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Even the First Radio Pioneers Had Patent Wars and Security Flaws

These days, the closest companies will come to fighting with each other is a snarky graph in a keynote presentation, or perhaps a strongly-worded Tweet. Back in 1903, the solution was much simpler: hijack your rival’s presentation in order to publicly shame them.


Tom Scott tells the fascinating story behind an early demonstration of long-range radio transmissions, conducted by famous physicists Gugliemo Marconi and John Ambrose Fleming. Marconi had boasted previously of the security of his radio system—security that relied on no one else being able to tune a radio correctly.

As Scott explains, that didn’t quite pan out for him: right before a demonstration to the Royal Institution in London, a rival named Nevil Maskelyne repeatedly broadcast the word “rats” to Fleming’s receiver.


Maskelyne was motivated by Marconi’s radio patents, which he viewed as being far too broad (sound familiar?); but by hacking Marconi’s demo, he also set the precedent for publicly shaming companies into fixing security flaws, a practice that lives on to this day. Shame Marconi didn’t have a bug bounty, really.


Contributing Editor

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