Our automotive history is full of colorful characters and interesting stories. We’ll write about one such person now. George B. Selden (1846-1922) was a patent attorney in Rochester, New York. Mr. Selden filed for a patent for a “road engine” on May, 8, 1879. For some reason it was pre-dated to 1877, and patent number 549.160 was granted on November, 5, 1895.
Mr. Selden knew the automobile industry would get a lot bigger. He also knew a patent was only good for 17 years. Knowing a loophole in the laws he stretched from application to issue out to 16 years by taking the maximum time allowed by law to answer inquiries from the Patent Office. It’s estimated he made over $200,000 before the patent was ruled invalid.
By the time the patent was granted, his “road engine” had evolved into a three cylinder motor vehicle, on paper, that caused automakers fits at the time. His patent allowed him to collect royalties from all American car manufacturers, because his was the first and he claimed all the other carmakers copied his patent.
Henry Ford refused to pay royalties to Mr. Selden, because he claimed the patent was questionable since Mr. Selden had never actually built the car. When Henry Ford refused to pay royalties to Mr. Selden’s holding company, the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM), Selden took Ford through a long court battle.
Almost all the other car manufacturers payed the royalties, and vehicles had to have the statement “Licensed under the Selden Patent” somewhere on them. Even advertising at the time had to mention this.
In 1904 a judge deemed Selden’s patent good and ordered Henry Ford to pay royalties. Selden had won the battle, but not the war. George B. Selden did finally produce a car bearing his name, and it was an utter disaster. This caused the patent to be overturned in 1911, and once again Henry Ford didn’t pay royalties. It also helped all car manufacturers build their cars at a lower price.
The Brayton-type 2-cycle engine was a hot air engine, and is the basis for all gas turbine engines. Including the engine detail in the patent was Selden’s eventual downfall. On top of that he didn’t specify either gas or kerosene as the fuel, only a hydrocarbon.
George B. Selden died at age 78 on January 17, 1922 and was buried in Rochester, New York.
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