Department of Management

Do "Overly-Broad Patents" of 'Dubious Quality' Retard Innovation? The Selden Patent and US Automobile Development

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review

  • John Howells
  • RD Katznelson, Dr. Ron D. Katznelson is the president of Bi-Level Technologies, Encinitas, California, USA., United States
A current refrain in patent policy discourse is that “overly-broad” patents of “dubious validity” retard innovation. The Selden automobile patent is alleged to have been such a patent. We review the evidence of commercial development during the Selden patent term and show that there is no evidence that innovation was retarded. We argue that this was because from the time this patent threatened to have commercial significance Henry Ford and others relied on “freedom to operate” analyses of the Selden patent claims that unambiguously demonstrated their narrow scope. We review archival sources and cite to new primary sources, in particular the legal Opinion on the Selden patent, to provide a more accurate account than hitherto published of how Henry Ford and others relied on such an analysis. It was this analysis that enabled the Ford Motor Company to correctly anticipate that a future court adjudication of the Selden patent claims would not support the Selden patent enforcer’s asserted broad construction of those claims as encompassing Ford’s automobiles. With this understanding, the Ford Motor Company chose to publicly indemnify all its customers of infringement liability. Suit for infringement of the Selden patent was brought against the Company, and Ford ultimately prevailed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year13 Sep 2019
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sep 2019
EventEuropean Policy for Intellectual Property: The Future of IP - ETHZ, zurich, Switzerland
Duration: 11 Sep 201913 Sep 2019


ConferenceEuropean Policy for Intellectual Property
Internet address

Bibliographical note

A publicly-available draft of the working paper presented at EPIP

    Research areas

  • Overly-broad patent, dubious validity, bad patents, Freedom to Operate analysis, Selden, Ford, Ford Motor Co., automobile, ALAM, Brayton, gas-engine, Otto

See relations at Aarhus University Citationformats

ID: 172098604