Inventing Airplanes Orville and Wilbur Wright are credited with building the first airplane, but they weren't the first to fly one before an audience. A rival inventor named Glenn Curtiss holds that claim to fame, and a number of other aviation-related firsts. While the Wrights kept much of their work secret, Curtiss had a much more open approach to his process of invention. And he was the target of lawsuits by the Wright brothers. NPR's Dan Charles reports the story of the Wright-Curtiss rivalry reflects an ongoing debate on whether patents actually encourage or obstruct progress and innovation.