Inventors Get Nothing

I was reading last night or rather rereading one of Bill Bryson's books. I have lost count how many times I have read his books, I still find the books humourous and refeshing. I am also afraid to say that I am beginning to copy that style which is really really bad. Not that the style is bad but copying is and this is mostly psychological (you read a person's work over and over again, you can't help but get it into you) and not deliberate. His dry sense of humour is something that I would love to have.

Anyway, he was writing about America and in one particular chapter about the poor success of some Americans. Americans have invented many things but sometimes neglect to be able to cash in on that invention. The more recent ones include the poor sod who wrote the original Operating System (OS) for practically all the PCs used in the world. It was definitely not Bill Gates. I remembered in the early 1980s when PCs were just going to be the rage, IBM wanted an OS and Microsoft (then a fledgling company) offered theirs. Microsoft got theirs from a company who was selling PCDOS and repackaged it as MSDOS (MS standing for Microsoft and D standing for Disk). Microsoft grew from there when their OS became the de facto world standard. And look where they are now. What happened to PCDOS? No one knows.

Bill Bryson mentioned Goodyear which almost everyone would know this tyre company name. It was Goodyear who invented the vulcanised rubber which literally enable rubbers to be put on roads. However Goodyear did not patent the process and earn nothing from being the inventor of rubber tyres. And the Goodyear tyre compan? The company was started by a couple of entrepreneurs who liked the name Goodyear and used it. The Goodyear company has no link whatsoever to the man who invented the tyre.

Another one is Morse. This is the famous Morse code. Morse was said to have invented the telegraph system and recognised as one and hence at the same time made famous the use of the Morse code to transmit messages. Remember in those days, there was no telephone yet. The poor sod who invented the telegraph is never mentioned. Only Morse got to keep the honour and reap all the money as well.

Surprisingly the most famous Americans was Alexander Graham Bell. He invented the telephone and probably changed the way we all lived forever. The only problem is that he is not American! Bell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847 and moved to Canada in 1870. His patent for the telephone was granted in 1876. His company the Bell Telephone Company founded in 1877 became the biggest company in America. Bell's telephone actually grew out of improvements he made to the telegraph. And guess what? Bell is not the inventor of telephones. In 2002, the United States Congress officially recognized Antonio Meucci, an Italian as the inventor of the telephone, denying Bell's claim to its invention! (Though the Canadian Parliament retaliated by passing a resolution that Bell was the only inventor of the telephone).

I guess the only lesson here is that, you don't really have to invent something to be famous. But if you, you better make sure that yours is patented and protected. Now, where is that Patent Act?


Anonymous said…
The most enterprising person gets all the dosh, period. Anyway, say if Goodyear had patented the tyre, somewhere down the line someone would have sued them big time for 'monopolizing' the market for that one product.

The real lesson here is: if you invent something big and haven't got the foresight to recognise this, someone else will do it for you, and make those billions you failed to make. You snooze, you lose.
Gates did write some software for the then 8086 CPU then but it was actually the DOS written by a small computer company called Seattle Computer Products who wrote the DOS that Microsoft used. MS at first paid $10k for the right to market that product and $15k for every customer. MS did not tell SCP that IBM was their customer. Just before IBM launched the IBM XT, MS then purchased the DOS software for about $50k in 1981. In 1986, MS paid SCP for an out of court settlement around $1m. By then MS had taken over the entire computer industry and it only cost them a paltry sum of $1m.

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