10 Famous Stolen Inventions

10) The Telephone

Alexander Graham Bell is largely credited for inventing the telephone, after he secured the patent in 1876. But in 2002 the US Congress declared that the real inventor was actually the poor Italian inventor Antonio Meucci[Me oo chie]Sixteen years before Bell’s patent, Meucci had successfully demonstrated his ‘teletrofono’ for the Italian American press in New York. Meucci sent his invention to the Western Union telegraph company in 1872 in an attempt to bring his telephone to market. But, when no action was taken and he asked for his prototype back two years later, Western Union claimed to have lost it. Bell, who had shared a laboratory with Meucci, filed a patent for a telephone and made a lucrative deal with Western Union. Meucci sued Bell for fraud and appeared to be winning the case, but then he died, bringing an end to court proceedings.Source: BBC, Guardian

9) Radio

Guglielmo [Gwil gel mo] Marconi won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on long-distance radio transmissions. However, he did so by infringing on numerous patents held by inventor Nikola Tesla. In England, Marconi used Tesla’s technology to demonstrate long-distance radio transmissions. Over the following three years, Marconi applied for radio patents in America, but was repeatedly rejected, as they were too similar to more than 17 that were already held by Tesla. However, as Marconi continued to improve his demonstrations, he received financial backing from powerful investors in the United States. In 1904 the US patent office reversed their previous decision and gave Marconi a patent for the invention of radio. It was not until 1943, a few months after Tesla’s death, that the Supreme Court ruled to uphold Tesla’s radio patent. Source: PBS

8) Lasers

Gordon Gould [goo-ld] is widely credited for the invention of the laser, but it took a thirty year patent war for him to secure that title. As a graduate student at Columbia University, Gould discussed his idea of how to build a laser with physics professor Charles H. Townes.Coining the term laser, Gould wrote down his ideas in a notebook, which he legally protected. Meanwhile, two years later in 1959, Townes successfully patented the laser, leading to Gould suing. Gould was locked in legal battles for 30 years, securing and defending laser patents. But in 1988 he finally won his last court battle and was able to receive royalties from anyone making lasers, a settlement worth millions. Source: American Institute of Physics, NY Times

7) Anyway up Cup

Amateur inventor Mandy Haberman came up with a new type of cup with a slit valve that prevented spills, after seeing a toddler pour juice over a carpet. Haberman patented the valve and showed her cup to big brands in an attempt to sell her product to them. Seeing her invention, children’s company Jackel International stole the invention and bought out her cup under the global Tommy Tippee brand. Haberman was forced to take the manufacturing giant Jackel International to court and sue for patent infringement. She eventually won the case including damages, and is now selling 10 million Anyway up Cups a year.Source: BBC, CNN

6) The Telescope

The telescope was Galileo’s most famous invention, even though he didn’t actually invent it.The first person to apply for a patent for the telescope was Dutch eyeglass maker, Hans Lippershey, in 1608. But the patent was never granted, as the invention was deemed too easyt o reproduce. A year later, news of the Dutch perspective glasses had spread to Italy, leading to Galileo engineering his own copy. He improved the magnification of Lippershey’s version and was the first to use a telescope to methodically plot the movement of Venus. He disproved the dominant theory at the time that the Earth was at the center of the universe. Sources: The Galileo Project, Universe Today, Space

5) Quick Release Socket

WrenchPeter Roberts was 18 years old and working at department store Sears when he invented and patented the quick release socket wrench. Sears bought the patent from Roberts for just $10,000, telling him that his invention wouldn’t sell well. It wasn’t until Roberts saw his wrench in a Sears catalogue that he learned that his invention was an enormous success, and that Sears had sold 26 million of his wrenches for a profit of $44 million within just a year. Roberts spent 25 years locked in legal battles with Sears, suing them for cheating him out of his rightful royalties. He eventually settled for $8.2 million. Source: NY Times, The Register Guard

4) Monopoly

Charles Darrow became the first game designer to become a millionaire, when he sold the board game Monopoly to toy company the Parker Brothers in 1935.But in reality the famous board game was first patented in 1904 by Lizzie Magie, [Ma gie] under the title the Landlord’s Game. Versions of her game were played for 30 years, before Darrow took his own version to the Parker Brothers. The Parker Brothers paid Magie just $500 to buy the patent to the Landlord’s Game, while Darrow went on to be hailed as an American innovator. Source: NY Times, The Guardian

3) Intermittent Windshield

WipersRobert Kearns lost his job, marriage, and even his mental health, when his invention was stolen by the big three auto makers. His mechanism allowed windshield wipers to pause in-between swipes. Kearns showed his invention to Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler [crai-slur], in an unsuccessful attempt to license his new technology with them. But, despite having more than 30 patents for his invention, all three car manufactures began to install his mechanism into their cars without his knowledge. Kearns spent 20 years battling car makers in court for patent infringement, eventually winning tens of millions of dollars from Ford and Chrysler. However, he was unable to reclaim his invention, which by this point had been adopted by car manufacturers the world over. Source: NY Times, Washington Post

2) Brown Paper Bag Machine

Margaret Knight was one of the most famous female inventors of the 19th century and one of the first to secure a patent. While working in a paper bag plant, Knight had the revolutionary idea that paper bags would pack more in if they had a flat bottom. So she set about creating a machine to automatically produce them. Initially she created a working wooden model of her invention. But while developing her metal prototype, machinist Charles Anan stole Knight’s design and patented the device himself. Knight sued and was ultimately able to prove that she was the real inventor. Her machine had a huge impact on the paper industry, and the principles behind it are still used to this day. Source: Women Inventors, amse.org

1) Light bulb

Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor and particularly famous for inventing a light bulb suitable for indoor use. To do this, Edison attempted to improve on British inventor’s Joseph Swan’s version of the light bulb. He secured an American patent for his improvements, and to sell the bulbs he began a marketing campaign, which stated that he was the real inventor. However, in England, Swan had already improved the light bulb a year earlier. To avoid a possible court battle with Swan, Edison reached out and formed a joint light bulb manufacturing company to release the invention in Britain. Swan allowed Edison to sell the bulbs in America and retain his reputation as the inventor of the light bulb that we still use today. Source: American History

One thought on “10 Famous Stolen Inventions

  1. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

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