Even with a whopping 1,093 patents to his name, American inventor Thomas Edison falls short of being the most prolific patent-holder ever; that title currently belongs to Shunpei Yamazaki, who entered the Guinness Book Of World Records with a mind-boggling 11,353 patents on June 30th, 2016.
Yamazaki was born in 1942 during WWII, and by age 29, he already had 130 patents under his belt. Currently, he serves as the president of Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., Ltd., and he churns out dozens of patents each month with the help of his team. Many of Yamazaki’s patents are in items you use every day, such as your smart phones, computers, TVs, and other electronic devices.
So why haven’t we ever heard of him?
Kia Silverbrook, the former world patent champ, explains why Yamazaki isn’t a household name:
“You don’t hear his name as an inventor mostly because the ‘credit’ is taken by the brand names such as Apple, HP, Dell, Microsoft, Acer, Xiaomi, Huawei, Lenovo, LG and Samsung that provide consumer products using this remarkable technology in these displays. Note that none of these manufacturers make these displays, or invent any significant part of them, with the exception of Samsung and LG. The others just buy the displays as a fully completed component. Very few people know (or care) about who invented or manufactured the LCDs used in Apple products, and most people probably assume that Apple invented them.”
Silverbrook also remarked that there’s a difference between “patent” and “invention”:
“Many products contain no patentable inventions, as they were invented in prehistory. An example is almost all cutlery, crockery and clothing. Design patents may exist for these, covering a new decorative design, but very few are covered by utility patents – patents for inventions.
“At the opposite extreme is items such as smart-phones. There are tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of patents which a modern smart-phone reads upon. A smartphone reads upon patents for CMOS, Flash memory, DRAM, GaAs, accelerometers, microphones, gyroscopes, touch sensors, image sensors, camera lenses, batteries, battery power management chips, GPS receivers, WiFi, Bluetooth, user interfaces, operating systems, geospatial mapping systems, and on and on. Most of these patents are automatically licensed to the smartphone manufacturers by the component suppliers, semiconductor foundries, and software suppliers that create these components. Shunpei Yamazaki has a significant number of patents used in smart-phones, as do I (mostly owned by Google).”
Despite not being a household name, Yamazaki has received accolades for his accomplishments. At the age of 54, he was given the Medal with Purple Ribbon from the Cabinet Office of the Japanese government. He was also awarded the Director Prize at the Commendation for Science and Technology from the Science and Technology Agency in 1990 and the Okochi Memorial Technology Award in 2010.
So the next time you enjoy reading an article (like this one) from a computer, smart phone, or tablet, thank Yamazaki for continuously creating the technology that makes it all possible!