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There’s a nice article over on Going Local Travel about how the Argentinians are claiming that they invented the internet (or the word at least). Obviously this is a little bit of fun (I hope so) but it does raise the question of how we define which country invented what. We might say that it was the British that invented the railway or the French the guillotine, when in fact it was an individual from those countries that did the actual inventing.

However it can be confusing if the person doing the inventing has, at some point, changed countries. Which country can lay claim to the invention? This came up recently as I was having a discussion with an Argentine friend about the inventions that had come from Argentina. At one point he claimed that the ballpoint pen was an Argentina invention. Being a trivia nerd, I patiently explained that a Mr Laszlo Biro had been the inventor of that particular implement and that I was pretty sure (as I know 110%) that he was Hungarian, not Argentinian.

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Indignantly he pointed out that whilst being born in Hungary, Mr Biro had moved to Argentina and had died as an Argentine citizen, therefore the ballpoint pen is to be considered Argentinian. Indeed, Argentina has even gone so far as to commemorate Inventor’s Day on 25th September, the man’s birthday.

Biro did indeed, with his brother, move to Buenos Aires in 1940, fleeing the Nazis. And in 1943 patented the pen in question in Argentina. However, he filed the initial patent in 1938, 2 years before moving away from Hungary. The pen was first produced and sold in Argentina as a “birome”, (the Biro brothers’ partner was another Hungarian emigrĂ© called Meyne) and it is still called by that name to this day.

Now, I’m in no position to resolve this; my gut feeling is that the man was born Hungarian but died an Argentinian so I think both countries can lay claim to him and to his legacy. They didn’t invent the Internet though, I’m not letting them get away with that one…