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Patents Technology

The Polymath: Lowell Wood Is America's New Top Inventor (bloomberg.com) 76

pacopico writes: It's taken more than 80 years, but someone has finally overtaken Thomas Edison as America's top inventor. The dude is named Lowell Wood; he was once behind the infamous 'Star Wars' space laser project, and he was a protege of Edward Teller. On July 7th, he received his 1,085th patent, breaking Edison's record. The article says he has 3,000 more inventions awaiting review at the patent office. Wood seems to be using his powers more for good these days and has become the right hand inventor for Bill Gates and his philanthropic endeavors. He's making efficient nuclear reactors, universal vaccines and anti-concussion football helmets. Quite the life.

"Wood attributes his ability to hop from subject to subject, making associations that sometimes lead to inventions, to reading—a lot. He subscribes to three dozen academic journals. 'I have a terrible deficiency of willpower once I open an electronic table of contents for Physical Review Letters or the New England Journal of Medicine,' he says. 'It's just terribly difficult to pull myself away from them. There will be these three articles that I absolutely have to read before I can turn loose of this thing. If I don't read them, I'm doomed. I'll never come back to them because there will be the next day's journals and the ones after that.'"

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The Polymath: Lowell Wood Is America's New Top Inventor

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  • by Pinky's Brain ( 1158667 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @01:59PM (#50766953)

    "speculative schemers who make it their
    business to watch the advancing wave of improvement, and gather its foam in the
    form of patented monopolies, which enable them to lay a heavy tax upon the
    industry of the country, without contributing anything to the real advancement of
    the arts. It embarrasses the honest pursuit of business with fears and apprehen-
    sions of concealed liens and unknown liabilities to lawsuits and vexatious ac-
    counting for profits made in good faith."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      He's just the idea man. He can't be expected to waste his time on all the details. That's somebody else's job, provided they can fork over the licensing fees for the luxury of expending obscene amounts of money and time making it actually work.

      • He's just the idea man. He can't be expected to waste his time on all the details. That's somebody else's job

        I had not really considered how many new jobs have been created by his creativity and new ideas, or how many future jobs may yet be created long into the future.
        That's an interesting aspect of invention, the 'jobs legacy.'

    • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @04:11PM (#50768103)

      "Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices."

      - Thomas Jefferson

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And yet Thomas Jefferson was the first patent examiner, and shaped patent law more than any other American since.

        The man was a walking contradiction.

    • That's what Jerome Lemelson made a career out of. Interesting to see that he's now mostly described as a "patent holder" or "patent grantee" rather than "inventor", since he rarely truly invented anything, he just brought the use of submarine patents to an art form. OK, so there's his one truly original invention, submarine patents, but I don't think he patented those.
  • What??? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ancil ( 622971 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:00PM (#50766961)

    he was once behind the infamous 'Star Wars' space laser project

    You bastard. I had friends on Alderan.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:00PM (#50766971)

    Finding someone to fund the patenting process. The rest is quite trivial.

  • Number of patents... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:03PM (#50766995)

    ...is a really BAD way to identify "top inventor". This doesn't mean the guy isn't brilliant, but - to use the old example - I'd rate Tesla as discoverer ("inventor" is such a misleading term) over Edison any day. Tesla was much more about quality and scholarship than rapacious exploitation of his own and others' talent for his own ego. Or, to quote T on E:

    If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.

    Overall wealth increase (as opposed to mere transfer of wealth) is about application of the mind to improve efficiency.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I was going to say quantity != quality. Proficiency at getting something patented is like proficiency in taking tests. It takes ability and gets you somewhere. Some of you may have a patent king at your work whose wall is papered with patents. While smart, I'd wager he's not the brightest bulb in your department.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by NotDrWho ( 3543773 )

      Man, I hate the Tesla overrating that goes on any time Edison gets brought up these days. It's almost as bad as all the Europeans with a hate-on for America who always feel the need to chime in with some "High Lord Smellyarse of Essex actually invented it first!" horseshit any time an American is credited with inventing ANYTHING.

      Tesla was a brilliant engineer, especially in his early years, no doubt. But he was also mentally unstable (especially in his later years), not-so-great at implementation, a terribl

      • What kind of current delivers power to every single building in America?

        Protip: it isn't direct current.

        • Yeah, that's probably why I said "The only notable exception to this was alternating current, which is Tesla's only truly enduring legacy in this modern age."

        • What kind of current delivers power to every single building in America?

          The only notable exception to this was alternating current, which is Tesla's only truly enduring legacy in this modern age.

          What is the point you're attempting to make?

      • (1) mentally unstable (especially in his later years)

        - not relevant. Getting old sucks, in one way or another.

        (2) a terrible businessman

        Edison = Jobs. Tesla = Woz.

        Since this is a thread about inventors, Edison/Jobs is irrelevant.

        Edison belongs in a best businessman thread, next to Jeff Bezos and Thomas Watson.

        (3) Tesla was a brilliant engineer...not-so-great at implementation.

        Tesla was a great inventor. BTW, I don't think you know what an engineer is.

        Edison ran a massive invention lab.
        Te
      • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @04:45PM (#50768399)
        1) Edison worship was shoved down our throats for years, so yeah, that's going to happen out of reflex.
        2) Edison did a LOT of really fucked up, horrific things, including the things he did to Tesla.
        3) /. doesn't care about being an "all-around inventor" in the sense of Edison. It's like a Jobs and Woz comparison, and /. is going to pretty much universally side with Woz because Woz and Tesla were people more like us, and we don't see much value in the ability to be a shrewd businessman. Tesla was a real life mad scientist, and we love that shit.
        • by rsborg ( 111459 )

          3) /. doesn't care about being an "all-around inventor" in the sense of Edison. It's like a Jobs and Woz comparison, and /. is going to pretty much universally side with Woz because Woz and Tesla were people more like us, and we don't see much value in the ability to be a shrewd businessman. Tesla was a real life mad scientist, and we love that shit.
          --

          Amusingly, there are both Jobs and Woz fanboys here - both of them were geniuses in their own right. But Nikolai Tesla is a whole 'nother ballpark, I'd say. And his unjust end does nothing to reduce his mythic/heroic status.

    • Complex chemical processes, ingenious electronic circuits, clever mechanical devices, are the creations of a productive mind. They are inventions. "Discoveries" are what you get walking in a cow pasture.
  • by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:05PM (#50767021)

    But if he has one good publication - just one real classic that everybody reads - then he deserves uttermost respect.

  • dude is named Lowell Wood; he was once behind the infamous 'Star Wars' space laser project, and he was a protege of Edward Teller

    Wood seems to be using his powers more for good these days

    Okalee dokalee

    • dude is named Lowell Wood; he was once behind the infamous 'Star Wars' space laser project, and he was a protege of Edward Telle
      Wood seems to be using his powers more for good these days

      Okalee dokalee

      Goes double here.

      I'm betting the author of that didn't live through the Cold War - as an aware adult or child, at least.

      A few decades of waiting for a nuclear surprise attack and going through elementary school "duck and cover" (and kiss your a** goodbye) drills can make using tech to actually try to intercept

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:17PM (#50767151)

    >> He's making efficient nuclear reactors

    He is? Where can go see one?

  • by PineHall ( 206441 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:25PM (#50767235)
    He works for Intellectual Ventures, so he is an idea man. Maybe he is like Edison but Edison's ideas were built into products, deserving a patent. At Intellectual Ventures the ideas, which maybe good, are patented without building the product. There is a difference IMHO.
  • I have a lot of broad domain knowledge and do some of the same, but not with this kind of vigor. The dude's got a lot of *deep* domain knowledge in a lot of broad domains, so can pull more together. In either case, you face some of the same challenges.

    The first problem you get is expert bias. Experts tend to filter things, because the brain processes information in such a way as to minimize effort. Using the prefrontal cortex is costly, so the brain uses every other facility to link together structur

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:34PM (#50767317)

    I see no social-media links for him in the article. No Twitter, no Facebook, not even a Slashdot ID. How can he possibly be anyone of importance?

    "That's how he preserves his mental capacity"? I don't understand. Is that a meme?

  • by ttsai ( 135075 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:35PM (#50767329)

    1085 patents granted and 3000 more submitted. That's 4085 patents. Assuming that he's worked on patents for 50 years, that's an average of over 80 patents per year. That's a lot of patents. The implication of the such a large number of patents is that all the patents are equally valuable. However, I'm not sure it's humanly possible to perform the work for 80 valuable patents per year.

    This reminds me of Jan Hendrik Schön, who made waves with 60 publications over 2 years, including 15 in leading journals such as Science and Nature. It was eventually determined that he made up important data for his papers, leading to retraction of many of his papers and even his PhD degree.

    I'm not suggesting that there's any fraud in the case of Mr. Wood. Rather, there are many very common and even accepted ways to accumulate a huge number of patents. It's not unthinkable that many/most of the patents are
    (1) work mostly performed by others for which he provided guidance, review, or management,
    (2) black-box patents that describe what should be done instead of providing sufficient detail to allow someone else skilled in the art to actually utilize the idea, or
    (3) incremental ideas based on existing patents or prior art.

    It may very well be that Mr. Wood is a genius that has contributed significantly to science and technology and has made a difference in the world. However, the number of patents is not a believable metric of that contribution. To convince me that he is a genius requires only a description of his impactful ideas, as encapsulated in a few (or even one or zero) patents. The large number of patents simply invites skepticism.

    • In fact, it's quite easy to patent new ideas.
      There are even methodologies for that: TRIZ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org], SIT, ASIT or USIT.

      The only problem is that these methods don't focus on "inventing" but on "improving" existing ideas.
      So basically, it's not a very "creative" process, so "genius" is not required.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, if you won't, I will. This man is a fraud! It's highly doubtful that anybody could substantively contribute to 80 patents per year, even given how easy it is to game the patent system.

      But from an ethical point of view, it's simply _impossible_ for anybody to substantively contribute to 80 _legitimate_ patents per year, where we define legitimate as a patent that actually contributes useful knowledge and promotes the advancement of the state-of-the-art, marginally or otherwise.

      The guy is basically summ

      • It's radically different to take something from a PPT into the real world. Even for something that some might consider to be "simple". When you have to make it from the ground up, certain things come into play that you never knew.

        It's like running a business. You think it's easy until you do.
    • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
      Perhaps equating Wood with Edison is quite appropriate. After all, Edison employed 100s of workers that did the leg work for the bulk of the patents he claimed. After all "Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework." and Edison outsourced his perspiration. TL;DR, but Wood appears to be in a similar position.
      • The different is the Edison had hundreds of workers actually doing research. That is, actually inventing things. Intellectual Ventures has hundreds of lawyers writing patent applications.

    • by ttsai ( 135075 )

      Actually, I miscalculated, since the bulk of the patent count has occurred in the past few years. He has 3000 patent submissions that are still under examination. If we estimate conservatively that those submissions occurred in the last 10 years (i.e., that some of the patents have take that long to receive a determination), then he has submitted an average of 300 patent applications per year over the last 10 years. Forget about the actual idea conception, the paperwork alone is daunting.

      • The paperwork is not Wood's responsibility. Intellectual Ventures has an army of lawyers to do that. Wood's job is to throw out plausible sounding variations of the existing patent literature, to be turned into new patents, so that IV can sue other people. Patent trolls like IV are a serious obstacle to real innovation.

    • I mean, looking at this company, they have a bunch of people making up ideas, goes to a staff of engineers and patent attorneys, and then they file. I wonder if they support the patent throughout the entire life of 22 years. Or, start with a provisional patent, test the waters before going forward, and then pay for the effort.

      In a way this is kinda of an abuse of the patent system.

  • Edison did not share credit with his employees who produced the majority of his patents.

  • by Whatsisname ( 891214 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:51PM (#50767451) Homepage

    He's making efficient nuclear reactors, universal vaccines and anti-concussion football helmets.

    He isn't making shit. More like playing a legally enforced game of "dibs".

  • by mschaffer ( 97223 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @02:51PM (#50767455)

    If the number of patents is supposed to be a measure of top inventiveness, Lowell Wood has nothing on the likes of Kia Silverbrook (4,665 US utility patents) or Shunpei Yamazaki (4063 US utility patents).

  • SDI continues today. Helping to bankrupt the USSR and avert the Warsaw Pact vs NATO blood fest seems to be a net good.
  • Patent term (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanEHdian ( 1098955 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2015 @03:14PM (#50767657)

    Wow. I guess a 20 year patent term, after which the invention joins the public domain and becomes part of our heritage, doesn't discourage inventors from inventing. Why wouldn't the same apply to creators if copyright is limited to 20 years?

  • Wood seems to be using his powers more for good these days . . .

    A nuclear missile defense system and national defense is using his powers for good.

    Only delusional liberals would think otherwise. Apparently, pacopico couldn't help himself.

  • Jony Ive has 5000 to his name [businessinsider.com]! Who knew there were so many non-obvious, novel ways to change the radius on the corner of a rectangle!
  • I am pretty sure he gets all the good ideas from Slashdot.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thomas was a thief. Most of what he gets credit for, his employees did for him.

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