A Short Obit On Arthur C. Clarke

from the rip dept

A bunch of people have been submitting the news that famed writer Arthur C. Clarke has passed away at the age of 90. You've probably already read about it elsewhere, so I debated whether or not it was worth posting it here as well. However, he clearly had a large impact on the technology world, and there was one interesting note in his NYTimes obit that seems to fit with what we often talk about here. While it's widely known that he's credited with the idea of the geostationary satellite, in later life, Clarke admitted that a lawyer convinced him not to patent the idea, saying that the concept of geostationary communications satellites was "too far-fetched to be taken seriously." While he later joked about how he probably lost billions on that decision, the truth is that in not patenting the concept and simply publishing the idea, it's quite likely that he did much more to speed along the concept from idea to reality. Even he admits that there was nothing "new" in what he described, it was just that he helped publicize the concept and make people realize it was feasible -- and for that we should be thankful.

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  1. identicon
    Jack Rennscheidt, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 12:25am

    A.C. Clarke

    I lost one my childhood heros today. In his honor I propose renaming satellite dishes and satellite antennae Clarke Stations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Brian, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 12:29am


    Definitely a big loss in the tech / sci-fi community, and really, the world. Sad, but he WAS 90, and he lived a long full life. We should all be so lucky...except the bad and evil people out there.

    On a side note, I used to love his "Mysterious Universe" tv show, even though it was easily 20 years old when I'd watch it, and that was at least ten years ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Bobbknight, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 1:04am

    He Was Smart, He Was Old

    I shed no tear for the passing of a pederast who fled the USA to avoid a sex scandal that included young boys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    It Wasnt me, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 1:12am

    my favorite scifi movie: 2001 Odyssey

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 1:16am

    Re: He Was Smart, He Was Old

    ...he was born and raised in the UK, then moved to Sri Lanka in 1956, and lived there until he died...

    And the "sex scandal" was a random accusation by a single UK newspaper when he was knighted, that was shot down by both UK and Sri Lankan police.

    ...I just got trolled. I'm bad at this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    mike allen, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 1:29am

    Arther C Clarke

    Brought pleasure to milions through his books a described many concepts not just the satalites also the space stations robotics sad yes but 90 is a good age.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 2:59am

    Re: He Was Smart, He Was Old

    Did he have a West Country accent, then?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 3:54am

    If the writers of Star trek patented all their original ideas, I think they would be billionaires by now...or science and technology would have ground to a stop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    dorpus, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 5:48am

    Death of a Sexist

    Mr. Clarke was from that older generation of SF writers who portrayed women as cattle, or took cliches from non-Western cultures and made it into the "future". Hence we have 2001: Space Odyssey centering around Mecca's rock of Kaaba... I mean, "the monolith".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    OKVol, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 6:13am

    About the geosync orbit

    It was ironic that Clarke later testified in the trial where Hughes tried to patent geosync orbits when they put up the first one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    rikhart, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 6:14am

    Re: Death of a Sexist

    Didn't mommy ever teach you that if you can't say something nice...don't say anything doofus...I mean dorpus.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    James (profile), Mar 19th, 2008 @ 6:15am

    Re: A.C. Clarke

    Ever hear of the Clark Arc? That is the arc of satelites in orbit that bring us tv and cable. The old 8 foot systems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Mike Brown, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 6:29am

    He will be missed...

    I was a great fan of Clarke's work, and unlike other sci-fi authors he didn't go steeply downhill in his later works. He will be missed.

    It's a bit of an exaggeration to say "he probably lost billions" in not patenting the idea of geostationary satellites, though (and the post does say that he only said that jokingly). Clarke did popularize the idea of geostationary communications satellites, but he did not originate it - the concept had been published by several others around twenty years earlier than his 1945 article. He wouldn't have been able to patent it because of this prior publication.

    Even if he had obtained a patent, if he had filed his patent application before his 1945 publication (as UK patent law requires), it would have valid for twenty years from the date of filing. So, it would have expired in 1965, at most a year after the first successful test of a geostationary satellite in November 1964, and decades before they became commercially successful. Of course, a UK patent wouldn't have affected the US launch of Syncom 3, but even if he'd filed for a US patent at the same time, it would have been in effect for 17 years from its issue date, and assuming a two-year pendency, it would have expired before Syncom 3 was launched.

    So, pioneer in widely publicizing communications satellites - yes. Great author - very much yes. "But for..." billionaire - no.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 7:04am

    Thanks for posting this here. This was the first I had heard of his demise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Wolferz (profile), Mar 19th, 2008 @ 8:36am

    Re: Death of a Sexist

    Many of his more famous works were written in the conservative dominated 50s. The period was dominated by a sense that women were not leadership material or that their place was in the home. Clark rose above this in many of his works. He depicted women in positions of power and authority.

    "2001: a Space Odyssey" and "2010: The year We Make Contact" both had women with jobs that at the time those books were written women were not expected to have. In 2001 a woman was a high ranking member of an intelligence agency aboard a space station and in 2010 a woman was the commanding officer aboard the Russian space craft that carried them to the location of the Discovery.

    He was wrong in his predictions of how far women would go in the 50 years following his books but there is no indication that it was because he was sexists. Quite the contrary in fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Petréa Mitchell, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 9:12am

    Another technology

    AFAIK he also was the first person to describe keyword-based news alerts (in The Fountains of Paradise), which someone out there probably does claim to have patented.

    Geez, both him and Gary Gygax, two weeks apart. This is not shaping up to be a terrific month.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    yah anyway, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 10:59am

    Re: He Was Smart, He Was Old

    You're quite a spectacular moron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    another mike, Mar 19th, 2008 @ 1:23pm


    Arthur's last words were, "My God, it's full of stars..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Ha, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 6:09am

    Re: He will be missed...

    He wouldn't have been able to patent it because of this prior publication.

    Dude, it's apparent you're new to Techdirt. Any long-time reader here would know that prior art seems to be no deterrent to people filing (and getting) patents in USA!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    tmorg, Feb 13th, 2010 @ 12:21am


    Clarke said he moved to Sri Lankan in order to scuba dive ...

    Did you ever notice that we only see young boys working as servants at his home in scenes shot for the Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World TV show shot in 1979? The norm in Sri Lanka would be to have a female house maid who does the cleaning & perhaps a male servant as driver, gardner or cook but we see these boys cleaning ...

    He is patron of the local Surfers and Lifesavers' Association, a position that gives him easy access to teenage beach boys. So respected is he in Sri Lanka - formerly Ceylon - that he was the first foreign celebrity to be given tax-free status by the country. He is also Chancellor of Colombo's Moratuwa University.

    Sri Lanka ranks 4th on Impunity Index
    Rating: 0.452 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.

    "I'm trying to think of the youngest boy I have ever had because of course you can't tell here. It is very difficult here." Clarke said boys are ready to have homosexual sex as long as they have virtually reached puberty.

    But asked what was the youngest boy he ever had a liaison with, Clarke said: "Most of them had reached the age of puberty."

    Asked whether it was morally wrong, it is claimed that he replied: “No. I mean, it depends on the country. You can’t have absolute morality.”

    "I think most of the damage is done by the fuss made by hysterical parents. If the kids enjoy it and don't mind it doesn't do any harm...there is a hysteria about the whole thing in the West. I don't think anyone should have a relationship unless it is entirely free and open and the boy will know what he is doing."

    "I know once many many years ago when I first came here I did and the going rate was about two rupees. Money has never been part of a relationship. But of course when you are fond of them you give them money or a watch or something, whatever."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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