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December 17, 2005

Mr. Walkman

The NY Times today profiled Andreas Pavel, who invented the Walkman, claimed in 4,412,106 and 5,201,003. His story of patent enforcement is sad, and may be all too common. Oddly, even ironically, as Andreas obviously values the publicity given him for patenting, he says, "I don't want to be reduced to the label of being the inventor of the Walkman."

Mr. Pavel fought a long, hard battle to have Sony license his patents. Large corporations commonly act brutally to inventors, hoping to club them into defeat so as to steal patented technology. From personal experience, I can tell you that Microsoft very much falls into that category, but Microsoft is more the extreme norm than the exception.

Many patented innovations of significant economic value continue to be created by individuals and small teams without benefit of corporate largesse. These inventors all too often have a tough road to hoe in profiting from their inventions.

Corporate efforts to gut patent enforcement, such as limiting injunctions, are only self-serving suggestions to facilitate theft. As a professional patent killer, I'm all for weeding out invalid patents as inexpensively as possible, but as far as I'm concerned, only those who eat the high-tech corporate propaganda line are against patent protection, or for making patents more difficult or more expensive to obtain.

Posted by Patent Hawk at December 17, 2005 1:41 PM | Patents In Business


Mr. Pavel said, "So, no, I'm not interested anymore in patents or legal fights or anything like that."

Who can blame him? The patent process sucked 25 years out of this guy's life!

Looking back, wouldn't it have been better for him to invest the 100s of thousands of dollars he spent fighting Sony et. al. after 1979 into actually producing his "belt stereo"? I think this is the pitfall of many paper inventors -- they think that all it takes to succeed is dreaming up some idea, writing it down, and then expecting the world to give them money. It doesn't work that way. Not even with the most IP-maximalist patent systems in the world. Pavel eventually won -- he was very lucky. In most cases, a person in Pavel's situation gets beaten down until they have no more recourse but to give up (where did he get the money to back his fight?).

Pavel's story is repeated over and over again. Look at Philo Farnsworth and the television, for instance. Or Noyce and Kilby and the modern transistor.

The problem is not that the patent system doesn't give enough protection to inventors. The problem, in fact, is that the patent system gives too much protection to mere ideas, and thus can't focus on its true purpose of helping spur progress in the arts and sciences. The patent system lulled Pavel into thinking that all he had to do was submit patent proposals and then try to convince someone to manufacture a product and give him money. The patent system, instead, should have encouraged him to produce his non-obvious invention. If the invention is non-obvious, he could simply shop it around and see if anyone wanted to enter into a contract to produce it. If no one is interested in production (as was apparently the case for Mr. Pavel), then the inventor has to find a way to produce it himself. If the idea is obvious, of course someone else may produce it as well. But patents aren't supposed to protect obvious ideas.

Posted by: joey5 at December 18, 2005 2:11 PM

Sorry, but I gotta make some more comments.

Personally, I'm no lover of Microsoft. In fact, I think they epitomize unethical corporate behavior about as well as Enron et. al.

But patents benefit big players like MS 1000-fold more than they benefit little guys like us. Sure, there are a few cases where a small guy has a legitimate claim and eventually wins against big corporation, but for every one of those there are 100 "big corp squashes little guy with patents" and 100 "little paper-inventor troll unfairly extorts money from industry" stories. When you look at those facts, its hard not to ask why we don't justn get rid of this artificial system altogether and let everyone create and invent freely.

And Pavel isn't exactly a stellar example of the little guy. He wasn't trying or even, apparently, interested in producing or marketing his stereo belt. He just wanted someone to write him a check.

As many have pointed out, Pavel wasn't the first to think of carrying around a battery-powered audio player with headphones. His 1977 patent came *8 years* after a similar device went up with the astronauts on one of the Apollo missions. And though I'm no big fan of corporatism, that 1969 device happened to be made by [drumroll] Sony.

Posted by: joey5 at December 18, 2005 3:39 PM

Hey, joey5,

You know, sometimes your comments make some sense,
but most of the time they don't...

Have you ever tried to "produce" some device on scale from your garage, and do it economically to compete on pricing with existing volume manufacturers ? Your rant about actually producing something does not make any sense at all, especially today when most of the goodies you buy in Walmart are physically made in China.
Have you ever heard of companies like ARM or Transmeta ? They are legitimate innovators but not manufacturers. In fact, Transmeta develops "blue-prints" for their Crusoe processors which are actually made by some volume manufacturer in Taiwan. And of course, the only thing that prevents that Taiwaneese company from ripping off Transmeta is the patent system, and in particular, much despised by people like you *software patents* on "code-morphing" owned by Transmeta.

Do you think that descriptions and figures in a patent application are somehow radically different from "blue-prints" for manufacturing ?

How about that famous Gordon Gould's description of a laser which he wrote at once and had it notarized at the nearby store, without being able to make a single prototype?

Patent system is for here to stay, whether you like it or not...
You are entitled, of course, to your own philosophical opinion, but who cares ?

Posted by: small guy at December 19, 2005 6:52 AM

small guy, we've talked about this before at length: trade secret and contract law are sufficient to protect non-obvious inventions. These laws, in fact, are much more standard internationally than patent law, and thus afford simpler protection. The inventor, whether it be ARM, Transmeta, or Pavel, can enter into simple NDA-like agreements with manufacturing plants in Taiwan, Mexico, China, or here in the good ol' USA, and be assured that the courts will protect them and award damages for breach of those contract agreements.

Posted by: joey5 at December 19, 2005 10:40 AM

"I don't want to be reduced to the label of being the inventor of the Walkman."

What did he invent? His walkman was a tiny cassette player. Was it patentable in the first place? Philips had portable cassette players like the EL3300 back in the 60s.

Just asking.

Posted by: Lurker at December 19, 2005 11:25 PM

To answer Lurker's question about what Andreas Pavel invented, please read his patents, for which links were provided in the original posting.

Posted by: Patent Hawk at December 19, 2005 11:35 PM

Pavel's patent was ruled invalid due to obviousness.

Source: http://tinyurl.com/bgpqf (Rominger Legal Reports)

“ his European claim to authorship of the [walkman] idea was rejected by the Court of Appeal in Britain in 1996.

The settlement [with Sony] brings to an end a dispute which has run since Mr Pavel used legal aid to bring court cases against Sony in the UK in 1993 and 1996.

He lost both cases when judges ruled that his patent was invalid because it was an obvious extension of the technologies existing at the time that it was filed. ”

Posted by: Lurker at December 20, 2005 8:28 AM


Dr. Abderrazek Dahbi invented the headphones but with no patent he was just published in the newspaper in th 1940's

Posted by: Truth at February 24, 2008 7:17 AM