10 Inventors Who Saw No Riches From Their Big Idea
Like the guys behind Post-It Notes...
By Arden Dier, Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2013 1:22 PM CDT
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, attends a meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.   (AP Photo/Keystone/Jean-Christophe Bott)

(Newser) – Despite what you may think, a smash-hit of an invention doesn't necessarily set an inventor up for life. (Witness Doug Englebart, who invented the computer mouse but didn't see a dime from it.) As the BBC points out, there are plenty of others who failed to make billions (or even thousands) from their famous creations. On the list:

  • Post-It Notes: Spencer Silver (who came up with the unique adhesive) and Art Fry (who had the "bookmark" idea) say they aren't rich, just "comfortably off."
  • Karaoke machine: Daisuke Inoue failed to patent his creation, which spun out of a gig he had playing backing drums at a bar whose patrons provided the vocals; one day he couldn't make it, and put his music on a tape.

  • MP3: Karlheinz Brandenburg started working on the MP3 in the 1980s, using the song "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega. As the BBC explains, "because there was no money to distribute the software it was marketed as shareware."
  • Hovercraft: Sir Christopher Cockerell made the mistake of getting the British government involved with his invention, which he thought would have a military function; he surrendered his patents to the corporation the government set up around the vehicle. He was eventually awarded a lump sum worth $1.6 million in today's money, a fraction of what he likely would have made in the private market.
Click to see the complete list.

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Showing 3 of 31 comments
Jul 23, 2013 7:28 AM CDT
Seems to be a total lack of understanding of contract and patent law here. In every case mentioned by saying 'he was ripped off' you are really saying 'I don't know WTF I'm talking about, and I want the world to know it!'
Jul 8, 2013 9:14 AM CDT
Inventors are routinely cheated, & robbed of the fruits of their labors. That's called "business ethics", kiddos. Three big, fat, cheers for the "job creator" class.
Jul 7, 2013 9:18 AM CDT
Years ago, early 60's, my father worked for a television cable company. During a thunderstorm when your cable wentout, my father and the other cable linemen would go out and replace the fuse in the cable relay box. My father and another worker knew there had tobe a safer and faster way todo this, without being up a pole during a thunderstorm. They came up with a breaker that could fit inside the line box. My father and the other person that worked on this didn't get any money or credit for this. The company got the credit. So now when your cable goes out during a thunderstorm, a lineperson, doesn't go out and replace the fuse. They just send a low voltage surge through the line to reset the breaker.