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.