For more than a century now, the United States has been the most inventive nation in the world. And for the past century, the title of greatest—or in any case, most prolific—American inventor was held by Thomas Alva Edison. Most everyone knows that Edison invented the phonograph, the movie camera, and of course the incandescent light bulb, which to this day we still use as an icon to represent a bright new idea. Actually, Edison and his co-inventors came up with scores of different inventions for these things, as well as for better telephones and numerous ways to generate, transmit, and store electricity. They patented early and often. Between 1869 and 1933, Edison racked up an astonishing 1,084 U.S. utility patents, a record for American inventors that held for 82 years. Until now.
This summer, Lowell Wood surpassed Thomas Edison’s record with the granting of Wood’s 1,085th patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office. To mark this very special occasion, our inventor-in-residence was recently profiled by Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ashlee Vance, who noted of Lowell, “The scope of his inventions is insane… he’s just this guy who is compelled to solve problems and invent new ideas.”
As impressive as Lowell’s latest feat is, it’s not the half of it—literally. When Edison received his 1,084th patent, he had been dead for more than a year. Wood, in contrast, is only 74 and still going strong: he is named as inventor or co-inventor on about 2,500 U.S. patent applications that are currently pending, and he is still generating hundreds of new inventions each year. Some of the pending applications will be combined, and others will die before they are granted. So it seems almost certain that Wood will eventually double Edison’s record. It probably won’t even take that long: Wood now averages about one new U.S. patent granted every day of the week, so he could reach 2,186 by mid-2018—if the patent office can keep up with him!
Like Edison, Wood has mastered the art of invention, and his patents are of high quality. I know this because the great majority of his patents were developed in collaboration with Intellectual Ventures, so they have passed through the rigorous drafting and quality-control processes that have made us the global leader in the business of invention.
What’s the secret to being the nation’s most productive inventor? Well, it doesn’t hurt to start off by being one of its sharpest and most erudite physicists. But that’s not enough. Albert Einstein had only two U.S. utility patents, after all. The real secret, I believe, has three parts:
Read the full story »