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Norbert Wiener’s Patent

 

   Thanksgiving 2005 marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of one of America’s true, home-grown geniuses, and little-known patentees.

 

   Norbert Wiener, child prodigy, professor of mathematics at MIT from 1919 until his death in 1964, author of several seminal books and the science of cybernetics, and winner of the National Medal of Science, was also the inventor of USPN 2,024,900 issued Dec. 17, 1935.  Wiener’s patent, and its progeny, directed to an electrical network system, prompted some of the most colorful commentary on the American patent system in the public literature.

 

   “Here I must remark that the public that is interested in inventions but has no direct experience of the Patent Office can have no adequate idea of the utter boredom of seeing an invention through the necessary stages of search and documentation.”[1]

 

   Wiener goes on to explain that obtaining a patent with teeth in it depends on the logistic and detailed language of the specific claims, which Wiener asserts have lttle to do with the actual merits of the invention.  Wiener also notes that the private individual of limited means is at a disadvantage.  Wiener did, however, agree that the patent lawyer is of great help, but only if the lawyer is backed by the “peculiar understanding which only the inventor”[2] could be expected to have.  Finally, says Wiener, “The more (the inventor loves the invention) for its own sake and for (the wish) to develop it, the more (the inventor is) frustrated by the unreal world of the Patent Office, in which the (inventor is) forced to live for a term of months or years.”

 

   Citing Charles Dickens, Norbert Wiener described the work of Thomas A. Edison and contrasted it to the work of the General Electric labs.[3]  Wiener concluded that the day of the individual, lone genius such as Edison was obsolete.  However, in describing his contribution to the origin of the science of Cybernetics.[4]  Wiener cited Sir Isaac Newton’s apothegm, “If I have seen further than other men, it is because I have tood on the shoulders of giants.”[5]

 

   At the 100th anniversary of American mathematician Norbert Wiener, author of CYBERNETICS, THE HUMAN USE OF HUMAN BEING, GOD AND GOLEM*, INC. and his autobiographical works which include I AM A MATHEMATICIAN, many of his lessons of more than 50 years ago seem fresh today.  Wiener was known as a champion of the American worker as well as adding to the body of scientific knowledge with his work on stochastic processes.  Born November 26, 1894, he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Lyndon Baines Johnson shortly after Wiener’s death.  Among his cautions was the concern that control of the new life forms which he anticipated would be created in the great industrial laboratories after his death would be potentially misused.  His works also seem to presage the Human Genome Project.[6]

 

*The general reader should, at this point be informed that a golem is an artificial person created by Jewish mystical methods.  The origin of the term apparently begins with the hapax legomenon[7] golmi[8] which is variously translated “unformed substance,”[9] “embryo,”[10] and “life stages.”[11]  Various legends surrounding the golem are catalogued by Gershom Scholem in the Encyclopedia Judaica.

 

   As we approach perhaps the major scientific project of the 21st century, the Human Genome Project, V-day celebrations commemorating events of just 50 and 60 short years ago remind us that we have a moral imperative to investigate, consider, and educate about these lessons which have so cataclysmically effected the 20th century.

 

   In conclusion, we can see that Norbert Wiener’s work, as well as his patents hold a few important, perhaps even crucial, lessons for our times.

 

 



[1] Wiener, Norbert. I Am a Mathematician, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, MA, at p. 134.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Wiener, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings,  Free Association Books, London, 1989.

[4] Wiener, Norbert. I Am a Mathematician, The M.I.T.  Press, Cambridge, MA, at p. 269.

[5] Ibid., at p.267.

[6] See e.g. Gershman, “Bibliography” Biotechnology Law Report, Vol. 13, #5, Sept/Oct, 1994, Liebert< NY (Index #BLR 1867)

[7]  The Anchor Bible, Psalms III Mitchell Dahood, Doubleday & Co., Inc. Garden City, NY, 1970.

[8] Ibid., at p. 295.

[9] The Psalms by The Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, The Soncino Press, London, 1960.

[10] Strong, An Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Madison, NJ. 1898.

[11] The Anchor Bible, Psalms III Mitchell Dahood, Doubleday & Co., Inc. Garden City, NY, 1970; also Dr. A. Cohen, Idem.

Article by Arthur P. Gershman