The Audion acts as an amplifier, transforming quiet electric signals into loud ones.
In 1906, Lee de Forest invented the “three-electrode Audion” vacuum tube.
In 1906, Lee de Forest invented the “three-electrode Audion” vacuum tube. The Audion acts as an amplifier, transforming quiet electric signals into loud ones.
Originally de Forest wasn’t quite sure if the Audion had any practical application. That quickly changed. Audions efficiency boost voice over telephones, enabling long-distance calls. They make radios (and, later, phonographs, televisions, and anything else that produces sound) louder. They improve reception. Audion amplifying tubes caused countless noise complaints until digital transistors overtook them.
de Forest famously fought epic patent battles to protect his Audion tube patent. The two most well-known include one with vacuum tube inventor John Fleming and another with radio inventor Edwin Armstrong. During these fights, de Forest admitted he did not know how or why his tube worked nor did he see any practical use for it. However, as the first person to invent and patent the tube he claimed broad rights to the patent and license it. After prolonged litigation that included three trips to the US Supreme Court they ruled for de Forest.
The de Forest patent war brings up a recurring and never-ending question: what is the purpose of a patent? The US Constitution clarifies patents exist “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” Other countries have similar reasoning.
However, when the inventor of a thing sees no purpose for it and does not understand how it works do patents really promote the progress of science? US patents were initially issued by the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. Except he did not like patents and processed applications slowly if at all. Steamboat inventor John Fitch received a patent after a long wait. However, the patent also issued to three others including two who did no research at all. Similarly, he sat on the application for Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. By the time the patent issues knockoffs abounded. However, steamboats and cotton gins both flourished.