In 1984, Alexey Pajitnov was working at the Computing Center of the Moscow Academy of Sciences as a computer engineer when he created the game Tetris (h/t Geek Dad). The Academy of Sciences employed top academics from across the Soviet Union. The game was first available in Russia in 1985 and made it to the west in 1986.
Pajitnov, as a citizen of the Soviet Union and an employee of the state made no money off of the game. According to Curtis Silver of Wired:
As we all know, a young Alexey Pajitnov created the game while working for the Moscow Academy of Sciences. If you didn’t know that, I mentioned it in the previous paragraph. The rights to the game were owned at that time by the Motherland Russia herself, as it was created under a communist state. Eventually word spread like wildfire across the early BBS boards and the fledgling internet that this game was simply the best, most of us just didn’t quite know it yet. Then in 1989 a company you may have heard of packaged the game (paying the Motherland for rights) with their Gameboy hand held system. Nintendo was looking for a game that wasn’t Super Mario, that wasn’t Zelda – that was something that every type of gamer could enjoy. They found it in Tetris Since then, over 125 million different versions of the game have been sold.
While the Iron Curtain is no more, different countries and institutions have different policies when it comes to the intellectual property rights of academics and researchers. The U.S. has always been a leader in property rights with policies such as the Bayh-Dole Act (1980) and institutions such incubators and tech transfer offices, however, a warning to all campus entrepreneurs out there: check the rules, regulations and policies of the institutions that you are part of.
Oh yeah, play a free game of Tetris Online and lift a glass tonight in honor Alexey and his colleagues at the Moscow Academy of Sciences.