On January 27, 1880, Thomas Edison received U.S. Patent No. 223,898, which was simply titled “Electric Lamp.”
In addition to be the greatest inventor of his time, Edison also had a way with words and explaining concepts. He is famously reported to have quipped that failure really isn’t failure at all, but a success in disguise, reportedly saying: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” He also famously explained: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Known as the Wizard of Menlo Park, Edison received over one thousand US patents, the first of which was filed on October 13, 1868, when he was the tender age of 21. It is indeed difficult to imagine the modern world without scientific contributions and inventions of Edison. Nevertheless, Edison did have failures, including his failed support of DC power over AC power, but Edison never let failure stand between him and success.
Perhaps Edison’s most famous inventions were the phonograph, motion pictures and the light-bulb. Truth be told, however, Edison didn’t really “invent” the lightbulb, but rather he improved upon the technology by developing a light-bulb that used a lower current electricity, a small carbonized filament, and an improved vacuum inside the globe. Edison’s invention lead to a reliable, long-lasting source of light. Prior to Edison’s invention lightbulbs lasted only a few hours and now they could last 50 to 60 days, making them practical. So it is entirely fair to say that Thomas Edison invented the first commercially useful lightbulb.
The invention of the first usable lightbulb is really emblematic of Edison’s signature as an inventor. He was not interested in inventing for the sake of inventing, but rather he wanted to invent things that were practical, usable and desirable. Edison wanted his inventions to make it into the marketplace. He wanted to be a commercially successful inventor, which he was. Thomas Edison made his money by inventing and then licensing his inventions. Today many would consider Thomas Edison a patent troll, which is both ridiculous and a pathetic commentary about the intellectual honesty of those who so hate the patent system that they feel they need to belittle and ridicule the greatest American inventor of all time. For more see Who is a patent troll?
The sad reality is that “patent reform” is not making a better patent system, it is making a different patent system. Indeed, “patent reform” is creating a patent system that is inferior, which will only benefit infringers, particularly those from outside the United States where manufacturing still exists. I wonder whether Thomas Edison could have thrived under the patent laws of today, where those who invent and license are ridiculed as patent trolls by those who have the ear of Congress and are urging ever more changes to the patent system that will only weaken the rights granted.
I think it is utterly ridiculous to call Thomas Edison a patent troll. Frankly, it is beyond belief that such a statement even needs to be made. But let’s be honest, if Thomas Edison is a patent troll then we really should want to encourage patent trolls, right? Why in the name of all sanity would you ever want to discourage a brilliant mind like that of Edison?
For more information on Thomas Edison please see these websites:
- The Life of Thomas Edison
- The Thomas Edison Papers
- Thomas Edison Hall of Fame Profile
- The Inventions of Thomas Edison
- Thomas Edison on Wikapedia
Please also see these books:
- Edison: A Life of Invention
- The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Edison Invented the Modern World
- Empires of Light: Edison… and the Race to Electrify the World
- Edison: A Biography
As we celebrate the anniversary of Edison’s patent on the electric lamp let’s also take this opportunity to remember some of his most remarkable innovations.
Select Inventions of Thomas Edison
|1868||Edison executed a patent application for his electric vote recorder, for which he later is issued his first patent.|
|1874||Edison invents the quadruplex telegraph, ownership of which is disputed by Western Union and Jay Gould’s Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company.|
|1875||Edison invents an “autographic press” kit, to be used to assist businesses in making copies of documents. The kit included an electric pen, a small battery, a press, ink, and supplies.|
|1877||Edison worked on a telephone transmitter that greatly improved on Alexander Graham Bell’s work with the telephone. His transmitter made it possible for voices to be transmitted at higer volume and with greater clarity over standard telephone lines.|
|1879||Using lower current electricity, a small carbonized filament, and an improved vacuum inside the globe, Edison was able to produce a reliable, long-lasting source of light.|
|1880||The commercial production of electric lamps begins at the Edison Lamp Works in Menlo Park.|
|1881||Edison executes twenty-three patent applications on electric lighting.|
|1882||During the spring and summer Edison executed fifty-three patent applications covering electric lighting, electric railways, and secondary batteries. An additional thirty-four patent applications covering electric lighting and electric railways were executed by Edison during the fall.|
|1885||Edison executed seventeen patent applications covering various embodiments of hi telegraph and telephone inventions. He also executes the first of four major patent caveats for the kinetoscope and kinetograph.|
|1888||Edison executes twenty-two patent applications for phonographs and cylinder records.|
|1891||Executes patent applications for the kinetoscope and kinetograph.|
|1896||Edison introduces the Edison Home Phonograph, an inexpensive, spring motor driven phonograph.|
|1900||Edison executes a patent application on a method of mass producing cylinder phonograph records.|
|1902||Successfully conducts the first road tests of electric vehicles equipped with Edison storage batteries and initiates production of alkaline
|1906||Edison receives a gold medal from the Royal Academy of Sciences in Sweden for his inventions in connection with the phonograph and the incandescent light.|