While working as a journalist (with a Hungarian newspaper called Elotte) in the early part of the 20th Century, Laszlo Biro was often annoyed by fountain pens. He began to wonder whether the irksome implement might be replaced with something more convenient. The result, of course, was the “biro” (ballpoint pen).
The commercial version of Laszlo’s invention was launched in Argentina. Ironically, however, Biro neglected to use his invention to file for North American patents and, as a result, lost what amounted to a sizable fortune.
Though he personally earned nothing from its sale, Jonas Salk actively publicized his newly-discovered polio vaccine.
One day Salk was asked who owned the patent. “The people,” he simply replied. “Could you patent the sun?”
Pierre and Marie Curie refused to patent their process for refining radium; Wilhelm Roentgen declined to apply for any patents stemming from his discovery of X-rays.
MORAL: Decide When to Patent Or Not
At the turn of the 19th Century, many were swept up in fin-de-siecle euphoria, wondering what marvels the new century would bring.
One notable exception was the Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents, Charles H. Duell: “Everything that can be invented,” he boldly declared, “has been invented.”
Duell should have read his history; a similar remark had been made by the Roman engineer Sextus Julius Frontinus two millennia earlier.