September 20, 2005, New York, NY--Gordon Gould, who invented the concept of the laser as well as its name, died last Friday at the age of 85. Gould came up with his ideas in 1957 at Columbia University but waited until 1959 to apply for a patent, which the U.S. patent office denied. Gould then waged a long legal battle that culminated in the granting of a laser patent in 1977, and a more important patent in 1987. Gould's 1977 patent allowed him and his attorney Dick Samuel to form Patlex Corp., which began to win lawsuits after 1987 that claimed infringement on his patents.
The timing of the granting of the Gould patents, decades after the laser's invention and at a time when the laser had become a device widely used in research and industry, allowed him to collect millions more than if he had been successful with his 1959 patent application. Gould himself said that he might have made $100,000 if his initial patent application had been granted; instead, he earned on the order of $30 million. As is well known, he coined the term "laser" (short for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation").
Central to Gould's concept was the idea of a resonator to enhance coherent amplification of light; also important were the several ways he thought of to excite the laser media, including electrical discharge in gas and optical pumping. The first working laser, however, was built by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research, who first fired up his ruby laser prototype on May 16, 1960.
Gould was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991.