While we can’t squeeze in every patented innovation worth mentioning, there are certain inventions that completely changed the way we live and work day-to-day.
From around 1990, personal computers and home technology has become most people’s understanding of technological innovation. And with good reason. Technology is moving exponentially faster every year, and the devices we hold in our pocket today were unthinkable not that long ago.
But there are even more fundamental patented innovations than the iPhone and Microsoft Windows. Here are just a few of the patents that changed the world:
The telephone – Alexander Graham Bell
Patenting the first devices able to electrically transmit speech electrically was a battle between two inventors. In the 1870s, Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Grey both independently designed telephones and rushed to file patents. After a legal dispute, Graham Bell emerged victorious and almost 150 years later, his is the name we know.
Bell patented the phone on 7 March 1876, with the first regular line constructed a year later. By 1880, there were 47,900 telephones in the US alone.
The television – Philo Taylor Farnsworth
A whole raft of inventors collectively developed the technology that would eventually lead to the television as we know it. In 1884 Paul Nipkow patented the electric telescope with 18 lines of resolution, which sent images via wires using a rotating metal disk technology.
In 1900 the word ‘television’ was first used, and in 1923 Vladimir Zworkin patented his ‘iconoscope’, which was based on using cathode ray tubes to transmit images. Fast forward to 1927 and Philo Farnsworth files a patent for the first electronic TV system (the Image Dissector).
By 1936, around 200 sets were in use and patents continue to be filed for advances in technology until HDTV arrives in 1996 and there are more than a billion TV sets all around the world. In the last 20 years, the television has never stopped developing as patents are filed and innovations increase.
The car – Karl Benz
The first vehicle able to propel itself was invented by Nicolas Cugnot in 1769. In 1885, Karl Benz came up with the world’s first automobile using an internal combustion engine and Gottlieb Daimler patented the main prototype of the modern gas engine. He later built the first four-wheeled vehicle.
As with most world-changing inventions, the history of the car is long and collaborative. The evolution of ideas, technology and innovation took place worldwide, and is the result of more than 100,000 patents filed by several inventors. We’re now in the realms of electric and self-driving cars, with patents being filed all the time to create the car of the future.
Float glass – Sir Alastair Pilkington
A process invented in 1959 by Alastair Pilkington, float glass is used to make almost all of the glass we use today. As the modern world is made out of products like glass, it’s a fitting addition to our list of most important patents of all time.
Light bulb – Joseph Swan
By 1850, English chemist Joseph Swan shone light on the world and developed a light bulb using carbonised paper filaments. He was technically granted the first UK patent for a light bulb in 1878. He demonstrated a working lamp in 1879, shortly before American inventor Thomas Edison improved on Swan’s design by changing the filament. Swan then incorporated this into his lightbulb leading to a court case for patent infringement, which Edison ultimately lost. Eventually, the two joined up to form Edison-Swan United, which was to become of the largest manufacturers of light bulbs in the world.
Chocolate bar – Joseph Fry
Until the very first chocolate bar was sold to the public, chocolate had always been consumed as a drink. JS Fry & Sons invented the chocolate bar by mixing their cocoa powder with cocoa butter and sugar and came up with one of the most popular products in the world in 1847.
Carbon fibre – Royal Aircraft Establishment Engineers
In a similar way to float glass, the invention of carbon fibre has thousands of applications used in manufacturing all kinds of things. Invented and patented by Royal Aircraft Establishment Engineers in 1963, carbon fibre is used in everything from boats and cars to jumbo jet engines.
World Wide Web – Tim Berners-Lee
The internet is a system of computer networks that are linked together. The World Wide Web, however, was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. The British computer scientist created and patented the world’s first server in 1990 and the web went live on 6 August 1991. He gave his invention to the world for free.
These are just a few of the most important patents of all time, and there are more being filed every single day all around the world. The possibilities are endless.