Over the past two centuries, many people have used their knowledge, skills and experience in order to create a host of inventions that have made the world a much better place for us to live. (For more, check out Top 5 Patent Holders.)

TUTORIAL: Business Plan

Here are eight paramount discoveries and innovations that have improved our standard of living, and have given us the opportunity to pursue our personal and business endeavors in a more comfortable and prosperous fashion.

Financial Services
Banknote (paper currency) - Tang Dynasty of China - 7th Century
China is not only credited with having invented paper, but it is also generally recognized to have been the first country in the world to use paper money. The paper money system helped improve economies worldwide as it moved them from a barter economy of trade.

Vaccinations - Edward Jenner - 1796
Edward Jenner's work is widely regarded as the foundation of immunology. Mr. Jenner is well renowned throughout the world for his innovative contribution to immunization and the ultimate eradication of the smallpox disease.

Local Anesthesia - William Morton - 1846
William Morton was the first to show how ether could be used to allay the pain of operations. His use of anesthesia was displayed at a public demonstration to the surgeons of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on Oct. 16, 1846, where John Collins Warren excised a tumor from a patient's neck. William Morton was neither the inventor nor the discoverer of anesthetics, and for 20 years acrimony, vituperation and litigation surrounded the credit for the development of anesthesia.

Antibiotics - Alexander Fleming - 1928
Alexander Fleming discovered the active substance that he termed "penicillin" while working on the influenza virus. Fleming made this discover by observing that mold had developed accidentally on a staphylococcus culture plate and that the mold had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. He was inspired to further experiment and he found that a mold culture prevented the growth of staphylococci, which verified his discovery. To this day, penicillin is used to treat a host of bacterial infections.

Food and Drink
Pasteurization - Louis Pasteur - 1862
Louis Pasteur developed the process now known as "pasteurization," which is a process of heating a food to a specific temperature for a definite length of time and then cooling it immediately in order to reduce the number of viable pathogens that may cause disease. Dairy products, canned foods, juices, syrups, water and wines are the primary products that are pasteurized today. (To learn more, see Patents Are Assets, So Learn How To Value Them.)

Modern Automobile - Karl Benz - 1886
Karl Benz patented all of the processes that made the internal combustion engine feasible for use in cars. Karl Benz and his wife Bertha Ringer Benz were the founders of the Mercedes Benz automobile manufacturing company.

Modern Alternating Current Electrical Supply System - Nikola Tesla - 1891
Nikola Tesla filed for seven U.S. patents in the field of polyphase alternating current motors and power transmission. Tesla's patents comprised a complete system of generators, transformers, transmission lines, motors and lighting. Tesla is also credited with the invention of the radio, although a patent dispute with the Marconi Company that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court brings into question if he should receive the sole credit for the radio invention.

Electronic Digital Computer - John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry - 1937
John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry constructed the
first electronic computer with vacuum tubes while working for Iowa State College. The Atanasoff-Berry computer was the first digital computer, and introduced the concepts of binary arithmetic, regenerative memory and logic circuits. The Atanasoff-Berry machine never reached the production stage and remained a prototype.

The Others
While this list consists of well-known and distinguished inventors, it is important to note that their works were built upon the ideas and labor of many people in order to create the final product or service that we enjoy and use today. It is unfortunate that many of the contributors to a key invention or innovation will likely go unremembered and uncompensated, and hopefully governments throughout the world will strive to resolve this problem by putting in place a more equitable patent system. A recent step toward accomplishing this goal was the passage of the America Invents Act on Sept. 16, 2011. The passage of this Act has moved the U.S. patent system from a "first to invent" to a "first to file" system, which means that all parties know up front that if they have a good idea for an invention, they need to be the first to file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to protect their intellectual property rights. Passage of this Act should also eliminate delays previously experienced through interference proceedings and allow a patented product to come to market in an expedited manner.

The Bottom Line
For current entrepreneurs, the recent change in U.S. patent law, in conjunction with the use of low-cost, powerful personal computers and the affordability of the ever expanding Internet should provide a much greater business environment for establishing a successful small business. We have already seen a number of relatively new and successful companies that have benefited from online intangible business models. Examples include Google, Amazon, E-Bay, YouTube, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Wikipedia and PayPal, to name a few. Now, with the change in U.S. patent law, a host of new online businesses should have an additional advantage for establishing a successful small business operation. (For help with your small business, read Streamlining Tips For Small Business Owners.)

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