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MIT's RSA encryption was granted a patent although it was not enforced for non-commercial applications. Similarly for Stanford's PGP encryption algorithm. However, these are institutions rather than mathematicians.

A borderline case of maths and physics would be Mauchly and Eckert unsuccessful application for a patent on their work relating to the ENIAC. (There is an interesting backstory to this case which resulted in hostilities with von Neumann.)

Q: What are some examples of mathematicians who either successfully or unsuccessfully applied to patent their work?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do wavelets count? $\endgroup$ May 9, 2023 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @RodrigodeAzevedo Thanks for the suggestion. However, the patents awarded in the linked list have been awarded to corporations rather than the mathematician(s) who developed the theory. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    May 9, 2023 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ So "Newton received a patent for his reflecting telescope", did he really? What is the basis for this statement, or is it just another Newton myth? $\endgroup$
    – terry-s
    May 13, 2023 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ @terry-s You're right. I thought I had read it somewhere, but a bit of googling finds no credible source. I have updated the OP. Thanks. There's even some debate as to whether or not its invention is attributable to Newton. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    May 13, 2023 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @nwr thanks for looking into it. There are hoary old lines of disputation about what amounts to inventorship. (As far as I recall sources) there may have been a proposal before Newton for a different sort of reflecting telescope. Reflecting scopes have differed in eyepiece arrangements. Newton seems to have been first to actually make a reflecting scope, first to design what's now known as a Newtonian reflector, and perhaps also first to make a reasonably well-reflecting speculum metal. On all three counts he should qualify then or now as inventor of at least some things in the field. $\endgroup$
    – terry-s
    May 14, 2023 at 18:45

6 Answers 6

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Unfortunately Penrose patented the tiles associated with his name.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why unfortunately? $\endgroup$ May 10, 2023 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ Why is that patentable? Does it mean that people could not use it before in advertisement or books? $\endgroup$
    – Mauricio
    May 10, 2023 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ @RodrigodeAzevedo: Would it make sense to patent a particular Kähler manifold? $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    May 10, 2023 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I too don't understand the 'unfortunately'. If somebody wants to sell decorative tiles with a Penrose type pattern as its selling point during the lifetime of the patent, what is wrong with Penrose asking for a fee or whatever? If they don't want to pay Penrose then there's nothing stopping them from using any of a zillion other tile patterns. (That reality may limit or even nullify the economic value to Penrose of having the patent, but it still doesn't seem to explain the 'unfortunately'.) $\endgroup$
    – terry-s
    May 14, 2023 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ Penrose filed patent US4133152A in 1976, which means that it expired no later than 1996. Therefore, today it's public domain and anyone is free to use it. $\endgroup$
    – Leo
    May 15, 2023 at 20:29
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AT&T Bell Labs famously patented some aspects of KORBX, their implementation of an interior point method for LP based on Karmarkar's algorithm. Karmarkar was employed by AT&T.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you find it here? $\endgroup$ May 11, 2023 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ See "Methods and apparatus for efficient resource allocation" which is the patent in question. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2023 at 23:02
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Leslie Connock Jesty obtained a patent for a method of information transmission relying on hypersphere packing. There are further details about him in my question and answer Did anyone apply for a patent based on sphere packing?

Although hypersphere packing is a mathematical problem it is arguable whether he was a mathematician. His name does not appear in the Mathematics Genealogy Project or in the database zbMATH.

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Sergeyev patented infinity.

N.B. Just to avoid any misunderstanding: my views concerning this are summarized here.

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Upon obtaining his PhD, Hugh Everett turned his back on physics and became a game theorist working for the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group at the Pentagon. While his thesis was being evaluated by Wheeler, he turned down an invitation to spend two months in Copenhagen discussing his ideas with Bohr et al. However, some years later, while on holiday in Europe with his wife and family, he spent two days in Copenhagen attempting to explaining his ideas to Bohr.

After a long and fruitless discussion with Bohr, Everett walked back to his Copenhagen hotel under the steel-gray afternoon twilight of the Danish sky, leaving quantum physics behind him. Drinking and smoking incessantly at the hotel bar - "he was sloppy and had a cigarette with him all the time." recalled Suzanne Misner - Everett had another brilliant alcohol-fueled idea, totally unrelated to the universal wave function. Jotting notes on hotel stationary while downing several pints of beer, Everett developed a new optimization algorithm for allocating military resources. It was easy to apply and fast to run on the bulky and slow computers of the time. When he returned home, Everett secured a patent for his algorithm, and it ultimately made him and his circle of military-minded colleagues rich. Everett finally had what he wanted: a never ending supply of booze, food, and cigarettes. Life was good.

(Source: What is Real? by Adam Becker)

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Take a look at:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10724117.1995.11974913?journalCode=umho20

Complications involve algorithms and their implementatins.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi Joseph. While the link might have substantial elements addressing the issue in concern, link only answers are in the long run useless once the link is dead. So, it would be appreciated if you could add some summary of the linked source that caters to the query. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2023 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ The link above is to this article, Malkevitch, Joseph. "Patenting Mathematics?." Math Horizons 2.3 (1995): 8-10. $\endgroup$ May 11, 2023 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ Thank-you for your answer. Since those parts of the link which relate to mathematics appear to be behind a paywall, it would be helpful if you could quote some relevant portions of the text. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    May 12, 2023 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ The article is also at jstor under reference 25678002. But it is rather unspecific, it mentions the US Constitutional provision authorizing patents but has nothing about any particular case of a mathematician succeeding or failing in an application for patent. $\endgroup$
    – terry-s
    May 15, 2023 at 12:07

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