Window to the Future
One great discovery can start a chain of innovation – and a glut of patents. What do recent winners of the Nobel Prize tell us about the future of science?
Andrew Rudhall and Mairi Rudkin |
Every autumn, the announcement of the year’s Nobel Prize winners prompts us to reflect on the contribution to mankind of the discoveries and inventions recognized by the committee since 1901. Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prizes when he wrote his last will in 1895, leaving the majority of his wealth to a fund that was to be awarded:
“to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”
Nobel himself was a prolific inventor and secured patent protection for 355 of his inventions, most famously dynamite. However, many Nobel Prize-winning discoveries are not patentable in themselves. Patent law distinguishes between a ‘discovery’ and an ‘invention’, and whilst it is possible to obtain a patent for an invention, discoveries in themselves are excluded. However, the practical application of a newly-observed phenomenon or discovery can lead to thousands of patentable inventions, often across multiple disciplines.
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