Society - History
By: - at July 16, 2013

10 Inventors Who Stole Their Ideas

Primitive man has car wheelsBack in the Stone Age, a guy who was just roaming around the stone town wanted to travel faster, maybe because he’s bored or something. One big idea struck him suddenly, and he started carving a circular object on a rock he got from his neighbor’s stone garden. He called his little invention the ‘wheel’. But before he could present it to the other cavemen, he was struck in the head by the now angry neighbor who got his garden messed up by this wandering sapien. He then saw the wheel the first guy made and said, “Hey, I can show this to the others and they will think I’m awesome!” so he took credit for one of man’s innovative creations. Of course, historians would argue about the authenticity of the anecdote, but they can’t really know that now, can they?

But these cases of intellectual property theft below aren’t as blurry as the wheel inventor guy. Evidence has been shown (some are still questioned) that their ideas are not really that original. Is it really possible that men would go as far as to rob genius minds of their own pioneering concepts? You be the judge of that.

10)  Alexander Graham Bell

Stolen Idea: Telephone
Alexander Graham BellBack in the 18th Century, the concept of talking to people in a different place without actually going there seemed impossible. However, one man changed the course of history. They say this man was Alexander Graham Bell when he introduced his ‘original’ patent in 1876. Since then, Bell took credit for inventing one of the most innovative creations of man since the steam engine. That premise would be correct, if only one man didn’t make a telephone prototype 16 years ago before Bell did. Italian-American inventor Antonio Meucci first discovered that sounds could travel by electrical impulses through copper wires when he was trying to research how to treat electric shocks in the 1830s. In 1860, he conducted a public demonstration of his ‘electrophone’, and the cruelties of life came upon poor Meucci.

Heisty Facts: The genius that is Antonio Meucci didn’t actually gain success with his groundbreaking invention. His paralyzed wife had to sell his invention for $6 to a secondhand shop, and in 1874, his patent was ‘lost’ by the Western Telegraph Company. Two years after that, Alexander Graham Bell introduced his own version of the telephone, with the blueprints he got from his lab partner Meucci. Bell got tons of money and fame from taking the credit of his friend’s idea while Meucci died penniless.

9)  Galileo Galilee

Stolen Idea: Telescope
Galileo GalileePushing the timeline back to the 17th Century, we have Galileo Galilee and his famous ‘invention’. He was the one who discovered many things outside our earth’s atmosphere, like the fact that Jupiter has been married to different moons (which explains the rings), and that our moon itself suffers from multiple personality disorder (the different phases). Sure, he made these amazing discoveries, but then he started taking credit for the invention of the telescope. The truth is he took the original idea of his buddy Hans Lippershey, adding a couple things to the orginal design he became the ‘inventor’ of the telescope.

Heisty Fact: Lippershey was the man behind the magic of telescope. Sure, Galileo made astounding findings using his little peeking tube, but Lippershey deserves more credit when it comes to the invention of it. Lippershey was apparently surrounding himself with a bunch of smart friends; aside from his star-exploring pal, he is also friends with Zacharias Jansen the man who invented the microscope. These guys probably had eye problems.

yo-yo patent8)  Pedro Flores

Stolen Idea: Yo-Yo
It is known that Flores introduced the yo-yo in the 1920s, but earlier records dating back 2,500 years ago suggest that the stringed toy had long been in existence in ancient Greece. In an ancient bowl, there was a drawing that depicts a boy holding a string with a disk attached at the end of it. Though it is said to be a very lame yo-yo trick, it was very indisputable evidence that yo-yos did come from Greece. So how did Flores get dibs on a very old patent? Even experts are not sure. They say the yo-yo circulated around the world, and eventually reached China and the Philippines. Now that’s marketing. 

 Heisty Fact: They say that the yo-yo was once used as a weapon in the Philippines a few centuries ago. Now how cool is that? Imagine having that awesome arsenal in your pocket, with sharp blades on both sides of the disk.

7)  Michael Jackson

Stolen Idea: Moonwalk
This is about Michael Jackson and his famous ‘moonwalk’ dance step, first seen in 1983. Aside from his crotch-grabbing antics, his moonwalk placed him at the top of the list of the most iconic musical performers. But was he really the guy who thought to himself on one brainstorming day, “Hey, maybe I can pretend-walk on the moon backwards!”? It was actually a tap dancer named Bill Bailey who came up with the move in 1955. Michael did it better though, no offense.

Michael Jackson's Moonwalk
Photo by damkay at Deviantart

Heisty Facts: It’s weird that Jackson didn’t really steal the idea from Bailey himself (the guy may have been dead by the time Jackson rose to stardom), so where did the King of Pop get this career-changing dance move? LaToya Jackson revealed in a 2004 interview that Jacko got the move from a Soul Train dancer, Jeffrey Daniel. When Michael saw the move he instantly liked it and tried to imitate it, and indeed he executed it like he owned the dance move (and the dance floor).

6)  Alan Turing

Stolen Idea: Computer
Alan Turing did not originally conceive the idea of a fully functional home computer. Sure, he made the first commercial computer, but almost a century ago, another man had a dream, a ‘difference machine’, to be exact. Mathematics professor Charles Babbage laid out blueprints for a machine that could execute simultaneous calculations in minimal amount of time. The problem was Babbage didn’t have the money and moral support that an inventor needs. Basically Alan Turing, together with some colleagues, just continued what Babbage couldn't finish.

By User:geni (Photo by User:geni) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Heisty Fact: There was a rumor back in Babbage’s days that he was given a chance to actually build his brainchild, but then he started asking money from the government. It’s still a theory though, and some say it’s not true. Nevertheless, his invention came into fruition in 1991 when the Science Museum in London built it based exactly on Babbage’s prints, and the device worked.

5)  Bernard and Murray Spain

Stolen Idea: Smiley Face
smiley faceThe yellow guy with the biggest smile is so common, you’d probably think it just came out of nowhere like a naturally sprouting weed. They say the Spain twins, Bernard and Murray, created the logo to try and brighten up everyone’s day (and because they knew it was a good marketing strategy). While it is true that they were the first ones to make the smiley a fad, it was Harvey Ball, a graphic artist from Worcester, Massachusetts, who first drew the famous drawing.

Heisty Fact: The purpose of the smiley wasn’t really to be put in bags, key chains, sweatshirts and other apparel. Harvey Ball was assigned to raise the moral of his co-employees and being the resourceful crew that he is, he drew a smiley, because when you turn it upside down, it becomes a frown. At least give this guy a raise.

4)  Kurt Angle

Stolen Idea: Ankle Lock
Who knew lack of originality also exists in the world of sports-entertainment? That is certainly the case when it comes to Olympic gold medalist and current TNA superstar Kurt Angle and his signature finishing move - the Angle Lock. For those of you who don’t like watching people beat each other limb by limb, the Angle Lock is basically an ankle lock; you grab the feet of a faced down opponent and twist it until he taps. Kurt Angle is arguably one of the best pro-wrestlers in the wrestling industry, and his ankle-breaking maneuver did wonders to his colorful career. But he was not the inventor of the ankle lock. Ken Shamrock first used the move as his finisher during his WWF gig in 1997.

Kurt angle

Heisty Fact: It is pretty common for wrestlers in the pro-wrestling circuit to copy moves from other wrestlers. Some moves have become staples of wrestling like the perfectplex, chokeslam, and the German suplex. So it’s no surprise that Angle would have copied the ankle lock. But then, Angle just started calling out wrestlers who uses his moves and called them unoriginal. As WWE Superstar The Miz would say, “Really, Kurt, really?”

3)  James Naismith

Stolen Idea: Basketball
James NaismithThis is a controversial one, considering that James Naismith is widely considered as the man responsible for the creation of one of the main team sports in the world. Almost all sports books would point out to Naismith as basketball’s mastermind. But the theory about how the game came about is something to think about. It goes like this: a colleague of Naismith actually invented the game a year before he did, and that Naismith just borrowed rules and added regulations to the game, and that’s how b-ball started. Lambert Will is believed by others to be the true inventor of basketball, although the family of Will never claimed the prestige of being the inventor of the popular sport. Good guy.

Heisty Fact: The Lambert Will Theory started when a photograph of a basketball team dated in 1892 was found. In the photo, the ball had a ’91-92’ logo printed on it, which meant that the team was formed in 1891, one year before the very first game of basketball officiated by Naismith ever happened. Conspiracy theorists consider this as their strongest evidence, shedding new light to the angle James Naismith stole the basketball idea.

2)  Steve Jobs

Stolen Idea: Every Apple Product Idea
Steve Jobs blatantly admitted in a 1996 interview that they do steal ideas and make money out of it. The idea of the Mac came from a Xerox machine that Jobs saw in 1979 and borrowed some interface elements from Windows; the idea of the first tablet PC came about in 1987, 23 years before the IPad was launched; Touchscreen technology is a thing of the past, dating back in 1965, yet Jobs claims Apple invented it.

Matthew Yohe [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Heisty Fact: In his authorized biography in 2011, Steve Jobs had some nasty comments about the Android, Apple’s smartphone nemesis, saying they stole ideas from the IPhone.

1)  Thomas Edison

Stolen Idea: Basically Anything He Claimed He Invented
Thomas edisonWe considered him the best inventor ever back when we were kids because of the many things he ‘invented’: electricity, the moving picture but most importantly, the light bulb. First of all, you can’t really invent electricity, it’s just there. Put a metal rod on top of the roof during a stormy night and boom! Electrifying! He didn’t invent the first moving pictures; it was a man with a French name in 1888. And Edison didn’t invent his mega idea light bulb, it was Sir Humphry Davy in 1802. Why Edison gets all the fame and prestige is mostly attributed to the fact that he was the first to get it to work correctly supplied by alternating as well as direct current.

Heisty Fact: Remember the classic rivalry of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla? They say Edison stole the idea of harnessing and powering things with electricity from Tesla, which he probably did based on his track record. Edison even takes credit for the electric chair. And the telegraph is not from Edison, it’s from a guy with an unpronounceable name back in 1860.

Did they really steal ideas, or they just improved what they thought could be improved? No one knows for sure, but it wouldn’t hurt if you credit someone as an inspiration for your work.





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