Griffith Brewer, "The Wright brothers' Boswell": Patent management and the British aviation industry, 1903-1914

Jon P Hopwood-Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


From 1908, the British aviation community increasingly feared the possibility of litigation over their perceived (often actual) infringement of the Wright brothers' UK patent that described wing-warping, their pivotal invention for three-dimensional control in flight. At the same time, Wilbur Wright first met Griffith Brewer, an established member of the British aviation community, and one of the first professional patent agents specializing in aeronautics. Although rarely considered by historians of aviation, Brewer was a key figure, who was not only instrumental in protecting the Wrights' interests in Britain (and abroad), but also, and more importantly, paramount in safeguarding the continued growth of the British aviation industry. Hence, in 1914, rather than suing and possibly damaging the struggling aviation industry for infringement of the Wright patent, Brewer successfully sued its main customer, the British government, for 15,000. Surprisingly, Brewer accomplished all this whilst not accepting payment for his labour, claiming instead that he was motivated to do "a fair thing in the Wright matter." Brewer's example demonstrates the often crucial but largely invisible role of the patent agent-in this instance, in British aviation during the first pioneering decades of powered flight. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-268
Number of pages10
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • Wright brothers
  • Griffith Brewer
  • Aeronautics
  • Aviation
  • Patent agent
  • Patent litigation

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