If you're smart, the first thing that comes to mind when you think about visiting other universes or traveling through time is "file a ton of patents." After all, just because someone else invented something, doesn't mean you can't patent it, if you get there first. Reverse-engineering is still a kind of engineering, right?

Read on for a list of SF stories where a clever entrepreneur patents innovations from another universe, another world, or the future.

The Man Who Fell To Earth.
In the movie by Nicholas Roeg, based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis, an alien named Thomas Jerome Newton comes to Earth and starts patenting tons of alien technology. He becomes fantastically wealthy and starts a corporation, World Enterprises Corporation. But he succumbs to the rock-star lifestyle.

Paul Melko, The Walls of the Universe
John meets his alternate self from another universe, who gives him a special belt that allows him to jump between universes. Only trouble is, the belt is broken, and all the trips are one-way only. (That is, you can never return to a universe once you've visited it once.) John winds up in a universe where America is still stuck in the 1950s, and tries to patent the Rubik's Cube, the novels of Stephen King, and various other things...until he finally hits paydirt with the pinball machine.

Scotty and tons of other people, Star Trek
Pretty much the only reason anybody time-travels on Star Trek is so they can commit patent fraud. Just ask Scotty, who traveled back to the 1980s so he could hand over the secret of Transparent Aluminum to some lucky Twentieth Century humans. Not to mention T'Pol's ancestor T'Mir, who gave the secret of Velcro to another Twentieth Century person, on Enterprise. One of the most memorable Voyager villains is Henry Starling, who becomes the new Bill Gates hotness in the 1990s by reverse-engineering a starship from the 29th Century. The villain of Star Trek: TNG's "A Matter of Time" also steals a time machine from the future. And the Tholians pretty much live for intellectual-property theft: The Mirror Universe Tholians open a rift betwen universes, to steal technology from other universes. And the Tholians also try to capture a 31st-Century Federation vessel but Captain Archer stops them.


Patent Absurdities by Zachary Klaas
In this story, published in Time Tourists, a time-traveling woman meets Einstein in 1905, when he's working as a patent clerk. And she files a patent for windshield wipers, which won't be invented for another two years. While she's there, she takes the opportunity to pick Einstein's brain on a tricky physics question.

Saucer by Stephen Coonts
Adventurer Rip Cantrell discovers an unlikely piece of metal buried in the sandstone under the Sahara — and it turns out to be a flying saucer that's been resting there for 140,000 years. Soon Cantrell is embroiled in a dispute over who owns this discovery — but meanwhile, his people file 26 patents on saucer technology, and his sidekick Egg tells him, "I figure if we can do maybe three patent applications a week for the next ten weeks or so, we'll pretty much have the critical stuff covered.

Hot Tub Time Machine
Spoiler alert — if you haven't seen Hot Tub Time Machine yet, suffice to say that it turns out that Rob Corddry is not somebody who should be entrusted with the sanctity of the space/time continuum. It leads to such atrocities as Motley Lue and Lougle.


The Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross
In The Family Trade, Miriam Beckstein discovers she's actually a lost member of a powerful family called the Clan, who have the genetic ability to travel between universes — which they use to bring drugs and other commodities back and forth, making them wealthy and powerful.

US Patent #1
We're dying to play this game, which seems ridiculously awesome.. The whole goal is to assemble the components of a time travel machine and be the first one to travel back in time and get the patent for it.

Blackadder Back and Forth
Rowan Atkinson's misanthropic hero travels back in time to Shakespeare's era and knocks Shakespeare over. Then he gives Shakespeare a ball-point pen and discourages him from writing plays. So when Blackadder returns to 1999, Shakespeare is known as "the man who invented the biro."

The Green Futures of Tycho by William Sleator
Tycho finds a pocket-sized time machine and uses it to go back and change some stuff — and he also sells off future copies of his own time machine, making tons of loot. Via TVTropes.

These Guys
In real life, people have filed patents for an anti-gravity device and a warp drive. These people couldn't just be patent trolls — they have to be aliens or time travelers! So we're waiting eagerly for them to turn over their working prototypes.

Related story: Science Fiction's Verdict on Patents: Guilty., Five examples of how patents on technology and business methods hinder progress, from science fiction stories... and one example of how patents actually help people.

Additional reporting by Katharine Trendacosta and Chelsea Lo Pinto.