Monday, December 19, 2016

"The Avengers" offered a view of the value of patents, circa 1965

Some critics of the patent system argue that the "right to exclude" is not needed because the true innovator will dominate the market simply by skill.

In the episode of the television show The Avengers captioned "The Cybernauts," actor Burt Kwouk portrays Japanese industrialist Tusamo of the Harachi company, who has developed a device to supplant the transistor. Patrick Macnee (as character John Steed pretending to be potential licensee Bob Lambert of Industrial Deployments, who has been murdered) asks Tusamo if Tusamo has a patent. Tusamo indicates a patent is not needed because the capitalization for the process is extreme ($50 million in those days).

Rather than competitively bidding for a license to Tusamo's invention, bad guy character Dr. Clement Armstrong (depicted as an ex-government employee and played by actor Michael Gough) is using cybernauts to kill other industrialists who are bidding for the European concession to Tusamo's invention.

In the story line, the inventor Tusamo does not need a patent because, according to the premise, competitors to Tusamo don't have the capital to get into the alternative transistor game. The potential licensees seem to accept the premise, as they are literally killing one another off to get the exclusive European license from Tusamo, rather than trying to compete with Tusamo.

Although Tusamo did not have a patent for the alternative transistor, he carefully guarded his list of potential licensees. Steed, making his initial pitch in Tusamo's office, artfully photographed the list on Tusamo's desk using a camera in his umbrella while Tusamo's back was turned to point to a picture of his manufacturing facility. Industrial espionage at work.

The Cybernauts first aired on ABC on 16 October 1965, and, although the third episode of the fourth series (the first series in America), The Cybernauts was the first Avengers episode seen in America, and arguably one of the best.

Actor Kwouk had appeared in a British episode of The Avengers in 1964 ("Lobster Quadrille") and in Goldfinger and "A Shot in the Dark," also in 1964. He died May 24, 2016. His character Tusamo remarked, "This heralds a new age. Computers no bigger than a cigarette box. Pocket television. And radios smaller than a wristwatch."

And Tusamo gets to deliver fortune cookie wisdom:

Tusamo: We have saying, in darkness, ceiling is always higher.

John Steed: Confucius?

Tusamo: Tusamo.

**To the extent that the Tusamo device might be deemed the integrated circuit, one recalls that two distinct companies arrived at the invention at about the same time, and were locked in a patent interference. Noyce and Kilby were the two inventors in question. Kilby got a Nobel Prize, after the death of Noyce.


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