We have chosen 10 successful people who made a difference in engineering and every Friday there would be a new feature under the hash tag #successfulengineerchallenge. Come back to learn a few lessons for yourself!
This is week 10 of the challenge. If you missed the previous ones, click here.
Kia Silverbrook is the world’s most prolific inventor but hardly anyone has ever heard of him. Nonetheless, he surpassed Thomas Edison, the famous light bulb inventor, a long time ago and has been granted almost 9,900 (!) patents internationally throughout his career and has founded multiple companies. The whole list of his inventions would probably take a few days to just mention.
Starting his inventor career from day 1 at his first job at Fairlight Instruments back in 1977, Silverbrook’s first invention was a real-time video effect computer that was released in 1984. That’s where it all began – he later quit the company and started founding a business after a business. First came the Integrated Arts, a computer graphics company, where he served as a managing director until 1990, then he moved on to being an executive director at CiSRA, Canon’s Australian subsidiary, for another 4 years.
And then the real inventions started – he co-founded Silverbrook Research, an R&D and invention licensing company. A few of the inventions done by his firm include the printing technology Memjet, which is now a separate company with offices across several continents, and Netpage, a software system that makes printed paper interactive, which ultimately became a separate company as well. With this software you can scan a Netpage printed paper with a phone app and it will become live on your screen; it was first launched in the Esquire Magazine in December 2012.
If you want a simpler example of his inventions, here you go – does your phone camera focus on people’s faces and search for their eyes when you take a picture? Well, Silverbrook came up with that. A lot of his inventions are built around photography and printing-related industries. Apart from technology, Silverbrook also has numerous patents in the areas of mechanics, optics, software, and even medical diagnostic devices. The last part is quite interesting – it will potentially be a diagnostic device that you can operate with a smartphone and it can detect infectious diseases from a sample of DNA.
Why don’t we know about him?
If Kia Silverbrook invented so many things then why is he not as famous as Edison,- you might ask? That’s because most of his successful inventions are owned by other companies, for instance, about 250 photography-related patents were acquired by Google, Facebook, Apple and a few others, including that facial recognition on phone cameras. The major tech companies, such as Apple or Samsung, have only invented the tiny parts and details of their devices but most of it were bought from inventors. They are just smart enough to put all of those inventions into one appealing to customers device.
Having almost 10,000 patents does not mean Silverbrook invented 10,000 devices and machines. If that were true he would have to make a discovery a day for most of his adult life. But being granted a patent only gives you a right to make that discovery but doesn’t necessarily mean you will and if you do you might use over a hundred of patents for the same product. As an example, Thomas Edison had about 200 patents for his light bulb invention and the smartphone all of us have consists of hundreds of thousands of various patents that were acquired by different tech companies. And Silverbrook also had help – founding his own research business let him have the whole company of helpers. Well, that’s how the world works – one person does something great but the other one becomes famous from it.