|The Telephone Cases|
|Argued January 24–28, 31, February 1–4, 7–8, 1887|
Decided March 19, 1888
|Full case name||Dolbear v. American Bell Telephone Company; Molecular Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; American Bell Telephone Company v. Molecular Telephone Company; Clay Commercial Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; People's Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company; Overland Telephone Company v. American Bell Telephone Company|
|Citations||126 U.S. 1 (more)|
8 S. Ct. 778; 31 L. Ed. 863
|The Bell Company patent was valid and that the Molecular case was reversed.|
|Majority||Waite, joined by Miller, Matthews, Blatchford|
|Dissent||Bradley, joined by Field, Harlan|
|Gray and Lamar took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.|
The Telephone Cases, 126 U.S. 1 (1888), were a series of US court cases in the 1870s and the 1880s related to the invention of the telephone, which culminated in the 1888 decision of the US Supreme Court upholding the priority of the patents belonging to Alexander Graham Bell. Those telephone patents were relied on by the American Bell Telephone Company and the Bell System although they had also acquired critical microphone patents from Emile Berliner.
The objector (or plaintiff) in the notable Supreme Court case was initially the Western Union telegraph company, which was then a far-larger and better financed competitor than American Bell Telephone. Western Union advocated several more recent patent claims of Daniel Drawbaugh, Elisha Gray, Antonio Meucci and Philip Reis in a bid to invalidate Alexander Graham Bell's master and subsidiary telephone patents dating back to March 1876. Western Union's success would have immediately destroyed the Bell Telephone Company, and Western Union could have become the world's largest telecommunications monopoly in Bell's place.
The US Supreme Court came within one vote of overturning the Bell patent because of the eloquence of lawyer Lysander Hill for the Peoples Telephone Company. In a lower court, the Peoples Telephone Company stock rose briefly during the early proceedings but dropped after its claimant, Daniel Drawbaugh, took the stand and testified: "I don't remember how I came to it. I had been experimenting in that direction. I don't remember of getting at it by accident either. I don't remember of anyone talking to me of it."
In the case, the Supreme Court affirmed:
The Supreme Court reversed American Bell Tel Co. v. Molecular Tel. Co., 32 F. 214.
Bell's second fundamental patent expired on January 30, 1894, when the gates were then opened to independent telephone companies to compete with the Bell System. In all, the American Bell Telephone Company and its successor, AT&T, litigated 587 court challenges to its patents, including five that went to the US Supreme Court and, aside from two minor contract lawsuits, never lost a single case that was concluded with a final stage judgment.
The Court's decision in the Telephone Cases is notable for the size of the opinions delivered; together, they occupy the entire 126th volume of the United States Reports.
Among the notable court cases involving the Bell Telephone Company, later renamed to the American Bell Telephone Company, were those related to challenges by Elisha Gray, a principal in Western Electric, as depicted in the Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell telephone controversy.
Additionally the Bell Company became embroiled in a number of challenges from those companies associated with Antonio Meucci, as shown in the Canadian Parliamentary Motion on Alexander Graham Bell, itself a response to the United States HRes. 269 on Antonio Meucci.