Pioneer patents are
entitled to much broader protection under American patent law that those that
are deemed to be improvements in an existing technology.
Westinghouse v. Boyden Power Brake Co., the Supreme Court defined a
pioneer patent to cover “…a function never before performed, a wholly novel
device, or one of such novelty and importance as to mark a distinct step in the
progress of the art, as distinguished from a mere improvement or perfection of
what has gone before." The court cited the examples of Elias Howe’s sewing
machine, Samuel Morse’s telegraph, and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Judge
Hazel adjudicated the Wright’s combination of movable
aerodynamic surfaces for pitch, roll and yaw control to be a unique solution to
the problem of aeronautical balance and navigation, not just an improvement on
what had been tried before. It was therefore entitled to be considered a pioneer
patent and given a “liberal interpretation.” The concept of a pioneer patent is
unique to American patent law, which partly explains why the Wright brothers had
more difficulty defending their patent in Europe than they did at home.