Samsung even cited this scene in court as prior art that would invalidate Apple's patents on what amounts to patenting an interactive, rectangular media-viewing device.
Back in 2011, the judge in the case also made reference to a 1994 video produced by Knight Ridder, which also showed an iPad-like device that he thought might invalidate the Apple patent.
Regardless of the outcome – which was wrapped up in the vagaries of patent law – the case highlights the essence of innovation. It rarely happens in isolation, instead drawing on an extremely complex mix of authors and ideas, with everyone taking from everyone else.
Pointing the way
Yet, still we like to keep our narratives simple. In part, this is because of the commercialisation of history. Messy stories with multiple protagonists are no good for selling t-shirts, telling a five-minute story squeezed in between TV ads, or creating an engaging blog post or comic.
However, I believe we also cling to the idea of the lone inventor because it feeds into the idea that any of us can do the same. We like to imagine that an inventor exists outside of the cultural and institutional forces that facilitate innovation. If people would simply try harder – pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and get better ideas – they could change the world.
But this is a poor understanding of history that does the future no favours. To allow people to truly understand how messy the history of innovation and invention really are we need to kill the myth of the lone genius and celebrate the rich diversity of people who bring an invention into being.
And, it seems others agree. On 18 March, five engineers that helped to create the internet were awarded the first ever Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. The £1 million prize was shared between Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf, who developed the protocols that underpin the internet, Louis Pouzin, whose research influenced Kahn and Cerf's work, and Marc Andreessen, the co-creator of the world's first web browser.
This kind of recognition is an important step towards answering the question of who invented the internet. It is also a step towards quashing the myth of the lone genius, and celebrating the rich tapestry of characters behind most inventions and the slow gradual process that brings them into being.
It is an idea that I believe Tesla would have approved of.
"The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result,” he wrote in 1900. “He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter – for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way."
This column is based on Matt's talk Edison vs. Tesla & the Myth of the Lone Inventor at the recent SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Hear Matt talk more on the subject with science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker over At Boing Boing.