This post was first published on June 20th, 2014.
The name that is most often associated with Automobile patents is Henry Ford, in addition to Alexander Winton, Karl Benz, and others. Supposedly, Ford’s first experience with the patent system was not as an “Inventor” but as an “Infringer”, who allegedly infringed a US patent titled “Road Engine” granted to Selden (Patent No. 549,160) in 1895. Selden’s patent, with a three-page description, five drawings, and 6 claims, controlled the entire US automobile industry for a considerable period of time.
George B Selden, a Patent Attorney from Rochester, was interested in constructing a horseless carriage that is a lightweight, self-propelled and a one-man operable locomotive. There were massive engines that existed during the time, which were ill-adapted to the purpose. During his visit to Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, he came across an Internal Combustion Engine invented by Brayton. However, Brayton’s engine had low power and weighed over half a tonne. Selden planned a number of improvements to the Brayton engine and filed a patent application on May 8, 1879. From the specification and claims of Selden’s patent application (No. 549,160), which provides alternatives to some features and aims to obtain broader protection scope, it may be inferred that he was more a clever patent attorney than an inventor.