Famous Inventors

Famous Inventors

Date: August 09, 2012

Will you be the next famous inventor?  We know famous figures from America’s past like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, and others.  Thomas Edison, for example, was one of America’s most prolific inventors and he held close to 1,100 patents for his creations and inventions.  Alexander Graham Bell invented the landline telephone, but do you know who invented the first cell phone?  There is some discussion about who exactly it was, but a lot of the early development was sponsored by Bell Labs as that company grew and explored new communication inventions.  So you can be a famous inventor by yourself or as part of corporate innovation.

Among the most famous inventors of the 20th and 21st centuries, Steve Jobs is well-recognized.  He is listed first on the patent application for what became the Apple iPhone. (There are four other co-inventors on the application filed in September 2007.)  But, do you know the Hollywood actress who pioneered wireless communications in the 1940s?  Hedy Lamarr – a popular movie actress at the time – also invented wireless radio communications to help the USA during World War II.  The work she and her co-inventor George Antheil created was known as “field hopping, spread-spectrum” radio communications granted in 1947 as US Patent 2,292,387.  Her work was originally designed to help the US Navy jam signals of enemy torpedoes.  Practical use and implementation of the invention, though, did not occur until 1962 when the Navy used the technology during a blockade of Cuba.  Ms. Lamarr’s contributions to electronics and related communications were recognized in 1997 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about 50 years later. So you can be a famous inventor, but unless you find a way to market or use your idea, fame does not necessarily guarantee financial success.

Other famous inventors have created products that have changed the world and most of our lives, as well as business and financial success for their owners.  For example, the steam engine (James Watt), the printing press (Johannes Gutenberg), the modern light bulb (Thomas Edison), the airplane (Wright Brothers), and other products were created by people who had some measure of fame and success during their lifetimes. Other inventions have been created but were implemented by others.  The barcode was invented by Bernard Silver and one of his students at the Drexel Institute of Technology, granted in 1952.  But, commercialization of the barcode invention required separate creation of tracking and control systems known as UPC codes about 10 years later.

Likewise, many inventions and the people famous for them are cooperative efforts.  The invention of the Internet was a joint undertaking, even with Al Gore’s assistance.  The original design and transmission protocols were developed by Vinton Cerf in 1973 with backing from the U.S. Department of Defense.  Once the specifications were published, it took about 10 years to fully develop what we know today as the World Wide Web, giving us the “www” at the beginning of any website address or URL.  Many times, famous companies support employees who invent and create patented products.  The company in the US that holds the most patents is IBM.  According to recent totals, nearly 3,000 patents are registered to IBM, most in computer design, engineering and manufacture.  Companies and groups of individuals can be famous for their inventions too.  As with the individual inventor, though, for companies it is still true that collective efforts are often required to commercialize an invention by bringing it to market.

Do you have to be famous?  Or, do you have to work with a group of people to make your idea or invention a reality?  The inventor who holds the most U.S. Patents is Japanese inventor, Shunpei Yamakazi with 1,851. Most of his inventions are related to memory chips and LCDs (liquid crystal display).  These are used in famous or familiar TV brands like Samsung, Motorola, General Electric, LG and more.  Even though Yamakazi is not a household name, his inventions and the intellectual property he has created have an impact on millions of households around the world.    In the case of Steve Jobs, yes he’s famous.  And he was a prolific inventor.  Apple Inc., though, would not exist as a successful company without the support and efforts of all the people who work with him and help develop his ideas. To have a viable, marketable idea or invention, you don’t have to be famous or connected with others but it helps.