pointed out that there was some overlap between the three men's patents -- one figure in his patent suggested he had had similar ideas as to how to build a point-junction transistor long before Bardeen and Brattain did. 

As it was, Shockley was not able to prove that his earlier research was successful. Having similar ideas was not enough, he had to show that he had ideas that would have worked. 

-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson 
-- Arthur Torsiglieri, interview for "Transistorized!"


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