Sunday, August 10, 2008

August 11: anniversary of Hedy Lamarr's patent

August 11 is the anniversary of Hedy Lamarr's patent (US 2,292,387); see Aug. 11, 1942: Actress + Piano Player = New Torpedo and see post on ncafe

LBE first learned of the Kiesler Markey (Lamarr)/Antheil patent while viewing an educational comic book on female scientists of the past at the West Windsor Library. The comic book had a remarkably accurate discussion of the Rosalind Franklin story.

The Lamarr invention was ignored by the Navy. As noted on Wired:

In 1942, though, Navy brass were unimpressed, dismissing the invention as too bulky to fit inside a torpedo. Antheil's arguments to the contrary were ignored, and he said later that comparing parts of the invention to the fundamental mechanism of a player piano in front of a bunch of naval officers had probably been a mistake.

"'My god,' I can see them saying, 'we shall put a player piano in a torpedo.'"

Lamarr and Antheil dropped the idea and turned to other things. In the end, their device was resurrected by engineers at Sylvania and proved to be one of the forerunners of spread-spectrum communications, which has applications in satellite systems and cellphone technology.

Thus, like the invention of the field effect transistor by Lilienfeld in the 1920's, the Lamarr/Antheil device was way ahead of its time. Contrary to certain arguments by Mark Lemley, there was no simultaneous invention by others, and the concept was re-discovered much later. Thanks to the patent system, the concept was at least written down.

Of Lilienfeld, see

Of Lamarr, see wikipedia, which notes:

The idea was impractical, ahead of its time, and not feasible due to the state of mechanical technology in 1942. It was not implemented in the USA until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba,[6] after the patent had expired. Neither Lamarr nor Antheil (who died in 1959) made any money from the patent. Perhaps due to this lag in development, the patent was little-known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF] gave Lamarr an award for this contribution.

Another Lemley-ism negated.


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