First, How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist by Charles H. Townes:
And another viewpoint, Laser: The Inventor, the Nobel Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War, by Nick Taylor:
In How the Laser Happened, Nobel laureate Charles Townes provides a highly personal look at some of the leading events in twentieth-century physics. Townes was inventor of the maser, of which the laser is one example; an originator of spectroscopy using microwaves; and a pioneer in the study of gas clouds in galaxies and around stars. Throughout his career he has also been deeply engaged with issues outside of academic research.
In his latest effort, the prolific Taylor (John Glenn; In Hitler's Shadow) recounts the compelling life of Gordon Gould, a young scientist who hit upon how to build a laser in 1957. Over the 30 years he spent fighting for the patent, he neither finished his Ph.D. nor attended conferences to raise his scientific credibility. During that time, he butted up against Charles Townes, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the "optical maser," as he called it, even though courts later ruled against the U.S. patent office, arguing that Townes's original design wouldn't have worked.(Under U.S. patent law, an inventor need not reach the patent office first to claim a patent, but only show priority in writing down an idea that can be realized by someone skilled in that field. Gould fortunately had had his original notebook notarized.)