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Patent Failure

March 2024
1min read

I enjoyed the article in the November 2000 issue on the creation of Atanasoff and Berry’s ABC computer (“My Brush With History: Holding the Baby”) but was disappointed in one regard. As a graduate student in the early 1980s, I had an opportunity to hear Atanasoff describe the experience in his own words. The article chides him for not patenting the computer. The truth is that he wanted to do just that. But he was the employee of Iowa State College (now University), and it refused permission, saying the world would need at most two or three of these inventions, not enough to warrant the effort of seeking a patent. Since then—and as a result of this experience—Iowa State has changed its policy and now allows patents on almost anything.

One cannot be too hard on Iowa State, though. After all, had the ABC computer been used only for the purpose it was designed for, the calculation of gunnery tables, the world could probably have gotten by with just two or three of them.

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