Thomas Edison protected his bright ideas — all 1,093 of them

Painting of man behind lit lightbulb (© AP Images)
A model of a streetlight with an incandescent bulb in front of a portrait of its inventor, Thomas Edison (© AP Images)

Thomas Edison is widely regarded as the father of the lightbulb. But “the wizard of Menlo Park” (the location of his world-renowned New Jersey laboratory) delivered hundreds of other important inventions. Over his lifetime, Edison earned 1,093 patents — still a record number for one person.

Patents protect the ideas and work of inventors, providing an incentive for research and development. They are part of a broad category of legal protection known as intellectual property rights (IPR).

Intellectual property embodies unique work reflecting someone’s creativity. It is all around us — in the form of a miracle drug, a Hollywood blockbuster or a more fuel-efficient car.

Drawing of lightbulb (© AP Images)
Thomas Edison’s technical drawing for his patent for the lightbulb (© AP Images)

Patents are one of three types of IPR. Copyrights protect works of authorship, such as movies. Trademarks protect a name or symbol that identifies the source of goods or services (such as McDonald’s golden arches).

Strong IPR protection has many benefits. It drives job creation and combats the creation of fake medicine or poorly made goods. It helps entrepreneurs and creative-minded people to earn a living, because it stops others from stealing or copying:

  • Things the innovators invent, write or produce.
  • The names of their products or brands.
  • The design of their products or logos.

Citizens can play an important role by raising awareness of the issue. The World Intellectual Property Organization has tools that can help, from posters to download to examples of successful social-media campaigns.

This article was previously published on April 21, 2016.