Quotations on Patents and Inventions

Quotations on Predicting value of inventions


  • “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” –Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
  • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” –Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  • “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” –The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
  • “But what … is it good for?” –Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
  • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” –Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

The Telephone and Radio

  • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” –Western Union internal memo, 1876.
  • “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” –David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
  • “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” –H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

Airplanes and Rockets

  • “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” –Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
  • “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” –Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
  • “Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” –1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work.
  • We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time and the money involved in further air experiments. Life is short, and he is capable of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result from trying to fly. For students and investigators of the Langley type there are more useful employment’s with fewer disappointments and mortifications than have been the portion of aerial navigators since the days of Iccarus. New York Times, December 10, 1903 (The Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk Flight was on December 17, 1903)

The Legal System

  • First thing, lest kill all the lawyers
    –Dick the Butcher in Shakespere’s Henry VI.
  • The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it. Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble.
    — Bleak House, Charles Dickens (Quoted by Justice Sandra Day O’Conner in a speach on CSPAN)
  • “Seventy-five to ninety percent of all American trial lawyers are incompetent, dishonest, or both.”
    –Chief Justice Warren Burger
  • One thing that’s really extraordinary is when somebody is exonerated with new evidence of innocence, be it DNA testing or something else, usually the way the case ends is that a judge will simply sign an order saying, “Conviction vacated.” And there’s no written opinion. So all my law students if they go on the computers and they do their electronic research and they look for an opinion: They won’t find one. They look for an analysis of what went wrong: They won’t find one. The only thing you’re lucky to get is press reports, and frankly press reports, it’s not exactly the same as a judicial opinion in terms of fact-finding and even accuracy in many ways.
  • You really need an analysis of what happened. Now think about this: What kind of system, what kind of institution that is responsible for the life and liberty of citizens can get away with not doing a post-mortem when there is a total system failure? If there’s a hospital that has a malpractice situation where somebody dies, everybody’s called in and we have an assessment to see what went wrong and then we try to correct it and we write it up. Or if there’s a car manufacturer, or an airplane manufacturer and all of a sudden a plane falls from the sky or cars are blowing up, there’s a huge post-mortem and there’s an evaluation and we try to find out what happened and we write a report about it. But in the criminal justice system when you have the ultimate error, the conviction of an innocent person, they just cut an order and there’s no analysis. There’s no attempt to find out what are the weak points to the system, who made a mistake in this case? Nobody will ever name names. So that is a serious problem.
    –Barry Sheck

Other Inventions

  • “One day, sir, you will tax it.” —Michael Faraday
  • (On being asked by Prime Minister Gladstone who was visiting Faradays laboratory if “electricity” would ever have practical significance.) (Quoted in Science, 1994)
  • “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” –Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads.
  • “You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.” –Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the “unsolvable” problem by inventing Nautilus.
  • “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction”. –Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
  • “The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon”. –Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon- Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.
  • “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” –Charles H.Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

Quotations of Founding Fathers on Invention and Patents

  • The Congress shall have power

    To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to
    authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
    U.S. Constitution, Article 1 section 8.
  • Jealousy and envy deny the merit or the novelty of your invention; but vanity, when the novelty and merit are established, claims it for its own. …. One would not therefor, of all faculties or qualities of the mind, wish for a friend or a child that he should have that of invention. For his attempts to benefit mankind in that way, however well imagined, if they do not succeed, expose him, though very unjustly, to general ridicule and contempt; and if they do succeed, to envy, robbery, and abuse.
    Benjamin Franklin March 18, 1755
  • What good is a new born baby (Eh, a quoi bon l’efant qui vient de naitre?) –Benjamin Franklin on being asked what good was the passenger
    balloon, a new invention of the late 18th century.
  • The issue for patents for new discovers has given a spring to invention beyond my conception.
    Thomas Jefferson (to Benjamin Vaughan, 27 June 1970, in The Papers of Thomas
    Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton, 1950-65), XVI, 579)
  • Nobody wishes more than I do that ingenuity should receive liberal encouragement. –Thomas Jefferson
  • After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
    — Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 2, Section 4. Chapter 6

Quotations of U.S. Presidents on patents and Inventions

  • I have already intimated my opinion that in the world’s history, certain inventions and discoveries occurred, of particular value, on account of their great efficiency in facilitating all other inventions and discoveries. Of these were the arts of writing and of printing–the discovery of American, and the introduction of the patent laws……we, here in America, think we discover and invent and improve faster than [Europe and Asia], They may think this is arrogance; but they can not deny that Russia has called on us to show her how to build steam-boats and railroads–while in the older parts of Asia, they scarcely know that such things as S.Bs & R.Rs exist. In anciently inhabited countries, the dust of ages– a real downright old-fogyism–seems to settle upon, and smother the intellects and energies of man. It is in this view that I have mention d the discovery of American as an event greatly favoring and facilitating the useful discoveries and inventions.
  • Next came the patent laws….[the Patent laws began] in this country, with the adoption of our constitution. Before then, any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things. -A. Lincoln, (Lincoln was the only us president to hold a patent.)
  • In anciently inhabited countries, the dust of ages– a real downright old-fogyism– seems to settle upon, and smother the intellects and energies of man.
  • The patent system ,,,, added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.
  • It distinctly marked, I think, a great step in the progress of civilization when the law took notice of property in the fruit of the mind.
  • Ownership in the clumsy device which savage hands fashioned from wood and stone, was obvious to the savage mind; but it required a long period to bring the public to a realization of the fact that it was quite as essential that invention, taking shapes useful to men, should be recognized and secured as property. That is the work of the patent system as it has been established in this country. It cannot be doubted by any, I think, that the security of property in inventions has been highly primitive of the advance our country has mad in the arts and sciences. Nothing more stimulates effort than security in the results of effort
    –President Benjamin Harrison in his opening address to the Congress celebrating the Centennial of the U.S. Patent System.
  • “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird, and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • This system has for years encouraged the imaginative to dream and to experiment in garages and sheds, in great universities and corporate laboratories. Innovations and discoveries have created new industries giving more and more Americans better jobs and adding greatly to the prosperity and well being of all. — Dwight Eisenhower

On Invention and Patents by Judges and Lawyers

  • Many giant corporations have no need of a patent system. They may obtain patents, but only as a defense against some little machine shop operator who might otherwise invent and patent something the public would demand and the big corporation would have to negotiate for, instead of just adding the item to its product line. Many large corporations would be glad to compete on size, nationwide service, high volume, strong finance, and prompt delivery. They can kill off smaller competitors on any of those bases, unless the small competitor has a patent on a product somebody wants to buy.
    — Howard Markey, Former P Chief Judge of the CAFC
    (In Some Patent Problems –Philosophical, Philological,
    and Procedural
    80 F. R. D. 203, p. 210)
  • The average person reaps the benefits of this form of property because the inventor has created it under a patent system that rewards the inventor ONLY if society DOES derive benefit from it.
    –Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter
    Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co. vs. U.S. 57 USPQ 471.
  • It would not be difficult to cite many instances of patents that have been granted, improperly I think, and without adequate tests of invention by the Patent Office. But I doubt that the remedy for such Patent Office passion for granting patents is an equally strong passion in this court for striking them down so that the only patent that is valid is one which this court has not been able to get its hands on.
  • I agree with the opinion of Judge Learned Hand below.
    —Justice Jackson dissenting in Jungersen v. Ostby & Barton Co., 335 U.S. 560, 572

Quotations referred to in Debunking the Software Patent Myths

  • The life of the law has not been logic: It has been experience.
    –Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage concludes it will also make a better soup.
    –H.L. Mencken
  • Verily a pioneer has to get his justice in the same way that a florist gets bouquets from century plants.
    Thomas Edison
  • “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”
  • “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”
    — Japanese Proverb
  • Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one
    –Sam Rayburn
  • You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.
    –Al Capone

Other Quotations by and about inventors and patents

  • There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.
    –Winston Churchill (Post War Planning Radio Broadcast March 21, 1943.)
  • There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in those would profit by the new order; this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have laws on their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.
    –Niccollò Machiavelli
  • It was not my intention to advocate dishonesty in argument nor a bad spirit in a controversy. No truth is without some mixture of error, and no error so false that it possesses some elements of truth. If a man is in to big a hurry to give up an error, he is liable to give up some truth with it, and in accepting the arguments of the other man he is sure to get some error with it. Honest argument is merely a process of mutually picking the beams and motes out of each other’s eyes so both can see clearly. Men become wise as they become rich, more by what they save than by what the receive. After I get hold of a truth, I hate to lose it again, and I like to sift all the truth out before I give up an error. Wilbur Wright Wilbur and Orville, page 110p
  • Certain conclusions from out own work and that of other scholars in this failed can, however, be put forward with some confidence:
    1. The forces which make for innovation are so numerous and intricate that the are not fully understood.. They are perhaps still as dimly comprehended as was the working of the human body five hundred years ago.
    2. Governments, therefore, in seeking to en courage innovation should set down as their first aim the avoidance of harm, of inadvertently checking what they are seeking to stimulate
    3. There can be no doubt that some of the ideas which have been highly influential in the last two decades have been unsound. They must have done damage either by obstructing innovation altogether or by encouraging it in one form but only at the expense of doing harm to it elsewhere.
    4. It cannot be disputed that innovations and discoveries have had, and continue to have many sources. It may be tempting to argue that one or [the] other of these sources is more fruitful than others and should be stimulated even at the expense of the rest. Our impressions are that, given the present state of knowledge, it is safer to strive to keep all the sources open since competition strengthens the total flow of new ideas.
      -Jewkes, Sawers and Stillerman, The Source of Inventions, Second edition, 1969
  • The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order
    –Alfred North Whitehead
  • Perhaps I could best describe my experience of doing mathematics in terms of entering a dark mansion. You go into the first room and its dark, completely dark. You stumble around bumping into the furniture. Gradually, you learn where each piece of furniture is. And finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch and turn it on. Suddenly, it is all illuminated and you can see exactly where you are. Then you enter the next dark room …
    –Professor Andrew Wile’s description of his solving the Format’s last theorem, mathematics’ Holy Grail.
  • “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”
    –General Haig’s Chief-of-Staff, Lieutenant-General Sir Launcelot Kiggell, visited the fron at Passchendaele after the third battle of Ypres (November 8, 1917)
  • “It’s worse further up.” -The driver of his staff car
  • Ypres was captured after the bloodiest battle in history, a battle in which men and horses drowned in a desolate wasteland of shell holes and mud. Today the Ypres is a graveyard for over half a million men.
  • All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
    –George Bernard Shaw
  • If you feel you must enlist the aid and advice of a recognized authority or specialist on a given subject, remember that an expert frequently avoids all the small errors as he sweeps on to the grand fallacy. A truly creative editor must become an expert on experts.
    –M. Lincoln Schuster, cofounder of Simon and Schuster
  • You see things; and you say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”
    — George Bernard Shaw
  • Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.
    –Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895)
  • The most damaging phrase in the language is: `It’s always been done that way.’
    — Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
  • My strength lies mainly in my tenacity.
    — Louis Pasteur
  • An expert is a person who avoids all small errors as he sweeps toward the grand fallacy.
    — M. Lincoln Schuster
  • The many surrender themselves to the leadership of one … and become incapable of doing anything new. For when philosophy is severed from its roots in experience whence it first sprouted and grew, it becomes a dead thing.. [science] acquires new strength and capacities [by drawing on] the talents of many individuals. — Sir Francis Bacon.
  • The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
    — George Bernard Shaw
  • “In this world nothing gets accomplished except by a monomaniac with a mission.”
    –Peter Drucker,
  • INVENTOR, n. A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers and springs, and believes it civilization. -The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
  • Th’ invention all admir’d, and each, how hee
    To be th’ inventer miss’d, so easie it seemd
    Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
    — Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 6

Quotations on Fighting the System

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian (1906-1945).