You could say that being an inventor is about having a passion for solving the world’s problems. That seems neat enough on its own! Making money on inventions and being famous for them is one of the upsides of creating, an added bonus you could say! Inventions that have changed our world have made a lot of people very wealthy (and very famous) – but some inventors didn’t take the important step of patenting their inventions.
What is a patent and why is it important?
A patent or trademark can protect an invention from other people stealing it and claiming they invented it. An invention can be an object, process or a technique, all of which can be patented as what lawyers call “intellectual property”. It is a legal document that gives inventors total control over how their inventions (devices, machines, materials, processes and substances) are made, used and sold. A patent however, does not last forever. Currently, it lasts 20 years from the date the patent was first filed. A patent is only granted to inventions shown to be unique.
5 Famous inventions without patents
1. The Internet – Tim Berners-Lee
What would life be without it? It’s hard to imagine now. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, is perhaps the most famous inventor not to earn cash from an invention that fundamentally changed how we see the world. The first website was built at CERN in 1991, and from there the internet continued to grow to become the world wide web we know today. But Berners-Lee put no patent on his idea, so was due no royalties. He decided that his invention should be freely available. Thank you, Tim.
You can view the first webpage ever made here
2. The Ball Point Pen – Laszlo Biro
In 1938, Laszlo Biro patented the ballpoint pen, after becoming fed up with leaky fountain pens. But having taken out a patent for his invention, Biro sold it to Marcel Bich in 1945, whose company, Bic, pocketed the majority of the cash from the 100 billion pens that have been sold since.
3. The Karaoke Machine – Daisuke Inoue
Everybody loves a bit of Karaoke! Japanese businessman, Daisuke Inoue, is the man who gave us the joy of the famous singalong machine. Alas, he never patented his design, so didn’t benefit from the millions of off key performances it became responsible for.
4. Polio Vaccine – Jonas Salk
Jonas Salk’s sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine for Polio, and to do so as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When he was asked in an interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”.
5. The Emoticon (emoji) – Harvey Ball
The father of the “smiley”, known today as the emoji, was invented by Harvey Ball in 1963. He first designed the emoticon in 1963 to improve employee morale at an insurance company, but the symbol took off and became hugely popular. Ball never copyrighted his work, and earned just $45 for the original design. It has now become a key feature of texts, e-mails, tweets, and all other forms of digital communication.