There have been many great inventors in civilization’s young career. People are always trying to advance technology and methodology in new ways, and we have people like Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, Ben Franklin, and thousands of others to thank for that. For someone like da Vinci, if he had had the focus and mechanical skills to translate his futurist ideas (like the submarine, helicopter) into actual inventions, then maybe he would be on this list. But he didn’t even have electricity. Alas, coming up with a renaissance idea and then making it a reality are two very different things.
The same cannot be said about Nikola Tesla, who invented the alternating current (AC) electric power system (and 300 or so other things), paving the way for the light bulb and helping usher-in the Second Industrial Revolution. When Albert Einstein won the Nobel Peace Prize, he was asked how it felt to be the smartest man in the world, and Einstein famously replied, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Nikola Tesla.” (This quote might be more myth than legend, but it’s still fascinating.) Tesla was a mad genius who could transform his brilliant ideas into actual devices, and yet, why is he not on this list? Because this isn’t a list of the most genius inventors or inventions, but of the most prolific inventors. Still, Tesla had over 300 patents, which is an enormous amount, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the individuals on this list.
Surprisingly enough, most of the people on this list are still alive, just going to show that our recent technological advances only paves the way for more futuristic and outlandish inventions, year after year. In 2011 alone, there were over 90,000 US utility patents granted. That’s a huge number. Many of the patents don’t get made into inventions, but nonetheless, this is a list of the 10 most prolific inventors with the most US utility patents (not counting design patents).
10 John F. O’Connor - USA - 949 utility patents
The first American on this list is the leader of the Resistance burdened to defeat Skynet’s army of Terminators. Just kidding, of course. The little known inventor John F. O’Connor lived from 1864 until 1938, and played a huge role in locomotive advancement. Almost nothing is known about the man’s life, but he is credited with creating railway draft gearing, which is the system used to connect a railroad locomotive to its frame. Quite the hefty achievement, but beyond that, he had 948 other U.S. utility patents by the end of his life, making him one of the most prolific inventors of all time.
9 Jun Koyama - Japan - 952 utility patents
The first Japanese inventor on this list was also a very obscure individual, as my research can’t even place when he was born. Nonetheless, he still lives, and still creates. In 2013, he was listed as the inventor of 706 patents, while in 2014 that number has skyrocketed to 952. That makes sense, considering the prolificity of Mr. Koyama’s inventiveness and the field that he works in: Technology, including thin film transistors, liquid crystal displays, OLED, semi-conductor and electro-optical devices, and other highly advanced, technical circuits which fly completely over my head.
8 Donald Weder - USA - 989 utility patents
Donald Weder was born in 1947 in Highland, Illinois, and he still remains an active inventor today. With 989 utility patents and 413 design patents, for a total of 1397 US patents, he would be much higher on this list if this list weren’t just counting US utility patents. His field is the florist industry, having created various ways to wrap flowers and pots, and using different materials to do so. In 2002 he was awarded with the Thomas Edison award by the US Patent Office for passing Edison to become the #1 most prolific American patent holder. Since 1977, he has been the president of the floral supply company Highland Supply Corporation.
7 George Albert Lyon - Canada - 993 utility patents
George Albert Lyon (1882 - 1961) was the inventor of early automobile bumpers, saving millions of lives, and stainless steel products, including wheel covers for the entire automobile industry. Besides being a prolific inventor, he was known for his love of big-game fishing, astronomy, his chess skills, his remarkable slingshot aim, and for being an amiable host on the Paradise Point land that he owned on the island of Bimini, near the Bahamas. Guests called him “The Commodore,” and said he loved to live. He is the man behind Lyon, Inc., the world’s largest supplier of stainless steel in the world during the 20th century.
6 Leonard Forbes - Canada - 1055 utility patents
No, this man did not invent Forbes magazine (that was B.C. Forbes), but he is a very active patent holder, with his 1055 US utility patents being up from 902 back in 2010. Forbes was born in 1940, and is known mainly in the semiconductor arena. His US6150687 patent: Memory cell having a vertical transistor with buried source/drain and dual gates (1997), has 245 forward citations, meaning that a lot of patents use Mr. Forbes’ utility for their own inventions. He is also known for inventing CCD’s, thin film processes and materials, VLSI, and a method for stacking semiconductors in a wafer for increased performance. He has taught at UC Davis, University of Arkansas Fayetteville, Portland State University, and Oregon State.
5 Thomas Edison - USA - 1084 utility patents
One of the most notable inventors in American history, Edison is the Elvis of invention. That being said, he was also infamous during his life for his smear campaigns and stealing of ideas from other inventors, and many of his “inventions” came from his team of dedicated engineers, not necessarily himself. Still, “The Wizard of Menlo Park” is known for inventing the light bulb (he actually didn’t invent it, just helped perfect it; Tesla was one of the people who paved the way with his alternating current electric power system), the phonograph, and a typewriter that perforated paper, as well as batteries, telegraphy, cement, mining methods, and many other less-notable things. As technology advances, his listing as “the most prolific inventor of all time” goes down year after year. In fact, surprisingly, he is the last American on this list.
4 Gurtej Sandhu - India - 1093 utility patents
Gurtej Sandhu is the only Indian-born inventor on this list. He is a Senior Fellow and Director of Advanced Technology developments at Micron Technology, Inc. Born in 1960, Sandhu’s 1093 US utility patents is remarkable, as is his prolificity (he had 815 confirmed patents in 2010).
Together with his out-of-US and design patents, Sandhu has about 1800 total patents with his name on the dotted line. Like many on this list, Sandhu’s field is semiconductors, having perfected chip packaging, device fabrication, and other processes. His US5240552 Chemical mechanical planarization (CMP) of a semiconductor wafer using acoustical waves for in-situ end point detection (1993) has 316 forward citations.
3 Paul Lapstun - Australia - 1268 utility patents
Paul Lapstun is a living Australian inventor who works in the technology field. He was granted 268 US patents alone in 2011, and has 3133 worldwide patents in his name. He is a colleague of the prolific Australian inventor Kia Silverbrook, and works primarily in the printing, digital paper, Internet and CGI fields. One of his most notable and used inventions is a system that lets a person send an email to someone else only if they have that person’s business card, to cut down on spam and unsolicited emails.
2 Shunpei Yamazaki - Japan - 3516 utility patents
Shunpei Yamazai is one of the most abundant inventors the world has ever seen. Born in 1942, the super-inventor passed Thomas Edison in 2003 as the person holding the most patents in the world, and was named the most prolific inventor in the world by USA Today in 2005. He has a total of 11,400 patent applications according to Espacenet, and has patented over 500 utilities since 2011. He heads the research company Semiconductor Energy Laboratory, focusing on new display, and energy and solar cell storage technologies. In the fields of computer science and solid-state physics, his influence is absolute. His patent US5,643,826 Method for manufacturing a semiconductor device (1994) is one of the most cited patents in computer technology, with 1098 forward citations.
1 Kia Silverbrook - Australia - 4669 utility patents
The most patented inventor in the world is Kia Silverbrook of Australia. Born in 1958, Silverbrook developed the Memjet printer, claiming to be the worlds fastest printer capable of printing full color pages at a rate of 60 pages/minute. He also invented the “Point and Print” printer, named one of the “Best Inventions of 2011,” by PC Magazine. In 2008, he passed Shunpei Yamazaki as the person with the most patents in the world. He has almost 10,000 individual patents or applications (Espacenet), with 4669 US utility patents, with 757 granted in 2011 alone. His fields of discipline might be the most vast as well, contributing products in the computer graphics, video and audio production, scientific computing, factory automation, digital printing, LCD, molecular electronics, content management, genetic analysis, Internet software, MEMS devices, security inks, interactive paper, and photovoltaic solar cells... fields.
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