Society reveres creative individuals who bring new products and technologies into our lives. But inventors themselves often have a hard time profiting from their own ingenuity.
In some cases, inventors come up short because they lacked the necessary legal protections, or failed to assert them. Sometimes it was bad luck. In some instances, they were ripped off.
Here are four cases in which the person with the amazing idea did not benefit:
Information scientist Berners-Lee is considered the inventor of the World Wide Web. It was he who drew up the first description of a new way to communicate from machine to machine using the hypertext transfer protocol that we use every millisecond – HTTP. He created the first website in 1991. Berners-Lee, an Englishman, was knighted for his achievement. But he was not rewarded with riches because he gave his idea to the world.
Also a computer scientist, Kildall is credited with developing CP/M, thought to be superior in every way to Bill Gates’ newcomer MS-DOS. Kildall’s operating system was set to become the IBM standard, but something happened – accounts vary – and Gates nabbed the contract for his fledgling company Microsoft. Gates went on to become the world’s richest man.
This 19th-century chemist sought to develop a way to obtain fire quickly. He created small sticks of wood or paper dipped in sulfur and tipped with other chemicals – the match, which he called Congreves. Like Berners-Lee, Walker gave his idea freely to the world.
This inventor from Utah should rightly be as celebrated as Thomas Edison because he, more than any other individual, was responsible for the invention of television. And he accomplished this feat at the age of 19. But he was beset throughout his career with patent challenges. He was once a mystery guest on the quiz show I’ve Got A Secret. “I invented television,” he whispered to the audience. No one guessed his secret.
The list of inventors who, for one reason or another, did not take full advantage of their world-changing creations is long and fascinating.
We offer them here to remind you that an idea worth having is almost always worth protecting.