updated 9/19/2005 9:25:28 PM ET 2005-09-20T01:25:28

Gordon Gould, a pioneer in laser technology who coined the word "laser" and won a decades-long struggle to secure patent rights on the most commonly used type, has died at age 85.

He died Friday in Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan of an infection, his wife, Marilyn Appel, said Monday.

Gould, a resident of Sag Harbor, on Long Island, once said that his first ideas for the laser came suddenly to him in 1957. He sketched his thoughts in a notebook, writing, "Some rough calculations on the feasibility of a LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation," according to "Laser," a book about Gould by Nick Taylor.

Gould invented two of the most important kinds of lasers, the gas discharge laser and the optically pumped laser, which are in machines with uses as varied as supermarket checkout counters and eye operations.

He began work on the laser in 1957 based on his graduate studies at Columbia University and first applied for the patent in 1959. The U.S. Patent Office denied his application, sparking a legal battle that would span three decades, with scientific prestige and tens of millions of dollars at stake.

With the help of attorney Dick Samuel, Gould won his first minor patent in 1977. But he didn't claim his first significant patent victory until 1987, when a federal judge ordered the government to issue a patent to him for the optically pumped laser. The judge said the Patent Office "made several material errors" in rejecting the 1959 application.

Over the next 17 years, until the patent expired, Gould earned an estimated $30 million from patent licenses. If he had received the patent in 1959 he wouldn't have earned all that money because his rights would have expired before the laser became widely used.

Gould underwent several operations for eye problems in 1984 and said he benefited from his own work.

"I had eye surgery to pin back a detached retina," he told The Associated Press in 1989. "You can imagine how I felt to be looking into that laser and knowing I played a part in getting it there."

Gould was born in Manhattan in 1920. He received his bachelor's degree from Union College, in upstate New York, and did graduate work in spectroscopy at Yale University, where he received his master's degree.

During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project, the American effort to develop the first nuclear weapons.

Following the war he continued graduate studies in physics at Columbia University and received his second master's degree.

He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991.

He is survived by his wife and several nieces and nephews.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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