Elihu Thomson Quotes

Shall an invention be patented or donated to the public freely? I have known some well-meaning scientific men ... to look askance at the patenting of inventions, as if it were a rather selfish and ungracious act, essentially unworthy. The answer is very simple. Publish an invention freely, and it will almost surely die from lack of interest in its development. It will not be developed and the world will not be benefited. Patent it, and if valuable, it will be taken up and developed into a business.

This quotation is an excellent statement of one major viewpoint about patents. However there are others who disagree and many who believe the existing patent system is broken and inhibits innovation. They observe that the vast majority of patents never are developed or reach the public. They also point to major counter-examples to Thomson’s view. The best is the PC which IBM developed and decided NOT to patent it, to encourage people to produce programs, applications and many devices. No product in human history has been more thoroughly developed and adopted by as many people as quickly. More capital investment money has been invested that any other invention. There are many examples where Thompson’s point holds. Vaccines for which there is no patent have not obtained any company who would manufacture it despite the need. The issue is complex with the old view of Thomson certainly not correct, but not entirely wrong either.
Elihu Thomson
Elihu Thomson
  • Born: March 29, 1853
  • Died: March 13, 1937
  • Nationality: British, American
  • Profession:

Elihu Thomson was an English-born American engineer and inventor who was instrumental in the founding of major electrical companies in the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

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