László Bíró (Spanish: Ladislao José Biro) is the inventor of the modern ballpoint pen.
He was born in Budapest on 29 September 1899, as László József Schweiger into a Jewish family. Bíró later converted to Lutheranism in 1938.
Bíró was originally a journalist and was the editor of the newspaper Hongrie from 1933–34. He also enjoyed some success as a Surrealist painter. He was working as a journalist when he noticed that the ink used for printing newspapers dried quickly and was relatively smudge free. He tried using the same ink in a fountain pen, but found that it would not flow to the top, as it was too thick and viscous. With his brother, György, a chemist, he developed a new type of pen, the tip consisting of a ball that could rotate in a socket picking up ink from the cartridge. Biro first presented his invention at the Budapest International Fair in 1931, he patented the ballpoint pen 7 years later in Paris.
László and György Bíró emmigrated to Argentina in 1943 and filed another patent, forming Biro Pens of Argentina (ballpoint pens are known in Argentina as “biromes”). The British Royal Airforce licensed the design and started producing ballpoint pens, because they found they worked better at high altitudes than fountain pens. Marcel Bich bought the patent in 1945 and began selling ballpoint pens as the main product of his company, Bic.
László Bíró died in Buenos Aires in 1985. In Argentina's Inventor's Day is celebrated on Bíró's birthday on 29 September.
The "Biro" trademark
Biro became a proprietary eponym for ballpoint pens in many English speaking countries, including the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Although the word is a registered trademark, it is common for people to refer to ballpoint pens as biros. The company keeps a close watch on use of the trademark and will often write to publications for using the name non-capitalized or as a generic name for pens.