Great inventors are industry outsiders and need to be protected

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“It’s the outsiders, the innovators, and the creative minds who start the startups and take big risks, while at the same time investing a lot of time and money to bring the next step to market…. But the patent system that protects these outsiders is completely broken. The incentives are all backwards. “

Every now and then a new invention changes an industry and sometimes even the world. In elementary school we all learned about some of these great inventions – cotton ginning, the lightbulb, the telephone, and so on. Today, like never before in history, we are witnessing an explosion of innovation in every area of ​​life. Many of these inventions change our lives. But most of today’s great inventions are hidden behind touchscreens or in the guts of data centers. They are often neither well understood nor known.

Throughout history, many great inventions have not come from inventors in industries that change them forever. Great inventors are mostly outsiders who are not burdened by the culture of an industry and are thus given the freedom to do it differently. For example, Eli Whitney wasn’t a cotton farmer when he invented cotton gin; Filo Farnsworth invented the core concepts of his decomposition tube (first electronic television tube) while in high school farming; Alexander Graham Bell was hard of hearing when he invented the telephone; and Sergey Brin and Larry Page were college students when they invented Google’s search algorithm. The list of inventors who have changed the industry from the outside is long and growing.

Outsiders changed the wireless industry forever

Tech experts David Sorrels and Greg Rawlins are outsiders who changed an industry. They invented a revolutionary method of processing high frequency signals at ParkerVision, a Jacksonville, Florida-based company. That technology is in every smartphone we use today, and it is this invention that allowed tech giant Qualcomm to consolidate and take over the lion’s share of the smartphone chip market.

Early in his career, David worked at Parker Electronics developing electronic controls for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. You may know Parker Electronics as the company that invented the electronic thermostat.

Parker Electronics was sold to United Technologies Carrier Corporation. But after the sale, former Parker Electronics CEO Jeff Parker reviewed children’s films and found that his father wasn’t there because he was operating the camera. This turned into an idea. Jeff put the Parker team back together and founded ParkerVision to develop a robotic camera that could record automatically without a person behind the camera. It was the development of this robotic camera, now used in television newsrooms around the world, that led to David’s revolutionary invention of RF signal processing that made ParkerVision a leader in RF technologies and changed the wireless industry forever.

Large corporations put products on the market

Large corporations manufacture products to maximize profits by reducing costs, increasing sales, and eliminating risk. To achieve this, they primarily innovate in their offering, manufacturing, sales and distribution models. Since their business model is geared towards operational efficiency, they are not very good at making big changes to existing products or starting new product lines. This is risky and large companies are inherently risk averse.

The cellular industry had relied on a complicated, decades-old technology called a. set SuperHeterodyne transceiver (Called SuperHet) SuperHets convert baseband analog signals (think radio signals) into digital RF signals (which can be consumed by electronics) using an ingenious arrangement of parts (oscillators, mixers, filters, amplifiers, etc.). There were too many parts to efficiently fit everything on a single chip, which made the wireless transceivers physically large and hungry for battery power. Even so, academics and industry experts agreed that the only way to produce a high quality digital RF signal is through a SuperHet system.

But David didn’t know that a SuperHet was the only way to do it. All he knew was that ParkerVision’s robotic camera (called CameraMan) needed a small, inexpensive wireless device that the robotic camera could follow, and SuperHets were too big, too expensive, and used too much power. He needed a better solution.

Inventions are cumulative

There are no inventions that are not, in one way or another, based on what has already been invented. Edison’s lightbulb, for example, was an improved filament that lasted long enough to be commercially viable, but all other parts of a lightbulb were already invented.

To build a library of past inventions for future inventors to build on, the patent system is a trade that gives a government an exclusive right that is exchanged for public disclosure of an invention. This encourages inventors to make inventions available to the public and brings them to one place.

The greatest challenge with the invention is to identify the next step. But this next step is not that easy to identify. It takes a certain type of person under certain circumstances to figure out which direction to look in.

Experiment in the right direction

Experimentation is obviously common among inventors. After all, Edison failed over 10,000 times experimenting with lightbulbs before getting it right. David started tweaking a SuperHet in every possible way. It took a while, but David finally learned what the industry already knew – a SuperHet cannot be reasonably simplified and made smaller. So he left the SuperHet and looked in another direction.

Direct conversion was another existing technology for converting analog baseband to digital RF signals, but industry experts had dismissed it as incapable of producing a high quality digital RF signal. As a result, it was only used in hobby applications and toys that could get by with poor signal quality.

David started experimenting with direct conversion anyway. Finally, his experiments led to the invention of a method for Energy transfer sampling that when applied to direct conversion, the digital RF signal quality was radically improved. The improvement brought the direct conversion RF signal quality to SuperHets levels, but with a fraction of the power and a fraction of the parts, and its simplicity meant it could be housed on a silicon chip. ParkerVision called this new technology Direct to Data, or D2D for short.

Bring the invention to market

With limited experience in the wireless industry, David turned to one of the industry’s foremost experts, Greg Rawlins in Orlando, Florida. Greg assumed some of the toughest RF problems the military and industry couldn’t solve. He was a hands-on problem solver with in-depth industry knowledge. Greg hesitated that D2D technology could replace a SuperHet. After all, this would mess up decades of research. But he tested it anyway and found it worked. Soon he came to ParkerVision.

Together, David and Greg perfected D2D technology and invented other technologies around it. ParkerVision put it on a silicon chip and started chip production in the United States. D2D made CameraMan a success and ParkerVision soon sold the CameraMan product line. A few years later, ParkerVision’s technology received an Emmy.

David and Greg continued to develop D2D technology for other markets, including the mobile phone market, which was operating on 2G at the time. They put it on a cell phone chip and put it on the market.

The millions of dollars ParkerVision invested in inventing and developing D2D technology have many benefits. It radically extended battery life, the range of frequencies that could be used, and the distance a phone could be removed from a tower. Because D2D could easily be packaged on a chip, it reduced the physical size of cell phones and enabled so many other things that you can now do on your smartphone.

As a Qualcomm manager said in a 1998 email available on public court documents, D2D is “practically the holy grail of RF receiver designs.”

Launch

D2D was acquired by Qualcomm in the mid-2000s, which gave the chipset an enormous advantage over its competitors, an advantage so great that Qualcomm was able to conquer the cell phone chip market for itself.

In 2011, ParkerVision had to sue Qualcomm for patent infringement. The results are dozens of inter-partes review (IPR) challenges from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and more than 10 years of litigation costing ParkerVision millions of dollars, with millions more issues and many years to go to completion Litigation.

Outsiders need to be protected

It’s the outsiders, the innovators, and the creative minds who start the startups and take big risks while investing a lot of time and money to bring the next step to market. Many of these technologies are changing industries and the world.

But the patent system that protects these outsiders is completely broken. The incentives are all backwards.

Since eBay vs. MercExchange, an infringer who steals patented technology and then puts a startup out of business, cannot be imposed. Between the PTAB and the development of the judicial interpretations of Section 101 and the concept of the “abstract idea”, infringers fired shot after shot to declare the stolen patents invalid. Inventors have to play a very expensive game of whack-a-mole to get through the gauntlet.

It did so because of a multi-year disinformation campaign by Big Tech that corrupted reality with “patent troll” cartoons and “bad patent” fictions. Trial judges drank the Kool-Aid and the Federal Circuit stamps bad court decisions without explanation under rule 36.

Under today’s patent law, large corporations no longer acquire companies or license technology. It has gotten so bad that it is now a CEO’s fiduciary duty to his shareholders to steal patented technology, wait to be sued (if that ever happens), and then let the inventor be forgotten.

It’s a complete breakdown of the U.S. patent system that once supported creative minds – people like David Sorrels, Greg Rawlins, and Jeff Parker – so they could change the world.

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