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.

Filed Under: arthur c. clarke, patents


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  1. identicon
    Mike Brown, 19 Mar 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.

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