DaVinci didn't invent anything!

He was a great artist and thinker, and thought up some really cool stuff, but he didn’t make any of the devices he drew. There’s a lot more to invention than sketching, IMO.
Brought to you by this exhibit at The Tech Museum of Innovation, which I must go see.

…" the rest is just engineering."

And R&D, which is where DaVinci didn’t go.
I “thought up” a multimeter with wireless probes, which I could easily sketch and describe in a notebook. Would that count as inventing the wireless probes?
Are there any devices in use today that were developed from his sketches? I honestly don’t know.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the guy was a genius, but mostly in art.

It’s because his pineal gland lacked opposable thumbs.

And guess what? Da Vinci wasn’t his name, either. That’s why historians call him Leonardo instead.

BTW, you seem to be under the impression that one has to actually create something in order to be considered its inventor.

I don’t fault you for thinking that way, but the US Patent and Trademark Office happens to disagree. They routinely grant patents without requiring the applicant (or “inventor”) to actually construct the devices in question.

Leonardo is more ambiguous than Da Vinci, which is to all practical intents and purposes, his surname.

This is akin to saying that James Clerk Maxwell didn’t do anything but doodle a few equations, make a pretty color picture, and come up with a funny story about a daemon who worked on air conditioning. Never mind his work in essentially concocting modern classical electromagnetic theory from whole cloth, developing the fundamentals of modern classical control theory, advancing knowledge of color vision and optics, fathering the field of statistical mechanics, and substantially contributing to the science and engineering of thermodynamics and heat engines; he didn’t “invent anything” because he didn’t file patents on the iPod Touch. :rolleyes:

Leonardo was, among other things, the father of modern biomechanics; his studies of anatomy as mechanism structure were revolutionary and iconic. He made detail plans for bridges, architecture, siege machines, and other devices, some practical (and a few actually constructed), others not entirely practical albeit undemonstrable by the technology and knowledge of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics of the day. Aside from being an observational scientist, inventor, and engineer, he also helped revolutionize character art of the day; he was of the first painters to pay attention to the actual proportions and mechanics of the human body in his paintings, giving way to an era of explicit realism in portraiture and depiction of human activity, in contrast to the clumsy and childish cartoons of his predecessors.

JThunder is also correct in stating that, from a legal perspective, one does not need to build a conceived invention to patent it or placed it in the public domain, and in fact, building it is not sufficient grounds for the issuance of a patent. What is required is to describe the aspects of construction and operation (and for process patents, the processes involved) which invest the idea with unique and novel intellectual innovation. Science fiction author Robert Heinlein described the waterbed (referred to as a “hydraulic bed”) in two novels which was sufficient to place the concept in the public domain, preventing anyone from subsequently establishing patent rights over it. Although he never built such a device himself (at least, to my knowledge) he is widely considered the inventor of the bed by having detailed the concept first in a public medium.


Conception and reduction to practice can be “constructive” (that is, taking place on paper or in one’s head), it is true, but they do have to take place somewhere, and be disclosed in sufficient detail to show that the putative inventor was in possession of the specifics for how to make what he “invented,” work.

The line is admittedly a blurry one. But it’s clear I can’t just “invent” faster-than-light-travel, or a death ray, or a transporter if all I have is a gee-wouldn’t-it-be-cool Big Concept. So the question to ask is – would Leonardo’s sketches and notes have been sufficient to allow a reasonably skilled engineer to make and use what he was portraying? At least as to the ones that he drew but that no one ever succeeded in making over 400 years, the circumstantial evidence would seem to be he doesn’t clear the bar.

I am under the impression that the applicant must describe the thing well enough to prevent another from jumping his patent.
Would DaVinci’s helicopter have qualified for a patent?
I do know that patents are granted without a prototype, but I think that such a working model helps secure that patent.

If you just say Leonardo, I’m thinking you mean the guy from Capri, you know, Leonardo DiCaprio. If you say DaVinci, I know damn well that we are talking about the painter of the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa.

Note that in order to patent a design, one does not need to demonstrate that it works, or necessarily that it even could work; merely that it is a novel concept based upon a current understanding of basic mechanics and/or electrodynamics. The patent office has approved plenty of patents that are infeasible in execution.

And yes, I think from the sketches and description, Leonardo would have had valid grounds for a patent based upon the modern application process. His screw-helicopter, for instance, was illustrated and described in detail, even though it is impossible for it to work in execution. A working model is not a necessary or even particularly beneficial aspect of the patent application process (though most inventors do try to implement their ideas before applying for a patent so as to integrate the workable details into the application).


Are you sure, Stranger?
Doesn’t the thing have to be useful in some way?
Maybe I should get on with it with my leadless meter probes. Hmmm. Bluetooth!

The Patent Office has granted numerous patents on “infeasible in execution” applications (I could point you to half a dozen issued patents for faster than light travel or communication). That is just a failure to properly apply the law/rules. There is no question that the law forbids granting a patent on an “infeasible” concept or one that has not been “reduced to practice” (including by mental cogitation).

It is also quite incorrect (based on a proper, as opposed to incorrect, application of the law) to assert that there are “valid grounds” for a patent as to which the claimed invention is “impossible . . . to work in execution.” Such a claim would be invalid for (at least) failure to meet the written description and enablement portions of the Patent statute. Could such a patent be granted? Yes – by an Examiner not doing his job, or not possessed of all the facts. Would this grant be proper under the law? No, not at all.

You refer to the separate “utility” requirement of the patent laws. You are on to something, but in practice, “not useful because not described in a useful way” is a considerably rarer grounds for denying/invalidating a patent than “invalid because not enablingly described.”

Leonardo also invented a device that enables him to laugh at your criticisms from beyond the grave.

Nor did Gustave Eiffel bolt together the tower he drew. Nor did Frank Lloyd Wright hammer together the buildings he drew.

Sorry, but IMHO your assertion is silly. DaVinci invented loads of things in the truest sense of the word.

You either misunderstand, or deliberately conflate the notion of “mechanically plausible, but infeasible,” with “scientifically null but slipped through the cracks.” Faster than light communication, perpetual motion/over unity energy devices, and looking glasses that can predict the future are all (or should be) not possible to obtain patents upon because they violate the laws of natural science as we understand them. However, a patent that functions in accordance with physical laws as commonly understood are capable of being patented even if the specific implementation is infeasible, inefficient, or unsafe. In a past job I personally reviewed plenty of patents which were either unworkable or which were no improvement on existing methods, and yet they received a patent issuance. There is no requirement–absolutely none–that the person submitting a patent application demonstrate a working model, and in fact such a device would be nearly irrelevant to a patent application; what matters is how novel the concept is, and that no claims are made or processes required that violate physical laws.


I have not maintained at any point that a “working model” would be necessary, and in fact, the PTO would be pretty peeved if people started barraging their mailroom with crates full of physical prototypes. Please also note my very careful and patient explanation of the fact that the “reduction to practice” may be one in which the details of technical implementation are arrived at solely on paper or mentally – not in a physical prototype. This does NOT mean that they may be neglected or omitted altogether.

Please read carefully what I actually have written. There is an ABSOLUTE AND NON-NEGOTIABLE requirement in the patent statute that the “specific implementation” claimed and described in the patent specification be minimally “feasible.” If it is not, the claims are INVALID for failure to (a) show that the inventor was “in possession” of the claimed invention at the time he made the application, and that he has given an adequate “written description” of the claimed invention. Further, the enabling description must enable the full scope of what is claimed. Finally, it must enable the artisan of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the claimed invention without “undue experimentation.” It is beyond doubt that if the invention as claimed was “infeasible,” this would require an “undue” (i.e., infinite) amount of experimentation, and hence mandate a prima facie finding of invalidity. On a side note, if the implementation described in the patent specification was “inefficient,” that might constitute a separate basis for invalidity under the “failure to disclose the best mode” requirement.

Let me repeat: if all that is disclosed and claimed in the application is “infeasible,” there is no question – none – that the law forbids grant of a patent.

You are offering opinions on patent law based on “reviewing patent applications.” I don’t mean to be rude, but unless you have reviewed the actual statute and cases, those opinions are of little value.

Here’s a start:

Research in Motion had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in a patent infringement case to a holding company that held a “patent” that was basically little more than a few pages saying “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a system where you get your emails on a cell phone and it syncs up with the server.”

If that’s a valid patent, I say Leonardo damn well invented the helicopter.