Sax and the Sax
Adolphe Sax is celebrated for his celebrated design of musical instruments in what it known and played as the Sax family of musical instruments. Most museums around the world have an example of an early Sax instrument in their collections. Beyond the many fascinating musical delights and emotions produced with the instrument, there is a century-old debate around the issue of the patent attributed to the various designs claimed by Adolphe Sax for the Saxophone among others. The patent attribution was hugely different across Europe in the 19th century (largely inexistant in other parts of the world at the time). The reason for this were differing laws guiding intellectual property rights. “In France no preliminary examination was necessary before a patent could be granted; in Germany examination was obligatory; and … British patent laws, which allowed makers to register designs or apply for patents for developments that had been copied from abroad (imported inventions), as long as they had not been published in Britain.” (Mitroulia and Myers, 2008 p.93). There is a well-documented controversy about the “Berlin valves” and the contested patent in France of it. Design of instruments, particularly popular ones, guarantee sizable earnings for producers of instruments. After 20 years of the 1846 patent in France 1866 the patent expired and the copies could become even cheaper. Some ugly disputes in the middle of Europe were fought around this issue. Remember that military music was still accompanying troops for better or worse. “Visionary or plagiarist? The authors are unable to give a simple verdict. … The fact that Sax claimed originality for some borrowed ideas seems in retrospect less important than the true vision shown.” (Mitroulia and Myers, 2008 p.135). We might not agree with this statement. The visit to the MIM in Brussels gives a good overview of the evolution of musical instruments over thousands of years and across continents, which pushes us to rethink the link of society and technology through the lens of music and technology. Welcome to techno music beyond patent laws. Pushing the boundaries of copyrights on sound sequences to new limits.
(Sources: MIM Brussels, Rice A. R. (2009). Making and improving the nineteenth-century saxophone. Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society. 35:81-122. Mitroulia, E., A. Myers. (2008). Adolphe Sax: Visionary or plagiarist? Historic Brass Society journal, 20, 93-141).