A patent is a little piece of history

It’s amazing what you discover when you Google “female innovators”.  One particularly notable innovator was none other than Hedy Lamarr, the star of the big screen in the 1920s.

Publicity photo c.1940

Ahead of her time

In her spare time, she worked on inventions of all sorts.  She was a close friend of the aviation tycoon Howard Hughes, and even apparently suggested to him that the rather ‘square’ designs of his aeroplanes should be changed to a more streamlined shape.

But, for me, her most forward-thinking innovation occurred during World War II.  Radio-controlled torpedoes were, in the early 1940s, an emerging technology in naval warfare. And Hedy discovered that they could easily be jammed and set off course.  Sh thought of creating a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. She and her friend, George Antheil (who was a musician) set about creating a device and method for transmitting radio signals from different frequency channels by synchronising a miniature player-piano mechanism with a radio signal generator.  They were granted a patent for their designs in 1942 (US Patent No. 2,292,387), and this patent is a little bit of history.

The technology was, at that time, considered by the navy to be technically difficult to implement, but it was also very reluctant to accept inventions from outside of he military. 

Back to the Future

Whatever the reason, the invention was declined and the technology wasn’t revived until the late 1950s, when Lamarr’s frequency hopping concept began to be used in secure military communications.

Later still, it was these early frequency-hopping designs that formed the basis for the invention of spread-spectrum technology, which has, in turn, played a part in many modern wireless technologies, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Code Division  Multiple Access (CDMA).

Deserved Recognition

Having received little recognition for her work at the time, Hedy was finally given a special award in 1997: the Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, only three years before her death in 2000.  Apparently, when she heard she was to receive the award, her response was “Well, it’s about time”!

And I couldn’t agree more.  When you consider the prejudices that a young, beautiful, female film star would have faced in various technical fields, it’s beyond impressive that she would even venture into that world.  But she did.  And her legacy lives on in our world of wireless technologies, and her patent is a little piece of history.

Even today, innovators are often ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to technology.  It comes with the territory.  They can find it difficult to get their industry to sit up and take notice, especially in relation to potentially disruptive technologies.  But, in my experience, the characteristics that all true innovators share are resilience and determination and, above all, an unwavering belief in the merits of their inventions. 

As an innovator, it is wise make sure you are ready for the day that your inventions catch on.  Carefully protect your innovation with IP rights, so that you can reap the well-deserved rewards, as well as the recognition, hopefully somewhat sooner than Ms Lamarr did! One day, your own patent may be a little piece of history.

Need IP advice?

If you need any IP advice, please book a free initial consultation by emailing vicki.strachan@strachanip.co.uk or visit our website at https://strachanip.co.uk/contact/

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