So it was World IP Day again last week. And as is customary, William Fry hosted an evening talk. to mark the occasion The highlight of the event was a talk by Alfie Kane, Director of KCCS, CEO-in-Residence of Baker Capital Inc New York and Former Group CEO of Eircom (don’t mention the war). Some very interesting points on inventions and patents from Alfie. I have to agree with him that the intellectual property is sometimes the only asset a start-up has but most companies don’t have an IP policy or IP management system in place. Now there is the school of thought that patents don’t really matter for most software companies (what start-up company is going to try and defend against a multinational software company?) but the fact is that investors will want the box ticked in relation to filings so it really is worth the time and effort to properly manage your company’s IP. And besides, patents are valuable. Just ask Qualcomm. Nowadays, pretty much all this company does is exploit its list of patents for multi-million dollar profits through licensing (check out Dave Mock’s The Qualcomm Equation for the full story).
Anyhow, I was inspired by Carol Plunkett, Partner at WF, who mentioned a few famous Irish people whose inventions may not be so familiar to us but have really had a huge impact on the world around us. So below are a few of Irish people and their inventions. Far too many to mention all Irish inventions here so I’ve stirred away from the obvious ones like Boyle and Hamilton, and opted for some people you may not have heard of before. Oh and as a bonus I’ve included some other ‘Did You Know?’ facts at the end:
- Louis Brennan (1852 – 1932) From, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, inventor of the world’s first guided missile – a torpedo like device which was used as an early coastal defense mechanism. Brennan also designed a monorail and helicopter.
- Lucien Bull (1876 – 1972) Prolific Dublin innovator responsible for pioneering high speed photography in order to view images in slow motion. Bull also patented an improved version of the electrocardiogram (ECG) in 1938.
- Rev. Nicholas Callan (1799 – 1864) Born in Dromiskin, Co. Louth, Rev. Callan invented both the induction coil (1836) and the self exacting dynamo (1838), both of which are still being used today.
- Agnes Clerke (1842 – 1907) Clerke, a Skibbereen woman, was a prolific astronomical writer whose esteemed reputation earned her the distinction of having a crater on the moon named after her in 1881 – Clerke Crater, at the edge of the sea of Serenity.
- Aeneas Coffey (1780 – 1852) Dublin man Aeneas Coffey invented the world’s first heat-exchange device in 1830. Coffey’s patent still was a very efficient apparatus that led to many advances in whiskey distilling.
- Sir Samuel Davidson (1846 – 1921) Belfast’s Sir Samuel Davidson was accredited with many inventions such as tea-drying equipment, the forward bladed centrifugal fan and even a hand held Howitzer gun.
- Harry Ferguson (1884 – 1960) Nicknamed the ‘mad mechanic’, Harry Ferguson designed and built a new plough which was coupled to the tractor in three-point linkage, so that both formed a single unit. This Ferguson System, patented in 1926, was to revolutionise farming. Ferguson also designed and built his own motor cycle, racing car and plane – becoming the first Irish man to fly in 1909.
- John Phillip Holland (1841-1914) Liscannor man, John Phillips Holland, is accredited with launching the world’s first successful submarine, the ‘Fenian Ram’, in 1881. He also invented a mechanism for submariners to evacuate their sinking vessel.
- John Kyan (1774 – 1850) Inventor of an early wood preservative used in various timbers. Patented in 1832, the technique still bears his name today – ‘kyanisation’.
- Robert Mallet (1810 – 1881) Explosion seismology was born in 1851, when Dublin man Robert Mallet used dynamite explosions to measure the speed of elastic waves in surface rocks – pioneering and coining the word ‘seismology’.
- Sir James Martin (1893 – 1981) Sir James Martin, an engineer from Co. Down, invented the world’s first ejector seat. His device was first tested using a crash dummy in 1945, and the following year Bernard Lynch became first person to participate in a live test. His invention was soon adopted by the RAF as a standard safety device.
- Francis Rynd (1811 -1861) In 1844, Francis Rynd, a Dublin-based doctor, invented the hypodermic syringe and administered the world’s first subcutaneous injection at the Meath hospital.
- Lord Kelvin (William Thompson) (1824-1907) born in Belfast. Thompson was knighted for his work on the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable which stretched from Newfoundland to Valentia in Cork in 1865. His interest in the measurement of temperature and thermodynamics led to his creation of the absolute scale of temperature (the Kelvin scale) which is named after him.
- John Tyndall (1820 – 1893) The founding father of nephelometry and a native of Leighlin Bridge, Carlow, John Tyndall was one of the first scientists to recognise the greenhouse effect, and his invention of the light pipe also laid the foundation for developments in fiber optics.
- John Walker (1841 – 1901) A native of Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, John Walker invented a prototype of the caterpillar track to assist him in transporting logs over rough terrain to his saw mills.
- Earnest Walton (1903 – 1995) In 1932, Earnest Walton (from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford) in collaboration with John Cockcroft, became the first people in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the nuclear age. Walton and Cockcroft had vindicated Einstein’s famous equation (E=mc2) and successfully converted matter into energy. In 1951 they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics – making Walton Ireland’s first and only Nobel science laureate.
Did you know…?
- The first ever patent registered in Ireland was a starter cage for racing dogs and the like in 1929.
- In 1902, German-born Arthur Korn (1870-1945) invented telephotography, a means for transmitting still photographs by means of electrical wires. In 1907, Korn sent the first inter-city fax when he transmitted a photograph from Munich to Berlin.
- In 1933, Charles B. Darrow played a game on oil cloth on his kitchen table. He played the game with his family and friends and soon fell in love with the game’s exciting promise of fame and fortune. Today, an estimated 500 million players from around the world have been mesmerized by the MONOPOLY® game.
- In 1843, after ten years of tireless work and abject poverty, Charles Goodyear perfects his process for “vulcanizing” rubber, or combining it with sulfur to create a soft, pliable substance unaffected by weather.
- In 1884 George Eastman, American inventor, patented the first film in roll form to prove practicable. In 1888 he perfected the Kodak camera, the first camera designed specifically for roll film, and in 1892 he established the Eastman Kodak Company, at Rochester, New York, one of the first firms to mass-produce standardized photography equipment.
- One day in 1849 Walter Hunt wanted to pay a fifteen-dollar debt to a friend. So he decided to invent something new. From a piece of brass wire about eight inches long, coiled at the center and shielded at one end, he made the first safety pin. He took out a patent on his invention and sold the rights to it for four hundred dollars.
- The inventor of Coca-Cola was Dr. John S. Pemberton, in 1885. The formula changed hands three more times before Asa D. Chandler hit upon the idea of carbonating the original drink. The bubbles made all the difference, and he struck gold. The Coca-Cola Company was founded in 1892 and has never looked back.
- The Rubik’s Cube was invented by Erno Rubik in 1974 when the first working prototype came into being and a patent application was initially drafted. Rubik’s invention was born out of his passionate interest in geometry, the study of 3D forms, and in exploring the hidden possibilities of combination of forms and materials.
(My thanks to the Patents Office website for the above information)
For further reading and information on Irish Scientists and Inventors, check out the following:
Mary Mulvihill: Ingenious Ireland, TownHouse & CountryHouse Ltd. Dublin, 2002.
Charles Mollan, William Davis and Brendan Finucane: Irish Innovators in Science and Technology, Royal Irish Academy and Enterprise Ireland, 2002.