This post started as an idea to write about the story and achievements of Felix Hoffman, and then it took another turn…
Felix Hoffman, who died on February 8 seventy years ago, was a German pharmacist and chemist. He worked in the famous pharmaceutical company Bayer and is credited for the invention of Aspirin and heroin… and yes Heroin was a cough medication.
Hoffman’s father was suffering from severe arthritis; he was prescribed salicylate sodium for his joint pain, which caused him severe stomachache. Consequently, Hoffman looked into the French chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt’s chemical reaction that leads to sodium salicylate; he changed few raw material ending up with a less corrosive salicylate and he acetylated it to come up with a highly stable molecule which is less irritating to the gastrointestinal tract: Acetylsalicylic Acid. Bayer marketed the product under the name of Aspirin.
Many chemists fought for the credit of inventing Aspirin, but Bayer’s official story adopted Hoffman which made him the most famous Aspirin “inventor”.
11 days after the “discovery” of Aspirin, Hoffman made another “breakthrough” by discovering a very potent morphine derivative that Bayer marketed it under the brand name of Heroin as a cough suppressant and an aid for opiates withdrawal.
What really happened in these eleven days is that Hoffman took the work of Charles Romley Alder Wright an English chemist and mimicked it ending up with Heroin that was marketed by his pharmaceutical company Bayer. The medication ended-up being withdrawn from the market because of its serious and lethal side effect.
I would say Hoffman was exposed to the right information at the right time while working in the right pharmaceutical company…
that was lucky!
Hoffman’s story sheds light on a huge problem any inventor can face; Coming up with new ideas is very tricky. The pioneer needs to be careful about where, when and with whom he is sharing his information, because if it falls in hands of someone who has more privileges (i.e. Hoffman working in Bayer), this will cause him to loose all rights easily. Consequently, patents were created.
A patent is an exclusive right given by law to inventors to make use of, and exploit, their inventions for a limited period of time. By granting the inventor a temporary monopoly in exchange for a full description of how to perform the invention, patents play a key role in developing industry around the world. Via Thomson Reuters
So the inventor needs to use the patent privileges before sharing the invention with anyone he doesn’t trust or thinks might race him to the patent. Unfortunately, another issue has been faced and it’s the funding of the patent.
To maintain the validity of a patent, the owner needs to pay fees to each appropriate patent authority; failure to do so causes the patent rights to lapse.
Via Thomson Reuters
Hence, working hard is not enough to take rights for your work but you need to work smart and have funds and sponsors ready to back you up. Unfortunately, that’s the key to a successful invention with clear and clean credits, which makes coming up with something new the easy part of the invention.
Finally, always remember not all the credited information you see online are true. On an unrelated note, here’s what president Barack Obama said after checking our blog: