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Robert Bunsen, Open Source Pioneer? 127

Posted by timothy
from the you-mean-a-google-doodle-isn't-enough? dept.
cygtoad writes "Today marks Robert Bunsen's 200th birthday. I found this interesting factoid on the man: 'Bunsen and Desaga did not apply for patent protection on their burner and it was quite soon that others began to produce their own versions. Some even went so far as to claim the invention as their own, including one person who was granted a patent on the device. Both Bunsen and Desaga were involved in writing letters to the proper authorities to refute these claims.' Does anyone have an older example of such an open information pioneer? In my book he deserves some honor." Benjamin Franklin famously chose not to patent the design of the stove that bears his name, too; you can read all about it.
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Robert Bunsen, Open Source Pioneer?

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  • by nebaz (453974) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:12PM (#35683358)

    When you have a system where you can actually make more money suing for patent infringement and protecting "intellectual property" than you can for actually creating a product, what do you think businesses will do? It probably wasn't the case back then.

  • Discovered fire... and didn't patent it.

  • by Hatta (162192)

    The inventor of fire never got a patent on it. Think of all the royalties he missed out on!

    • by tom17 (659054)

      Not to mention all of the many uses for fire that could be marketed. I mean for one, do people want fire that can be fitted nasally?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by SnarfQuest (469614)

        I'm going to apply for a patent for "fire, on the internet,"

        Let the flamewar begin. I'll sue you all for patent abuse!

        • I'm going to apply for a patent for "fire, on the internet,"

          I'll see your "fire on the Internet" and raise you "fire in a crowded theatre".

          • by CTU (1844100)

            I'm going to apply for a patent for "fire, on the internet,"

            I'll see your "fire on the Internet" and raise you "fire in a crowded theatre".

            and I will raise it to "fire for various uses in a consumer environment"

            • I'm going to apply for a patent for "fire, on the internet,"

              I'll see your "fire on the Internet" and raise you "fire in a crowded theatre".

              and I will raise it to "fire for various uses in a consumer environment"

              I will raise it to "Orangish-Red fire with a bit of blue in the middle".

              • by CTU (1844100)

                I'm going to apply for a patent for "fire, on the internet,"

                I'll see your "fire on the Internet" and raise you "fire in a crowded theatre".

                and I will raise it to "fire for various uses in a consumer environment"

                I will raise it to "Orangish-Red fire with a bit of blue in the middle".

                Then I will have to raise to "Heat generating source with mutable uses in an open world environment"

        • I'm going to apply for a patent for "fire, on the internet,"

          Stuff that, I bags WIreless FIre.

    • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:30PM (#35683558)

      Fire. The inventor of fire never got a patent on it. Think of all the royalties he missed out on!

      Untrue. Zeus held the patent, there was even enforcement. Prometheus paid quite a high price for his infringement.

      • by brentrad (1013501) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @06:08PM (#35683844)
        Actually Zeus was ok with Prometheus using fire for his own personal use, but then Prometheus decided to make fire available to mankind through torch-to-torch networks, and he got hit by a massive distribution judgement.
        • No, it was George Flint, a young man from Wales. The lore is that he was banging rocks around 842BCE, and sparks flew, catching his little pile of pine needles on fire. George ran to Uck, who said, "do it again". Bang, George went. Uck killed George, then claimed to invent fire and got 72 virgins. Uck's decendants include Edison and Sarnoff.

          • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday April 01, 2011 @09:50AM (#35688464)

            No, it was George Flint, a young man from Wales. The lore is that he was banging rocks around 842BCE, and sparks flew, catching his little pile of pine needles on fire. George ran to Uck, who said, "do it again". Bang, George went. Uck killed George, then claimed to invent fire and got 72 virgins. Uck's decendants include Edison and Sarnoff.

            Obvious nonsense. It's never dry enough to light anything with a flint in Wales. Besides which if a welshman invented fire it would be much more likely to involve friction and wool than flint and pine needles.

            • by Fubari (196373)

              Besides which if a welshman invented fire...

              Nice! Wish I had mod points today :-)

    • Did Al Bundy patent the Bundy Fountain? Of course not..

    • Fire is naturally occurring, so can't be patented. What he should have tried to patent is a method for starting fires. No wonder it got thrown out - the USPTO were a bit more clued up back then.

    • by mlush (620447)

      The inventor of fire never got a patent on it. Think of all the royalties he missed out on!

      Actually Mr Ug did patent fire, but since Mr Errga had the patent on Money things were a bit moribund until both patents expired.

  • Credit (Score:3, Informative)

    by schmidt349 (690948) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:14PM (#35683388)

    Whatever, everyone knows Robert Bunsen plagiarized everything from his brother Honeydew. Beaker, you see, was his lover.

  • by Grapplebeam (1892878) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:19PM (#35683458)
    Before patents. The real lesson here is people were obtaining patents on things they didn't invent even back then.
    • Everything was open source before patents.

      Everything was not patented, but not open source. People were motivated to keep stuff closed source (well you know what I mean). Patents were invented to stop the problems that this caused: people developed some awesome new way to do something cheaper and better, but then kept it a secret (closed source) so only they could profit from the final product. And if the info wasn't shared before such person kicked it, the knowledge was lost.

      I hate patents as much as the next guy, they just didn't end open source.

    • I have to wonder if Bunsen didn't patent the burner because of ideology or did he just screw up. There are countless examples of people not patenting stuff due to sheer naivete. Now we have 2 options:
      1) Research the story*, get the details and see what his opinions about the subject were. OR
      2) Forget facts, the guy is a open-source god!

      I would admit that the Wikipedia article says that "On a point of principle, he never took out a patent.". However, there is no citation there, and if anyone can find a bette

  • by Anonymous Coward
    If the open source crowd was to do what these guys did they would release their code as public domain. This is not the same. Stop trying to hang your little label on every other thing that comes along.

    Man up and go public domain or you're just a lot of hot air.
    • by WorBlux (1751716)
      It's hard to extend and extinguish a fireplace design except in the most literal senses.
  • Faraday (Score:4, Insightful)

    by leathered (780018) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:24PM (#35683508)

    I thought Michael Faraday [wikipedia.org] came up with the original gas laboratory burner. Bunsen merely improved on the design. I guess, like the telephone or television, no person can claim to be the sole inventor.

    • There is a nice story about that in the "Science of Discworld" series. Contrary to what you would expect from the title, these books are about our real science. The Discworld is just used as an outsider standpoint to look at our science.
  • Is that both Bunsen and Franklin were already quite well-off when they decided not to patent their ideas. It helps.
  • Although not pre-dating Bunsen, my favorite, and explicit anti-patent inventor is Jagdish Chandra Bose, benefactor to us all in so many ways. He even proved that plant and animal tissues are have parallels to one another.
  • Can I patent this [thedailywtf.com] abuse of a thumb drive?

  • The Curie couples are often depicted as people dedicated to science and nothing else. They really saw that as the enrichment of human knowledge and apparently never tried to monetize their discovery.

    It is too bad that this kind of dedication in the research field is obscured by IP discussions.
  • There needs to be an "anti-patent" that you can file that says "I invented this first, but I choose not to patent it". Something that would be legally binding and prevent later patents from people who look for things and ideas without patents and then file the patents for themselves.

    • by tycoex (1832784)

      I'm not sure exactly what it's called but I'm pretty sure there is something like this...

    • by cobrausn (1915176)
      Just making your work public domain does that, no?
    • by mgiuca (1040724)

      There is, but unfortunately it's called a "patent". You do what Google did with WebM [webmproject.org] -- obtain all the patents you can, then grant a "perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable ... patent license". Then it's effectively open to everyone, and cannot be patented.

    • Any way that enables you to prove you came up with it will do. Patent law has always included "prior art" rules: you can't patent anything that has been done before.
      See the BT "hyperlink" patent [zdnet.co.uk].
  • Perhaps the original post should have said that 31 March was Robert Bunsen's birthday, because it was posted one day later on 1 April.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Besides being a brilliant political philosopher and theologian Priestley invented "impregnated water" but abhorred the idea of patents and the monopolies they grant. Josiah Schweppes was the dude who commercialized the product. Thank Joseph Priestley every time you enjoy American democracy, liberal Christianity, or carbonated beverages.

  • Am I the only one who finds the passion for celebrating the birthdays of dead guys to be somewhat inexplicable? I mean sure, he was born; so what? Most of us manage that. And he's not getting another year older anymore, nor can you congratulate him on that fact, so the idea of celebrating a birthday seems fairly pointless. If you want to commemorate a famous dead person, celebrate on a day they did something for which you particularly respect them; such as the date Bunsen first published his designs, in

  • So even if this would have been patented in 1855, the patent would have expired in 1875. And Bunsen could have made some money. That doesn't seem like a problem. I welcome inventors making some money off their inventions.

  • I contend that... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @05:59PM (#35683788) Journal

    I contend that, if you were to abolish patents completely tomorrow, people would still want to create and invent and solve problems. The pace of innovation would not slow down but increase, because no firm could ever rest on its laurels.

    The arguments that clever people do not work unless paid very highly; that people do not express themselves unless given copyright protection; that people do not invent unless they can win a patent - all these arguments are oft repeated and rarely proven. IME all the cleverest people want is an environment where they can dedicate their time to their art.

    • by Phydaux (1135819)

      Patents aren't always welcome by inventors. The Brompton folding bike isn't patented because they don't want people to copy their design.

      The patent is a weird concept... in defining in technical detail what your patent is, you’re effectively just giving it away.
      - Will Butler-Adams

      See: http://www.theengineer.co.uk/in-depth/interviews/brompton-managing-director-will-butler-adams/1007592.article [theengineer.co.uk]

  • and then put it into the public domain. Does that make it impossible to patent?

    • by cforciea (1926392)
      No. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that having a technique or idea in the public domain or implemented in a product or service for decades has no bearing on whether the USPTO will grant a patent to somebody else for it.
      • But it does make the patent invalid. If that happens you can fight it. The patent offices are not equipped to search the complete internet for prior art (I don't think anyone is, since a computer is not yet able and AI's aren't evolved enough yet). They rely on making the patent public and allowing you to fight them. You do have to prove the patent holder wasn't the first.
        See the BT "hyperlink" patent [zdnet.co.uk]
        IANAL.
    • It makes it harder to patent yes. The trick is making sure you disclose enough details in a published form that the USPTO will easily find should someone else apply for something similar. The primary source for the USPTO is other patents and published applications.

      • So, basically, unless you're there the day they review the patent to rub their noses in it like a dog that shit on the carpet while you were out, they'll have no idea your invention ever existed if it's not already in the patent database.

  • Back then, science was believed to be universal, and majority of scientists were idealistic to the point that they would send idealists of today crying to a corner in shame.
  • This is the kind of awesomeness that won't be possible anymore under First to File, which some asshats are very keen on switching to.

    • If you don't know anything about Patent Law best to keep your mouth shut rather than make a fool of yourself. Public sales of the burner and publication of Poggendorffs Ann. Physik, 100, p. 84-5. count as prior art you idiot.

      • by Dogun (7502)

        You must be rather special to have failed to realize I am not talking about the burner.

        • Umm, you provided no context to the comment you made in a discussion about the Bunsen Burner. If not having telepathic abilities makes you class someone as special, then you must think you're surrounded by idiots.

      • but under "first to file" that actually doesn't matter. If you didn't FILE you'd have to prove the other party KNEW you invented the app... "failure to file" is not a defense to suddenly finding yourself in trouble for something you were already doing. So many patents are written as "black box" documents anyway. Now that the "working model" is done away with anybody can rationalize after they see something that looks like what they might have thought of.

  • Here's an interesting fact for you: factoid does not mean what you think it does [wiktionary.org]. Though I realize that asking /. editors to pick up on something like that is a pipe dream.
  • I think it was OMNI magazine that had the cartoon:

    "Bunsen, your work on chromatography is excellent. But what really impresses me is that cute little burner you have there."

  • The Davy Lamp (1815) (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpaceToast (974230) on Thursday March 31, 2011 @11:38PM (#35685678) Homepage Journal

    After a series of deadly methane explosions in British coal mines, Sir Humphrey Davy (1778-1829) invented an oil lamp with a metal mesh-encased wick, which became known as the Davy lamp. He released it without patent, and the design quickly spread. Humphrey determined through experimentation that methane only exploded at a certain mixture with oxygen, at a certain (high) temperature. The metal mesh dissipated the heat of the wick below the ignition point, which alerting the miners to the presence of methane ("fire damp") by burning at a different color. It was considered an early triumph of the application of the scientific method to a critical public need.

    For a fascinating read on the era, I can't recommend Richard Holmes' recent book The Age of Wonder highly enough.

  • Actually Bunsen only opened the air source during experiments. Bunsen would agree with Microsoft that it's safest to keep the source closed most of the time.
  • If you ever want to present the best argument for abolishing patents, just watch Connections with James Burke. All the episodes are available on YouTube:

    Starting here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcSxL8GUn-g [youtube.com]

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