Since the mid-19th century, America has been in the forefront of technological advances. U.S. inventors gave the world the cotton gin, the telegraph, the phonograph, the movie camera, the light bulb, the artificial heart, the computer and the iPad. Countless other inventions were created in the U.S., but most of them the general public have never heard of, and few have been as influential on the way we live as those mentioned above.

Inventor Thomas Edison is mistakenly believed to be the all-time top patent holder. And although he reputedly held 1,093 patents, there are other inventors who were even more prolific – some with almost four times the number of patents granted to Edison. (For some great inventions read, Ridiculous Ideas That Made People Millions.)

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Among the top patent holders are the following:

Kia Silverbrook
Holding a reported 11,146 patents worldwide, Australian-born Silverbrook has been granted almost 4,000 U.S. patents as of April, 2011, and has thousands of patents pending. A majority of Silverbrook's inventions are for advances in computer printer, inkjet and digital paper. Once an employee of Canon, Inc., Silverbrook left the Japanese firm some 20 years ago to establish his own research, development and invention licensing company in Balmain, New South Wales.

Shunpei Yamazaki
Securing patents for what seems like an endless stream of inventions for more than 40 years, Yamazaki reportedly holds some 9,700 patents internationally. As of April, 2011, he owned 2,591 U.S. patents, mainly for computer and video screen technology. Other inventions of his include a method of producing cold nuclear fusion and an integrated circuit chip of glass, widely used in electronic and computer applications. He is the president and founder of Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., a research and development firm in Tokyo.

Donald Weder
Floral and decorative packing are American-born Weder's main creative focus, and he reportedly holds 951 U.S. utility patents and 409 U.S. design patents. Worldwide, Weder has 2,441 patents. Weder's Highland Supply Company, a small enterprise that he inherited from his father, is now a major player in the floral industry, a result of the younger Weder's managerial skills and inventions. Although Weder's inventions relating to flowerpots, floral paper and methods of wrapping and packaging are not as transformative as the iPad, for example, they have helped provide the funding for his philanthropic Weder Family Trust. The Trust, along with Highland Supply, has sponsored the preservation of timberlands and the planting of more than 100,000 trees in the U.S. and in Mexico. (For more on patents, read Patents Are Assets, So Learn How To Value Them.)

Paul Lapstun
As of the first four months of 2011, Lapstun has already gained patents on 85 new inventions for the year. He owns or co-owns with his colleague Kia Silverbrook, mentioned above, 3,379 patents worldwide, at last count. Among his inventions are a wide-format inkjet printer, and a device that permits the sending and receiving of e-mails but only if the sender possesses a special enabling business card.

Leonard Forbes
With 2,010 patents internationally, Forbes is among the world's most productive inventors. His inventions include semi-conductors and random access memory devices and applications for computers, and a wide range of advances in electronic and thin film (micro-chip) technologies. Canadian-born Forbes is a retired OregonStateUniversity professor of electrical engineering, and operates a consulting firm specializing in solar cell technology.

The Bottom Line
Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Steve Jobs are three of the most universally known inventors, and their inventions dramatically changed the way we live. But there are numerous other inventors as well - little-known beyond their field of expertise - who have also contributed to our advanced technological civilization. Their contributions may not have been widely publicized, but they've added in countless ways to our convenience and comfort, and ultimately to our prosperity. (If you are an inventor, read From Idea To Product: 4 Steps To Success.)

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