WHAT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED IF THE AMERICA INVENTS ACT HAD BEEN A LAW IN 1886
Persons are debating the implications of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011, which brings a certain rule of the Patent and Trademark Office in compliance with patent practices in the rest of the world. Time will tell, but it is interesting to speculate on the consequences had
the law been in effect in 1886. One consequence is that Charles Martin Hall, American discoverer of the electrochemical reduction of bauxite, a major aluminum mineral, in molten cryolite, would not have received the critical patents; Paul L. T. Héroult, a Frenchman, would have. Héroult
had obtained a patent in France and applied for a U.S. patent about the same time. The rule at the time, and until March 16, 2013, awarded the patent to the inventor who first conceived of the invention and diligently reduced it to practice. In the patent trial of 1886, Hall was able to show
that he was the first to invent. Consequences were that the supporters of Hall formed the Pittsburgh Reduction Co., later to be known as Alcoa, which held a monopoly in the US until after World War II. Hall became a multimillionaire, generously enhanced the endowment of Oberlin College, his
alma mater, and Alcoa ran aluminum processing plants that made a significant contribution to the production of airplanes during World War II.