Shortly after Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine breakthrough, legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow sat down with the scientist for an interview. At one point, Murrow asked Salk who owned the patent on the vaccine, and Salk responded with one of the most famous quotes of his career: “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
Salk wasn’t just being generous with his answer; he was also being humble. In his book Polio: An American Story, David M. Oshinsky writes a more complete look at the issue. According to his account, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and the University of Pittsburgh (where he conducted his work) had taken a long look at patenting the vaccine, but Salk’s objections were a major reason why the institutions eventually backed down.