Book claims Bell copied telephone invention

A leading US writer and academic has claimed Alexander Graham Bell plagiarised the invention of his rival Elisha Gray

Alexander Graham Bell may not have been the original inventor of the telephone, according to a book due for release next month by a leading US writer.

In his book, The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret, Seth Shulman, a former science writing fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims there is "little doubt" that Bell plagiarised the initial telephone design of Elisha Gray, one of his greatest rivals.

"Bell furtively — and illegally — copied part of Elisha Gray's invention in the race to secure what would become the most valuable US patent ever issued," says a summary of his book posted on the website of his publisher, WW Norton. "As Bell's device led to the world's largest monopoly [AT&T], he hid his invention's illicit beginnings."

Shulman claims in his book that Bell, aided by aggressive lawyers and a corrupt patent examiner, benefited from reading Gray's patent documents without having the right to do so, and that Bell was wrongly credited with filing first.

In his research, Shulman scrutinised Bell's correspondence on the subject plus his laboratory notebooks, which detail a range of problems he encountered.

Bell's notebooks were held privately by his family for a century after the invention, only becoming widely available in 1999.

Shulman's book is due for release on 7 January.