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Top 5: Living Patent Holders

Today we take a look at 5 of the most prolific inventors of our day. From nuclear fusion methods to digital paper to floral arrangements, each of our listed inventors currently holds thousands of patents. Keep in mind: Thomas Edison, America’s most prolific inventor for hundreds of years, only held around 1,100 U.S. patents. Keep reading to find out more about what drives these inventors and how they left Edison in the dust.

1) Kia Silverbrook

3,800 granted U.S. utility patents as of April 2011

11,146 patents worldwide

Although the numbers are constantly changing and sometimes controversial, Kia Silverbrook currently holds the top spot for patent production. With almost 4,000 U.S. patents and 9,000 patents or patent applications currently registered with the International Patent Document Database, Silverbrook patented his first invention in 1990 and hasn’t slowed down since. Often cited as the most secretive of the prolific inventors, the Australian inventor left Japan’s Canon Inc. in the mid 90’s and started up Silverbrook Research in Balmain, New South Wales, a research and development and invention licensing company. He also co-founded and became CTO of Memjet, a printer technology company, in 2002.

While most of Silverbrook’s patents deal with printer, inkjet and digital paper technology, he also holds patents on various image sensors, computer graphics and digital camera technology. This year, the Washington Times wrote a piece on Memjet’s revolutionary printing technology. While laser and inkjet printers have dominated the printing market for years, the article notes that Memjet’s new printers can produce one color page per second, at around $500 a piece – and the ink only runs for 5 cents per page, as compared to 12 cents for laser toner or 25 cents for consumer inkjet ink!

Shunpei Yamazaki Patent

2) Shunpei Yamazaki

2,591 granted U.S. utility patents

9,700 patents worldwide

Currently in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most patents held by a person,” 69-year-old Yamazaki currently holds over 2,600 U.S. patents and thousands of patents in Europe and Japan. Founder and President of Tokyo-based Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., a research and development company, Yamazaki has been patenting his inventions for over 40 years.

While most of his patents deal with computer and videos screens for his business, he has also patented several methods relating to cold nuclear fusion and an integrated circuit made entirely of glass. An interview with Portfolio.com describes Yamazaki as a “neatly dressed, polite, trumpet-voiced man, who comes across as something of a mystical seeker [and] attributes his success to six years under a mentor who taught him the “emotional spirit” of inventing.”

3) Donald Weder

951 granted U.S. utility patents

409 granted U.S. design patents

2,441 patents worldwide

Born and raised in rural Highland, Illinois, Weder has been patenting his floral and decorative packaging products since the 70’s. In 1977, Weder inherited Highland Supply Corp., a national floral supply company started in 1937, from his father. Although relatively unknown outside of the floral industry, his savvy business skills transformed a small, family-owned company into a dominant market force.

Almost all floral arrangements have something to do with one or more of his patents.  His minefield approach to the patent game has made it tough for any competition to encroach on his hundreds of patents dealing with flowerpots, floral paper and wrapping methods. Nevertheless, Weder’s green thumb also has a philanthropic spirit: the Weder Family Trust and Highland Supply have planted over 100,000 trees in the U.S. and Mexico and have preserved thousands of acres of timberland.

4) Paul Lapstun

951 granted U.S. utility patents

3,379 patents worldwide

It is no coincidence that our list features two prolific Australian inventors involved in the printing industry: Lapstun is a colleague of Silverbook’s at Silverbook Research. With many inventions listing Lapstun and Silverbrook as co-inventors, Lapstun also co-patented the wide-format inkjet print engine that has propelled Memjet into the forefront of the printing world.  A list of patents granted to Lapstun can be found here, including more than 85 so far in 2011.

Leonard Forbes Patent

5) Leonard Forbes

946 granted U.S. utility patents

2,010 patents worldwide

A retired professor from Oregon State University, Forbes is a native Canadian and currently runs his own Oregon-based consulting office that deals with solar cell technology. A majority of his patents deal with semiconductor memories and thin film processes and materials. His personal website provides more information, including his 2006 profile published in the University of Alberta Engineer.  The article summarizes, “’I think when you reach the end of your life,’ he says, ‘you’d like to look back and say you made some positive contributions to the world.’ It’s probably safe to assume Forbes will be able to do just that.”

All numbers come from citations within Wikipedia’s List of Prolific Inventors

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