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The Legal Department Records consist of correspondence, patent interference files, litigation case files, and other material pertaining to the activities of Edison, his attorneys, and his representatives. Established in 1904, the Legal Department centralized the business of Edison, his laboratory, and his companies for the consideration of legal matters. It dealt primarily with patent concerns, including applications, interferences, and infringement litigation, but it also handled a variety of other legal matters, such as real estate transactions, copyright and trademark cases, and the execution of agreements, assignments, and licenses. Edison's personal attorney, Frank L. Dyer, served as general counsel of the Legal Department. He continued to manage its affairs even after becoming Edison's chief executive officer in 1908, when he replaced William E. Gilmore as president of the National Phonograph Co. and several other Edison companies. The records of the Legal Department consist primarily of files that Dyer, his staff, and his predecessors collected and maintained on individual subjects or cases. Dyer's associates included Herbert H. Dyke, Delos Holden, William Pelzer, George F. Scull, and Dyer Smith, as well as attorneys from firms in Washington, Chicago, and elsewhere, who were consulted and hired to pursue litigation, perform research, or collect depositions. Among Dyer's predecessors was Howard W. Hayes, who handled phonograph litigation until his death in November 1903.
The documents are arranged by subject into five groups: (1) Battery; (2) Cement; (3) Motion Pictures; (4) Phonograph; and (5) Edison's Name. Within the first four groups, the material is organized by document type: Correspondence; Interference Proceedings; Case Files. The fifth group contains correspondence and case files regarding legal action pursued by Edison against parties, including his two oldest sons, who used the name "Edison" for commercial purposes.
Less than 5 percent of the documents have been selected. The selected items demonstrate Edison's direct involvement in the progress of litigation; pertain to experimental work performed by Edison or his associates; or broadly illustrate the business and legal strategies of his companies. The items not selected include numerous case files for suits in which Edison or one of his companies was at least nominally involved, but for which there is no evidence of Edison's direct participation.
Because of the vast quantity of material in the Legal Department records, detailed descriptions of the unselected case files and other unselected records have not been presented. A comprehensive finding aid to the archival record group, Legal Services Department and Retained Firms, is available at the Edison National Historical Park.
Documents relating to the activities of the Legal Department also appear in other series. The Document File Series contains "Legal Department" folders for the years 1908-1910. Corporate documentation and other material of a legal nature, including correspondence and other items pertaining to the progress of litigation, can also be found in the Company Records Series. For example, the "Correspondence, Domestic (1903)" folder in the National Phonograph Company Records contains a 17-page report summarizing litigation left pending after the death of attorney Howard W. Hayes.