Suppressed inventions

Carl Feynman (
Tue, 29 Apr 1997 14:02:41 -0400

There are lots of urban legends out there about great inventions that have
been suppressed by The Powers That Be. In these stories, They seem to use
threats, media blackouts, and murders that look like accidents. I am
willing to believe that all such stories are bunk. However, there is
another way to suppress an invention: licence the patent, and then don't
manufacture it. This is entirely legal, though people don't tend to talk
about it, as it is anti-social. Does anyone know of a time when this has
definitely happened?

Let me tell a story of a time when this *might* have happened. A friend of
mine came up with an idea for an easily manufactured consumer gizmo that
would distribute many millions of dollars a year in revenue away from the
big long distance companies, particularly AT&T. My wife and I hoped to
capture some of these millions, so we looked into patenting it. Alas, a
patent search revealed that exactly the device in question had been patented
in 1993:

The company that got the patent is a small phone-equipment manufacturing
firm that would be perfectly placed to build the device and make a ton of
money. But it's four years later and they haven't. Why not?

I will now speculate recklessly.

I estimate the device could be sold for $80 with a manufacturer's profit of
$10. The average customer that buys this gizmo will save $300 per year on
phone bills, which will cost AT&T about $70 per year. It is worth it for
AT&T to pay the inventor any amount between $10 and $70 per unit to make
this gizmo not be sold. If I had the patent, I'd probably take them up on
it. Millions of dollars, for not working.

Has this actually happened? I don't know. But it could.