In the past 10 years alone, a number of multibillion-dollar companies, such as Uber and Facebook, have wound up being embroiled in IP scandal after IP scandal, constantly testing the power of original ideas – and whether or not any inventor truly has them in the first place.
Along with a little help from the Internet (and a lot of research), we’re beginning to see that the most famous inventors of all time, some credited with inventing major products such as the lightbulb and the radio, merely stole their ideas from other people.
Below you will find 12 billion-dollar ideas that were definitely not original. Take a look!
Similar to other famous inventions or discoveries throughout the years, the famous board game, and great American pastime, Monopoly was actually invented by a woman. In fact, it was created by a bold and progressive woman by the name of Elizabeth Magie, in 1903.
Back then, it was called “The Landlord’s Game” and was used to demonstrate the tragic consequences of land-grabbing. Even though her story is well-known, many still claim that Charles Darrow as the rightful inventor – even though he merely just stamped his name on something that didn’t belong to him.
When you think of a sewing machine, the first company that probably comes to mind is the Singer Corporation, mostly because, to this day, they are still a powerful force in the industry. However, according to Cambridge History, despite this firm grip on the sewing machine industry, Isaac Singer and the Singer Corporation stole the idea for this machine from Elias Howe, who eventually sued the company for the right to receive royalties. He won.
Although your textbooks might have you believe that the very first television was created by Vladimir Zworykin for electronics company RCA, it was actually invented by Philo Taylor Farnsworth, an inventor with 165 patents to his name.
As it turns out, Farnsworth invented the television in 1927, at the age of 21, and three years later, Zworykin visited his lab to view his invention and ended up stealing his ideas. After a decade-long court battle, RCA eventually lost both the initial court case and the appeal, meaning that Farnsworth would have to receive royalties for the inventions, though he is yet to receive recognition.
In the late 1800s, a race to create the first successful telephone was underway – and the two main contenders in this race were Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell. If you have never heard of Gray, that’s probably because you were taught in school that Bell was the genius who invented the device that could transmit intelligible sounds from one place to another.
As it happens, on February 14, 1876, both men submitted their patents – though it was actually discovered that Bell bribed the patent office to find out what Gray’s invention actually looked like. Due to this deceit, Elisha Gray is often found to be the more credible inventor of the telephone, though he never got the credit that he deserves.
Gordon Gould created what he called the Laser, or Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Although he had just invented something important that he wanted to showcase, he figured that he would need to perfect his design of the laser before filing for a patent.
However, unfortunately for Gould, this misstep allowed for two of his colleagues to steal his idea and patent it themselves two years later, in 1959. Eventually, after three decades of court battles, Gould was able to rightfully put his name on this invention and claim several million dollars in royalties.
In the last decade of the 19th century, Nikola Tesla discovered that he could use his electronically charged tesla coils to broadcast messages over a long distance, and he had a patent accepted for this in 1900. During this time, a young inventor by the name of Marconi was also attempting to invent something similar using many of Tesla’s patents, and when he eventually found success with creating a radio transmission, he was given the credit for creating the radio, and Tesla was, rightfully so, furious at this false development. Unfortunately, he never had the money to prosecute Marconi – though the invention was credited to him after his death in 1943.
This Tennessee whiskey distillery claimed that while slaves helped create the recipe, they hadn’t actually crafted the exact process that made Jack Daniel’s so delectable – that honor belonged to founder Jack Daniel.
However, in 2016, the company that owns the Jack Daniel’s distillery, Brown-Foreman, made headlines when they decided to finally give credit where it had been due for the last 150 years – to the slave that really created the whiskey, Nearest Green.
When a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerburg launched Facebook as a sophomore at Harvard in 2004, he allegedly did so without the consent of three of his classmates who helped him come up with the idea, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narenda. In 2007, the three students received a payout from Facebook to help ease the tensions among the former classmates.
Alan Amron claims that he was the first one to invent this product in 1973, four years before the company, 3M released them to the world. They are still challenging Amron’s accusations, despite a previous trial in which he received money for his part in the paper product’s popularity.
The lightbulb’s story showcases the often complicated process of the invention, and how, more often than not, the credit isn’t given to those who deserve it. While Thomas Edison was indeed a brilliant inventor, he didn’t invent the lightbulb.
Rather, along with a number of other inventors who you’ve likely never heard of, Heinrich Goebel was likely the one who invented it, having tried to sell the device to Edison in 1854. Edison saw no use for it then, but shortly after Goebel’s death, he bought the patent from his widow at an extremely low price and credited himself with coming up with the invention.
In 1988, Apple sued Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard for supposedly stealing their idea to use visual graphical user interface elements that were very similar to their own. Though the court eventually ruled that “Apple cannot get patent-like protection for the idea of a graphical user interface, or the idea of a desktop metaphor,” it’s widely understood that the two companies did in fact copy Apple’s idea after seeing how well it worked.
The true inventor of this stargazing device is actually Dutchman Hans Lippershey, who created his first prototype in 1608, but was denied a patent for reasons that still remain unknown to this very day. Unfortunately for Lippershey, the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilee stumbled upon the Dutchman’s creation and crafted a telescope in a similar fashion and somehow still receives credit for inventing this ground-breaking product.