On June 20, 1840, Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) patented the telegraph. The far-reaching consequences of that act were debated in the O’Reilly v. Morse case in 1854. One of the issues was that abstract ideas should not be eligible for patents. This claim has even been applied to art that is generated by computer software (see: Wikipedia, O’Reilly v. Morse, for more information.) There were several issues debated in this case, including whether or not Morse was the first to invent the telegraph!
For more on the subject, check out The invention of the Telegraph and Telephone in American history, by Anita Louise McCormick; Samuel Morse, by Mona Kerby; or Lightning man: the accursed life of Samuel F.B. Morse / Kenneth Silverman.