Tag Archives: invention

Too sexy to be taken seriously: movie star’s invention story is a lesson for both men and women

In the 1930s she was called “the most beautiful woman in the world,” but screen star Hedy Lamarr was obsessed with how things worked.

An Austrian émigré in Hollywood, Lamar, intellectually curious and highly patriotic, and who was raised Jewish, wanted to do something to help her adopted country defeat the Nazis. This prompted her to develop a complex, secret communications system that would later serve as the basis for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, wireless phones, GPS, and other developments.

Problem was it took the Navy 20 years to take her and her co-inventor seriously. Both were high school dropouts and of Austrian and German extraction at a time of heightened suspicion and spying. This fascinating story is explained in greater detail in The Intangible Investor in the November IAM magazine, “Torpedo invention laid the foundation for Wi-Fi and more.” Subscribers can find it here starting October 1.

What drove Lamarr to invent is a focus of this fascinating and well-received documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (96% rated on Rotten Tomatoes). It is available on Netflix and on DVD from many public libraries. Even those familiar with the story will find the film worth watching. It illustrates that some of the best inventions derive from the most unlikely sources and can seem implausible.

For more on Lamarr’s background, go hereFor her patent, 2,292,387, “Secret Communications System,” go here.

“Bombshell” estimates that Larmarr’s invention, had it been widely adopted, would have been worth $30 billion.

Lamarr and her co inventor, George Autheil, a respected American avant-garde composer and concert pianist who spent a decade in Paris associating with James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, posthumously made it into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

“If you do good,” Lamarr said, “people will accuse you of selfish motives – do good anyway.”

Image source: washingtonpost.com 

 

“What kind of man owns his own computer?” Ben Franklin knows

Invention is about the future. Looking back at the technology and images that defined us, however, can provide an idea of where we are headed.  

A case in point is the Apple II personal computer. The ad below appeared in the venerable Scientific American magazine in May 1980. It seems almost laughable in its blatant appeal to the ego, although it was on the certainly on track about the PC’s ability to empower individuals and encourage creativity.

Ben Franklin designing the kite that helped to discover electricity (below) is a provocative image. Franklin was the original “scientific” American – statesman, inventor, writer. The Apple II, introduced in 1977, came with 4K of memory, expandable to 48K.  Its CPU speed was rated at 1 MHz. It was the kind of tool that could make genius even better.

Below is the original ad for the Apple II (full text is below the ad for easy reading).

What kind of man owns his own computer?

Rather revolutionary, the whole idea of owning your own computer? Not if you’re a diplomat, printer, scientist, inventor… or a kite designer, too. Today there’s Apple Computer. It’s designed to be a personal computer. To uncomplicate your life. And make you more effective.

It’s a wise man who owns an Apple.

If your time means money, Apple can help you make more of it. In an age of specialists, the most successful specialists stay away from uncreative drudgery. That’s where Apple comes in.

Apple is a real computer, right to the core. So just like big computers, it manages data, crunches numbers, keeps records, processes your information and prints reports. You concentrate on what you do best. And let Apple do the rest. Apple makes that easy with three programming languages— including Pascal—that let you be your own software expert.

Apple, the computer worth not waiting for.

Time waiting for access to your company’s big mainframe is time wasted. What you need in your department on your desk is a computer that answers only to you…

Apple Computer. It’s less expensive than timesharing. More dependable than distributed processing. Far more flexible than centralized EDP. And, at less than $2500 (as shown), downright affordable.

Visit your local computer store.

You can join the personal computer revolution by visiting the Apple dealer in your neighborhood. We’ll give you his name when you call our toll-free number (800) 538-9696. In California, (800) 662-9238. Apple Computer, 10260 Bandley Drive, Cupertino, CA 95014.

________________

A Manly Man

Note the ad’s manly images. (I guess 1980s women didn’t need a computer.) Ben Franklin was never a pinup for machismo, although he was said to be quite the lady’s man… $2,500 in 1980 is equivalent to about $8,000 today – a price almost no individual would be willing to pay for a personal computer. Computers have gotten smarter and smaller; people, not so much.

In 1980:

  • U.S. President Jimmy Carter proclaims a grain embargo against the USSR with the support of the European Commission
  • The Rubik’s Cube makes its international debut at The British Toy and Hobby Fair, Earl’s Court, London
  • The 1980 Winter Olympics took place in Lake Placid, New York
  • The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
  • Pac-Man, the best-selling arcade game of all time, is released in Japan

Another print ad introduced the Apple II in September 1977. It included a $598 board-only version for “do-it-yourself hobbyists.”

And while we are on the subject, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, available for free, here, is an unusually timely and readable work, especially for anyone interested in invention and the creative process.

Frank Woodworth Pine wrote that it was “the most remarkable of all the remarkable histories of our self-made men.” with Franklin as the greatest exemplar of the “self-made man”.

Image source: http://blog.modernmechanix.com; technobezz.com

Philanthropist & patent licensing pioneer, Eugene Lang, dead at 98

One of America’s most successful and charitable patent licensing strategists passed away last week. 

Eugene M. Lang, describe as “an American folk hero” for his generous philanthropy, grew up on Manhattan’s East 83rd Street in a $12 per month railroad flat.

He went on to donate more than $150 million to charities and institutions during his lifetime for educational causes, including the I Have a Dream Foundation, which he established in 1981; the Eugene Lang College, part of the New School in Manhattan; the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University School of Business; and Swarthmore College, which he entered at 15 on a scholarship.

Much of Lang’s fortune was derived from the Refac Technology Development Corporation, it was reported in his obituary, a public company he founded in 1952 that specialized in the licensing of patents and financing high-tech ventures.

Thousands of Suits

“REFAC held patents relating to LCDs, ATMs, credit card verification systems, bar code scanners, VCRs, cassette players, camcorders, electronic keyboards, and spreadsheets,” reports Wikipedia, “and filed thousands of lawsuits against other corporations to secure licensing fees or out-of-court settlements, a business practice of some very large corporations such as Microsoft and Google as well as large startups such as Intellectual Ventures, and sometimes criticized as patent trolling.

Some considered Refac International Ltd., known for suing thousands of big and small companies to protect its patents, the model on which other non-practicing entities (NPEs) were based. In 1990, the company was chastised by a federal appeals court in Washington after losing a major lawsuit it filed against 118 Southern California companies selling products with liquid crystal displays.

The New York Times reported that Refac — the name stands for resources and facilities — had made much of its money “by aggressively filing patent infringement suits against companies like IBM and Eastman Kodak and retailers like R.H. Macy and Radio Shack on behalf of inventors of a wide range of products: liquid crystal displays, automated teller machines, bar-code warning systems and spreadsheet software.”

In a letter to The Times [valuable for its historical and factual content], Mr. Lang called the article “grossly distorted” and pointed out that most of the clients represented in lawsuits had sought out Refac after offering licenses to the corporations for their inventions and being turned down.

He illustrated his argument by citing the inventor of the laser who had tried to get industry to recognize his role and succeeded only after Refac won validation of his patents in the courts.

“For Refac, the drama of litigation began in 1975 when Gordon Gould, after battling industry opposition since 1959, asked us to represent his claims as inventor of the laser,” wrote Lang.

“Concluding that Mr. Gould’s claims had genuine merit, Refac, against all odds, accepted the challenge. It took until 1987 and some $4 million, but the courts finally validated every patent of Mr. Gould’s. Despite vituperative reactions from the laser industry – analogous to quotations cited in your article – claims that in 1975 might have been labeled ”all but worthless” now generate annual royalties in excess of $12 million.

Impulsive Gesture

A self-made businessman who flew coach class and traveled on subways and buses, Lang is best remembered for his impulsive gesture in June 1981, when he was invited to deliver the commencement address to 61 sixth graders at Public School 121 on East 103rd Street in Spanish Harlem. He had attended P.S. 121 as a boy 50 years earlier.

He made himself personally available to the students, counseling them when they faced obstacles such as teen pregnancy, addiction, and delinquency. He cheered them at their graduations and helped arrange for jobs. When a student was incarcerated at Sing Sing, he helped him pursue college course work from prison.

In addition to his daughter, Jane Lang, a Washington lawyer and community activist, Lang is survived by two sons, David and the film and stage actor Stephen Lang (Avatar, Conan the Barbarian, Gettysburg); a sister, Barbara Lang; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Lang the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

For more information about the Eugene M. Lang Foundation, go here.

Image source: thenewschoolhistory.org; newsworks.org

First Wireless Phone is Among 18 Early Inventions Filmed by Pathé

Coming up with better ideas for communication and transportation is nothing new. British Pathe captured many of the 20th Century’s most innovative on film. 

A news film archive popular until television made it superfluous, British Pathé, recently made available for viewing on video 85,000 of its newsreels collected from 1896 to 1976. A group of eighteen focusing on new inventions is compelling for their simultaneous naiveté and vision.

They provide a useful perspective into not only what has been, but what the future might look like in retrospect.

British Pathé is one of the oldest media companies in the world. Its roots lie in 1890s Paris where founder, Charles Bless Us phonePathé, pioneered the development of the moving image. The company was established in London in 1902, and by 1910 was producing their famous bi-weekly newsreel the Pathé Gazette. By the time Pathé finally stopped producing the cinema newsreel in 1970 it had accumulated 3500 hours of filmed history amounting to over 90,000 individual items.

This newsreel clip of early attempts to improve communication and transportation illustrate how far technology has come and how far it still has to go. It’s amazing that the some of the clips are only 50 years old. One can only imagine what people will think 50 or 100 years from now when they look back on what we believe are our most advanced ideas (e.g. the driver-less car). One thing is for sure, they probably will not be as visually dramatic as attempts at early flight.

Eve's wireless phoneSome of the newsreels are humorous, others ingenious. They remind us that before there is innovation there is failure. Often, a lot of it. To dream boldly; to imagine as real what is believed impossible, is deeply ingrained. We should be mindful to nurture it.

The 18 items begin with a 1922 newsreel of the first mobile telephone here. They are consecutive, so wait for a pause between each for the next to begin.

Image source: pathe.com

 

Phone 1922


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