Born in New York City on July 17, 1920, Gould was the oldest of three sons. His father was the founding editor of Scholastic Magazine Publications in New York City.
He grew up in Scarsdale, a small suburb of New York, and attended Scarsdale High School.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Union College, where he became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, and a master’s degree at Yale University, specializing in optics and spectroscopy.
By 1957, many scientists including Townes were looking for a way to achieve maser-like amplification of visible light.
In November of that year, Gould realized that one could make an appropriate optical resonator by using two mirrors in the form of a Fabry–Pérot interferometer.
Unlike previously considered designs, this approach would produce a narrow, coherent, intense beam. Since the sides of the cavity did not need to be reflective, the gain medium could easily be optically pumped to achieve the necessary population inversion.
Gould also considered pumping of the medium by atomic-level collisions, and anticipated many of the potential uses of such a device.
While working at Columbia with Charles Townes and others, he contributed to the development of the laser.
He would claim greater credit for the laser than others have been willing to grant him, but he was named inventor of the year in 1978 by the Patent Office Society for his laser amplifier.
The end of the Patent Office action freed Gould’s enforcement lawsuits to proceed. Finally, in 1987, Patlex won its first decisive enforcement victory, against Control Laser corporation, a manufacturer of lasers.
Rather than be bankrupted by the damages and the lack of a license to the technology, the board of Control Laser turned ownership of the company over to Patlex in a settlement deal.
Other laser manufacturers and users quickly agreed to settle their cases and take out licenses from Patlex on Patlex’s terms.
The thirty year patent war that it took for Gould to win the rights to his inventions became known as one of the most important patent battles in history.
In the end, Gould was issued forty-eight patents, with the optical pumping, collisional pumping, and applications patents being the most important. Between them, these technologies covered most lasers used at the time.
By April 1988, when Gould’s use patent was approved, optically pumped amplifier patents covered 80% of the lasers made in the United States.
The market for lasers had ballooned to more than $500 million per year. Suddenly, Gould was a multimillionaire. The technology is very close but does not use visible light.
Some historians credit Theodore Maiman with invention of the first laser, but Gordon Gould patented the optically-pumped and discharge-excited laser amplifiers now used in most industrial, commercial, and medical applications of lasers.
These devices are used in 80 percent of the industrial, commercial, and medical applications of lasers.
Gould also holds patents on several other applications of laser technology and on applications of fiber optic communications. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991.